Hunting Silver-studded Blues in the dark on Great Orme!
The Great Orme in North Wales holds the endemic sub-species of Silver-studded Blue butterfly (caernensis) and I’d always wanted to see it, so one Friday in June the family headed up along the never ending journey that is the A470, stopping off for fish and chips at Caernarfon Castle and checking in to The Grand Hotel on the seafront in Llandudno. The hotel was perfectly located next to The Orme and, despite arriving after 8pm, I decided I’d walk up in the fading light to look for habitat in the appropriately named Happy Valley. I passed through a kissing-gate and entered an area of grassland. Blues roost in tussocks of long grass at the base of slopes and hills, and the area I’d entered was perfect habitat, but it was nearly dark! I had a quick look at the first tussock next to the path and couldn’t believe it when I found about 12 roosting Silver-studied Blues! But what was I thinking, my camera was back in the hotel! I ran like a maniac back down, grabbed the camera from the hotel room, explaining to my bewildered family “I’ve found some”, and disappeared at high speed, running back up the steep slope. I managed to snap a few pictures and went back to spend a happy time with a well-earned beer!
We got up before dawn the next day to go and see the blues as the sun first hit them, wanting to watch them opening their wings. They were all still roosting, but literally as soon as the sun reached them, blue wings opened across the meadow in a staggering display of colour. It was simply beautiful. There were hundreds of Silver-studded Blues all over the grassy slope.
I looked through them and found a few of the blue-coloured females. The caernensis females are distinctly blue, unlike the more widely found argus sub-species which have all brown females.
Best of all, a few hours later we were privileged to see newly emerging adult butterflies coming out of the ground where they had pupated in ant nests. This species has an amazingly close relationship with Lasius species of ant, being taken underground as caterpillars and pupating as a chrysalis in the ant nest. They emerge with a posse of ants to defend them, before flying off when their wings have hardened. Many males and a few females were watched as they emerged, often being hounded by amorous males immediately, which looked decidedly dangerous to the fragile newly emerged butterflies still with soft wings.
This was one of those perfect trips, with the weather holding over the weekend enabling us to enjoy lots of wildlife on The Orme. We watched emerging Silver-studded Blues both mornings and also found many Grayling, of the endemic sub-species thyone which is only found on The Great Orme. Perfect icing on an already superb cake!
Top: Grayling Hipparchia semele thyone. Bottom Silver-studdied Plebejus argus caernensis.