Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Super Race - Death-eaters...

Here's further proof of the development of a new super race of iris at Knepp Wildlands, The Death-eaters...  Just look at the skull markings on this one -

Photoed on Sun Nov 27th 2016.  

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Into Hibernation...

Some ten days into supposed hibernation, and they've been moving around quite a bit - this one moved 45cm between 14th and 19th November: it's been too mild, again...  We need some cold weather to make them conk out... (Savernake)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Emperors of the fens

In late July 2013, I read a report from the Great Fen Project web site concerning the existence at Woodwalton Fen of a "small population of Purple Emperor Butterflies" - and I suspect I was not alone in raising an eyebrow in surprise at this information.It certainly did not fit in with my belief in the type of habitat I expected to visit in order to see this insect. Come forward three years, to mid-July 2016, when Nigel and I have finished with our Fermyn patrols, and have travelled to Weerribben-Wieden National Park in the province Overijssel - the largest freshwater wetlands of North-west Europe. Discarding the cloak of Imperial Purple, we have come to see the Prince of Orange, a.k.a. batavus in his watery stronghold. However, within an hour of arriving, we are enjoying the company of an Empress, who then flies to a nearby birch tree to dine on a sap run. Local enthusiasts inform us this is not a common sight here, but during our week-long stay, we achieve plenty of sightings, including a count of six females on a damaged oak tree, which was also popular with atalanta. This spot proved to be very reliable for sightings during our stay, and we often made a detour on our bikes to view Herself dining on the sap runs. I can recommend this place to anyone who wishes to see batavus, although don't expect to achieve many sightings, as it is uncommon even here and many hours need to be put in searching the likely areas. It was also great to see Iris in numbers here too, and this insect appears to thrive at this time in the fen and broadland habitat so reminiscent of the wetlands of East Anglia. Perhaps both batavus and iris will thrive in our own country, once the Great Fen Project matures in the years to come, and I welcome the opportunity to see them in such circumstances...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Colouring Up...

The few larvae I'm following this autumn / winter are colouring up and wandering off the leaves. Some have undoubtedly entered hibernation - they're hard to find until all the leaves are off. In mild dry autumns they can travel several metres before conking out for diapause. Oh for a cold, wet and thoroughly miserable late October / early November, so that they only crawl a little way - but every year of my study that period has been mild and dry, and larvae have gone walkabout big time...

Here's Savernake No 10 today -

Here's the two main seat and feeder leaves of Savernake No 1, today, dangling from silk strands. This larva is probably in hibernation as it was on an early leaf fall sallow. Note the first / second instar seat pad & feeding marks on the broadside leaf.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Early hibernation

Of five eggs I found this summer, just one has (to the best of my knowledge) made it through to the big sleep. This is Kenny:

He left his leaf some time between 22nd and 26th October and moved about 1.5 m to his present spot, not counting any explorations and diversions he might have had along the way. Normally they don't go into hibernation before November in these woods.


Monday, October 24, 2016

2016 Egg Lay & Prospects for 2017

The final tally from my annual 20 hour foliage search for eggs and larvae in and around Savernake Forest is a meagre 16. This is the lowest count in eight years of standardized searches there, and is down from 21 in 2015, itself a low ebb. How the mighty are fallen - I found a staggering 179 there in 2013!

I wasn't able to conduct a thorough search at Knepp Wildlands, my other main study site, as Mrs O has been seriously ill. But the searches I was able to conduct reached a comparable conclusion - I was finding larvae at the rate of one every 75 minutes, which is poor by Knepp standards.

Last autumn I predicted that the 2016 emergence would be poor on this blog.  

However, the good news is that larval survival this late summer and autumn has been better than in other years, and considerably better than last year. So the prospects for 2017 may well be better, though much depends on winter and spring weather - we need a cold winter, then a late spring followed by a pleasant May and June.

There is always hope: the great Emperor season of 2013 came after I'd found a mere 24 larvae in Savernake in 2012.  

The few larvae I'm following are still wearing their Lincoln green, though they should start colouring up now. Here's one from Knepp last Saturday, spinning silk to strengthen the join where his leaf meets the stem - 

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Nicaraguan Emperor

Males of these fantastic South American (Doxocopa) species. Many thanks to my project collaborator in El Salvador"