The Speckled Wood butterfly , Pararge Aegeria
These butterflies are common and widespread across the UK, though less common in Scotland. You can spot them in woodland glades and rides, parks, hedgerows, and gardens between April and September. It’s a regular visitor to the Wildflower Meadow Hide and one of the most recognisable butterfly species at the meadow. The speckled wood has chocolate-brown wings with creamy-yellow eye spots. There is one black and white eye spot on the forewing and three on the hind. Speckled wood caterpillars are bright green with faint dark green and yellow stripes.
Unlike other native butterflies, the speckled wood can hibernate as a caterpillar or as a chrysalis.
The males are fiercely territorial. They perch on foliage, waiting for other passing males to enter their air space. When this happens they quickly take to the air and engage it in a fight. The mid-air ‘dogfight’ involves spiraling round and round the intruder until it’s driven away. It’s believed that the males have one wing slightly smaller than the other, in order to perform this spiraling manoeuvre more skillfully. A combination of tall woody plants, bright sunlight, dappled shade and still warm air are the insects preferred habitat.
Females are very choosy; they only mate once in their short lives, so it has to count! Males are fiercely territorial. If one strays into a rival’s territory they will both spin through the woodland understorey in combat until one is bested. Eggs are laid on the food plant of the caterpillars, usually on the underside of the leaf. They hatch after one to three weeks depending on the weather. The hatched caterpillar will live and feed on the food plant, and can overwinter in the plant’s base. It will go through phases of development, known as instars, and then pupate after about a month. There are usually two generations of speckled wood per year, one in spring and one in summer.
In some cultures, a brown butterfly entering the house is a bad omen. They are also a thought to be messengers from the underworld in folklore from around the world.
Speckled wood butterflies are active during the day and feed on aphid honeydew, a sugary liquid excreted by small insects when they feed on plants. They also feed on flowers and fruits when aphid activity is low. Their caterpillars feed on false brome, Yorkshire fog grass and other grasses.
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