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  • Writer's pictureRoo

Autumn butterflies to bring a splash of colour

It would be sad if the sight of a Red Admiral in Autumn didn’t give a thrill and raise the spirits. The blood-red on the wings is a splash of colour that is very welcome as the butterfly year winds down. However in September and October there’s still plenty to see. Also keeping us company as we approach colder months are other species that over-winter as adults, Comma and Small Tortoiseshell being the most noticeable as Peacock and Brimstone have likely already sought out a safe place to roost up and overwinter. These species are busy nectaring to store up energy supplies for the hard months ahead and so are not trying to mate. That’s in contrast to the likes of Speckled Wood, Small Copper and Common Blue. Males of these species are trying to find females with which to mate and produce eggs that emerge to overwinter as caterpillars, pupae, or in the case of Speckled Woods, both. The glint of the coppery orange wings of a Small Copper catching the sunlight against a backdrop of Autumnal berries and leaves is wonderful! Some of these species will persist well in to October, or even November in the case of Red Admiral. I once saw a Red Admiral on the wing in December on a balmy sunny day when the temperature soared to 5C!

Red Admiral and Small Copper


However, in September and October there are some special species to see. Painted Lady are embarking on their southerly migration back to Africa, and finding nectar sources, especially on the coast, can provide stunning views of these amazing migrants as they store energy for their long journey. Most of the Red Admiral will migrate south, and along the coast you may see many Large and Small White as they migrate as well. However, the prize sighting at this time of year is the stunning Clouded Yellow. A glimpse of mustard-yellow and black on the wings as they fly past with powerful flight, occasionally nectaring and allowing close approach. These too are heading far to the south having emerged as adults in the UK. In some years they can be abundant and I’ve been lucky enough to see large numbers migrating in a “Clouded Yellow Year”. This year has been quite good, so maybe its building up to the next big year, we can hope so!

Underside of a stunning Clouded Yellow with the brighter mustard colour showing through the forewing


Another late species that is gracing our shores in recent years as a colonist is the Long-tailed Blue. A trip to the south coast in England, or if you are very lucky, further north, and you might see this lovely little blue butterfly that has started to colonise the UK from the continent, likely thanks to milder winters and climate change.

Long-tailed Blue


Other species might be on their way. Surely its only time before Southern Small White and maybe even Map butterflies also arrive. It seems likely that the continental subspecies of Swallowtail (Papilio machaon gorganus) will make the jump soon. If so, maybe the worry for conservationists in 50 years’ time will be the potential for our endemic Swallowtail subspecies (P. m. britannicus) to be interbreeding with a continental usurper?! Their habitats differ considerably, but who knows what the future will bring? In the meantime, I’m just happy to see any butterflies, anytime, anywhere!


Stunning Swallowtails, on the left our endemic britannicus and on the right the continental gorganus that now annually arrives in southern UK.

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