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Summer 2016

Peacock Butterflies

Last summer I wrote about the lack of Red Admiral butterflies and sadly none were seen in either my or my neighbours’ gardens. Some were seen out and about but not many.

Now, the Peacock I'm pleased to say, were seen in abundance: these beautiful, golden-brown butterflies with the startling iridescent purple eyes are seen the length and breadth of Britain. The eyes, reminiscent of a peacock’s tail, act as a deterrent to predators, who see those eyes looking back at them and move swiftly on! They lead a nomadic existence eventually hibernating in the cracks and crevices of hollow trees, garden sheds and outhouses - anywhere warm and safe - to survive the winter. In early spring they emerge. The females lay up to 500 eggs, often on stinging nettles, an excellent food source for the emerging caterpillars.

The eggs grow rapidly until the time comes for them to turn into chrysalises, each safe in its own cocoon. Something magical happens when the cocoon begins to split open and a rather crushed bedraggled creature emerges into the light. Slowly its wings unfurl in the warm sunshine and blood is pumped into them as they stretch and begin to dry out. Soon the beautiful Peacock butterfly takes flight; not munching on nettle leaves, but daintily sipping the nectar from pretty flowers.

Gardens are so important to butterflies. When coming out of hibernation or emerging from the chrysalis they need a supply of nectar, and quickly! So, if you can provide a stepping-stone for the butterfly as it pursues its nomadic existence, it will make a difference to their survival.

No garden is too small; pots on the patio or window box full of nectar producing plants will help. Shrubs such as the buddleia (commonly known as the butterfly bush) are very easy to grow, as is lavender and honeysuckle. Wild flowers too, like clover and dandelions are nectar rich, de-head dandelions before they set seed and you'll be spared unwanted weeds. Try not to use poisonous insecticides or be too tidy; leave a little corner for the butterflies and they will come, maybe even a pretty tortoiseshell or the yellow brimstone. I saw one flying here the other day in the brief sunshine. A warm summer with a garden full of pretty flowers and butterflies; what a lovely thing to look forward to.

Maggie J