Monday, July 4, 2016

Strange Lady

On Friday evening (1st July) I joined Matthew at Knepp, in an effort to determine how good a season is developing and, based on sightings of Herself, where we are in the season. This had proven difficult due to adverse weather conditions - most latterly very strong winds.

As I complete this post we have had the benefit of a few more days on which to base an assessment, including a few prolonged periods of good flight weather. The jury is still out, as reports from other sites suggest that it is still early days ... even at Knepp. The appearance of females so (apparently) early in the season may have bowled us a googly.

More importantly, one of those females was, I believe, an extreme rarity. As we turned a corner I immediately shouted "female", based on the size, pale colouration and flight pattern of an Emperor which was gliding around the far side of a Sallow stand at low level, before disappearing through a gap between Oaks. She returned two or three times, on one occasion passing close to my left shoulder, always flying slowly and occasionally turning tightly to reveal both surfaces in the evening sunlight.

She looked odd - very odd. At times she appeared very much like a huge, very faded Painted Lady; the ground colour was mottled orange and pale brown, but she had normal, white banding. We were both struck by how strange her appearance was and we were left completely bemused. We considered extreme wear and tear, but she appeared structurally perfect and was most likely very freshly emerged.

After searching the literature, including an excellent summary of aberrations on the UK Butterflies website I am left in little doubt that this strange lady conforms to ab. thaumantias Cab. I can see no rational alternative and believe that this represents a first for Sussex.


Bill Seager said...

The Fermyn Light Horse is on 48 hour standby alert! We hope to see an ab form here this year due to inclement weather?

Mike Coleman said...

That I think solves a mystery that I have wondered about for some years !
I observed what appeared to be a large [ even for a female!]specimen in Bentley wood. She unfortunately did not stay long enough for a photo but my only comment to another observer present was that she resembled a massive Meadow brown, though brighter in colour.
Thanks for the link to info on this ab.of which I was previously unaware.
I wonder how many observations of such specimens there have been in recent years, indeed of all ab.'s ?
I have a suspicion that ab.'s are becoming more common, perhaps linked to more variable spring weather.
Certainly Bentley wood has presented more in recent years compared to the previous 30 + in which I have observed Iris there.

Matthew Oates said...

This could be a significant year for PE aberrations, due to cold nights at the start of June impacting on freshly formed pupae. Watch this space, and visit Fermyn...