Tuesday 4 October 2011

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

As little as 10 or 20 years ago the Small Tortoiseshell butterfly was one of the UK's most commonly seen butterflies. Sadly, in recent years its number have declined sharply - by as much as 68% between 2000 and 2009 according to one estimate. This figure seems plausible - I can probably count on one hand the number of Small Tortoiseshells that I've seen in my garden this year. One reason for this decline is thought to be a particular parasitoid fly which feeds on the caterpillars and is newly colonising the UK. However, this fly has always lived in countries such as the Netherlands yet they too are experiencing a decline in Small Tortoiseshell numbers, suggesting that other factors must also be at work.

I'm sure I used to take this butterfly for granted and didn't really appreciate its impressive colours and patterning, but the less common it has become the more I am struck by just how attractive it is. I'm sure there's a lesson to learn there...


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