Beauty on the wing
17:21 15 February 2010
Butterflies are amongst the most colourful and popular members of the insect world and on warm sunny days, as our skies fill with a kaleidoscope of colour, it's easy to understand why. Here are ten facts about these beautiful creatures:
1 Belonging to the group Lepidoptera, meaning 'scale wings', butterflies are covered in scales. The colour we see is an illusion, created by the refraction of light from the surface of their wings.
2 58 different butterfly species can be found in Britain - each with its distinctive colouration and wing markings.
3 Sizes can vary - the purple emperor has an average wingspan of 84mm (female) whilst the small blue butterfly is only 24mm across.
4 75 per cent of Britain's butterfly species live in distinct habitats within discrete colonies, breeding in the same small area year after year. The other 25 per cent are more mobile and some regularly migrate across Britain.
5 Clouded yellow, painted lady and red admiral typically cannot survive a British winter and breed around the Mediterranean and North Africa, producing swarms that fly north to southern England in spring.
6 The bright yellow coloured brimstone is often the earliest and latest butterfly seen. Because of its colouring, it is this species that gave us the name 'butter- fly'. In mild years it is possible to see it from February through to November.
7 Most adult butterflies live only a week or two but some species may live up to 18 months - hibernating in old trees and brickwork and emerging in spring to mate, lay eggs and die.
8 The only way to tell a butterfly from a moth is by the antennae - a butterfly's are club shaped whereas a moth's are feathered. The antennae helps the female to find the correct food plant for developing caterpillars.
9 Butterflies have special sensory organs in their feet which help them to detect sugary nectar as soon as they land on a plant. A long tongue - or proboscis - shaped like a drinking straw is used to sip the nectar from flowers.
10 Females spend much of their time finding the right food plant to lay their eggs on. Most caterpillars can only feed on a few plant species, Some rely on only a singlet type of food-plant - making them extremely vulnerable to habitat loss and climate change.
How can we help?
The chalk hill blue, the grizzled skipper and purple emperor are all scarce or in decline in Hertfordshire. HMWT is working with landowners and other conservation organisations to maintain existing butterfly species and to encourage the return of others by creating suitable areas for new colonies to move into. Great places to see woodland and grassland butterflies include HMWT's Balls Wood Nature Reserve, near Hertford Heath, and Aldbury Nowers Nature Reserve, near Tring. If you have a garden, or even just space for a few flowering tubs, grow plants that encourage butterflies and you'll be helping to protect our biodiversity too. Find out more by visiting the Wildlife Trusts national website (www.wildlifetrusts.org), Butterfly Conservation (www.butterfly-conservation.org) or the BBC Breathing Places site www.bbc.co.uk/breathingplaces. The UK Wildlife Trusts are working with the BBC to raise awareness of wildlife and what you can do to help it.