It all started when I noticed a self seeded lavatera (aka mallow) in a now weedy shrub bed where we removed a rather old and leaning precariously lavatera this spring, to make space for a different shrub I'd planted near it last year. I noticed it was looking rather chomped and that there were several leaves curled up upon themselves. Closer inspection revealed some grey looking caterpillars within. I decided I'd check what a Mallow Skipper caterpillar looked like but thought that was wishful thinking.
Next thing I know, I'm walking past the veg patch thinking "oh there's another Silver Y moth nectaring on some flowers", when I suddenly realised, "ohmigod, no it's not!". It was in fact a rather worn looking Mallow Skipper. I think these skippers are one of the last skipper species to be seen in the season - indeed I haven't seen a skipper at all since about the end of July. It's been a couple of years since I saw one of these guys so that was rather exciting, and I managed some zoomed in photos through the fence wire of the veg patch whilst it was feeding on several flowers.
It wasn't until the next day that I got around to checking out their caterpillars, and amazingly that is exactly what those grey guys wrapped up in the lavatera leaves were! I just had to have a closer look so apologies to the caterpillar but I removed one from its leaf to get some shots, then put it carefully back later. These caterpillars will overwinter as larvae before pupating in the spring. I'm not sure though if they will stay there wrapped up in the leaves, as although these lavatera plants don't tend to drop all their leaves in autumn, they don't all stay put either (I'm trying to remember here as I don't normally think about it). However I also have some wild mallows in the chicken run and those plants die back almost completely during winter, most of the stems too, so I've no idea what happens to the caterpillars if the butterflies lay their eggs on those wild plants.
I'm leaving the caterpillars be and not going to try to raise them indoors, as they'll be perfectly happy outside and I won't disturb the plant until the spring when it can be weeded out. I have other lavatera and I don't want or need any more.
|Mallow Skipper (Carcharodus alceae) on Verbena bonariensis.|
|Mallow Skipper (Carcharodus alceae) on a Marigold (with annoying stem in the way |
but I was the other side of the fence so it couldn't be helped!).
|And a few more pics of the Mallow Skipper.|
You can click on the photo to view it larger.
|Here's the caterpillar of the Mallow Skipper (Carcharodus alceae).|
|They are easy to ID with the yellow marking behind the head.|
|This is the small Lavatera plant showing some of the curled up leaves |
which contain a caterpillar inside.
That in itself was excitment enough as up to now the only butterfly caterpillars I have found have been Large and Small Whites and Swallowtails. But!! A little while later I was wandering past a forsythia thinking "is that a flower?!!" - yes it was; there were in fact two flowers - must be something to do with the rain we had in August and September which has made some of my shrubs flower again. Then I noticed a small brownish butterfly perched above my head - oh joy - that makes three Hairstreaks which I've seen in my garden now. It's a Brown Hairstreak and the host plant is blackthorn (aka sloe), although they also use bullace. This forsythia is very close to my three plum trees, which include a damson (or bullace), so here's hoping it may have laid some eggs!
|Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) on Forsythia branch.|
|Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) - it's a female as I can see |
from this and other photos the golden patch on the
upperside of the forewing showing through.
|Not the best photos ever but a lot better than none of something so totally unexpected!|
I think those of you who are butterfly lovers will have guessed how over the moon I was at those three finds..... so guess how I felt the very next day to see that Spanish royalty had deigned to visit my veg patch?! I didn't know which fritillary this was at the time and took loads of photos - I had to zoom in as I didn't want to disturb it trying to get closer, but it was a very obliging butterfly who flitted a few feet away and would come back again, sometimes actually stopping on the bark chippings by my feet! He or she kept opening and closing its wings all the time which was a qood thing as I knew I'd need a pic with the underwing markings to help with ID. I was tickled pink when I found out it was a Queen of Spain Fritillary as I'd always imagined that butterfly to be something special and regal and probably only living in Spain...... but they are migratory so visit Brittany! The host plants, amongst others, are borage and heartsease violas, of which there are plenty in the veg patch, but I don't know if they breed around here. According to Wikipedia "it is resident in southern Sweden and Finland, and on the coastal sand dunes of the Netherlands (Bretherton, 1990)" so you never know.
|Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia).|
|Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia).|
A totally amazing butterfly week! :-)
By the way I have identified that flower from my last post as Honeywort or Siberian Motherwort (Leonurus sibiricus). Google it and there is little information about it regarding its virtues as an ornamental plant or whether it's a great nectar plant for pollinators. But there is plenty of discussion about smoking it or drinking it as 'tea'. It appears to have another common name.... Marijuanilla! ;-)