Silver Lining

My last post concerning the fate of the Grey Partridge was slightly depressing, so I thought I would redress the balance with something positive.  It is still a few months before the butterflies start to appear and today is grey and wet.  For a ray of sunshine I bring you ….. The rise and rise of Argynnis paphia, the Silver Washed Fritillary.

Male Silver Washed Fritillary at Holt Country Park

It was in 2010 when I saw a report of a Silver Washed Fritillary in a North Norfolk wood not too far from home.  At the time it was dismissed as someone releasing a captive bred specimen, possibly for a moment of fame, or to fool those who would rush to see such a rarity.  Might sound a strange thing to do but people have been doing such things for a couple of hundred years!  Indeed the Chalkhill Blues at Warham  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/iron-age-blues-2017/ , and the Brown Hairstreaks in Ipswich https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/pipers-vale-brown-hairstreaks/ , are two recent examples.

However this was not the case.  The numbers increased and colonies were discovered in other woodlands.

A slightly faded female in August

These magnificent butterflies start to appear in July.  They are the largest of the British Fritillaries with a 3 inch (75mm) wingspan.  The males are a striking bright orange when fresh.  They are powerful fliers and will glide for quite some way along a woodland ride, stopping briefly to nectar on bramble flowers.  The males can be told apart by the four very prominent raised black veins on the upper forewings.  These are called sex brands and release a scent during mating.  The females are slightly larger and duller in colour.  An unusual feature of the SWF is that a very small percentage of females turn out a fantastic blue/green in colour.   These are the Valezinas and sightings are something to cherish.

A stunningly beautiful female of the form Valezina

So why are Silver Washed Frits doing so well when other members of their family i.e the Pearl Bordered and High Brown are disappearing fast?  A lot depends on habitat.  The latter two require special conditions.  Since woodland was left neglected, or worse planted with conifers, they started to die out.  They needed areas cleared on a regular basis so they could lay their eggs on violets, the food plant of their caterpillars.  The Silver Washed lays its eggs on tree trunks (and my jeans on one occasion!).  The caterpillars after hatching descend to the ground to seek out violets.  As I said these are powerful fliers and this has enabled the species to spread and colonise and now provide a delightful sight in a high summer woodland.

Silver washed fritillary at Holt, beautifully backlit. The name derives from the markings on the underwing

For a few more images of these butterflies  https://blhphotoblog.wordpress.com/portfolio/silver-washed-frits-2017/

Now that’s cheered me up!

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31 thoughts on “Silver Lining

  1. Beautiful pictures and nice to know that they are increasing in population. I see that they are quite widespread in Switzerland. You may be very interested to have a look at this site: https://www.lepido.ch/cartes-de-distribution It’s in French but you can probably work your way around it. I acquired the equivalent book of the guys who produce the website and it suggests the Valezina is dominant south of the Alps. So I’ll be keeping my eyes peeled for it this summer! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I certainly will. You may also be interested to hear that we’ve had a flock of Siskins around for the past 2 days. We’ve not seen them in the winter before and it’s a little surprising since the temperatures have been down to minus 13 or more overnight.

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  2. Lovely photos of a splendid butterfly.
    I hope to see them this year. How flighty are they when approached? (I get the feeling they are easier to photograph than Pearl-bordereds: maybe about the same as Dark Green Frits?)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. A very good question Ray. I have searched google and could find no answer. The males are attracted to anything orange so you would think they would be at a disadvantage however I have seen images of them mating. From my observations the Valezinas prefer shade and it has been said they dislike bright sun. Perhaps here is a topic you could research it would make an interesting post for the future.

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  3. What a pretty butter. Still in awe on the diversity you have over there – we are fairly limited.. at least in the heartland so always enjoy seeing the variety you expertly capture in the tin and bring to us. That second one almost has perfect camouflage – would probably pass right by it not having the eye for these creatures.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I had no idea we had that many. Basically beyond the Swallowtail I see a white one, a yellow one and a brown one with orange spots – not too exciting… oh, and a mourning from time to time. Apparently I need to get out more – or all the flycatchers that hang out at my house are very efficient – ha.

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