2015 – Year of the Butterfly?
Here at Wildlife Articles we love a success story, especially if it’s about our own native wildlife. It’s even better when we get to report on a group which has suffered immensely in the past few decades. Therefore we are hugely pleased to bring you a success story regarding the nations butterflies!
The past year has seen mixed fortunes for the nations butterflies. The coldest August in 20 years was to blame for hustling many species into early hibernation and some dramatic population declines were observed in the Big Butterfly Count with the average number of individual butterflies seen per count falling considerably. Yet 2014 wasn’t all doom and gloom with select species such as the small tortoiseshell staging a comeback. After suffering a 78% population decrease since the 1970’s the species has proven to be a comeback king with its populations increasing by 232% in 2013 from 2012 population levels. It’s population has since continued to increase.
However it has now transpired that various exotic species have also chosen 2014 to be the year they stage a comeback. Lepidopterists will be excited to learn that the scarce tortoiseshell butterfly was seen approximately 30 times in the past year. Although sightings are still being verified it is thought many more of the species have arrived in Britain undetected.
Typically found in Central and Eastern Europe the scarce tortoiseshell prefers colder climates and has not been seen since 1953, when it was spotted in Sevenoaks, Kent. In 2014, however they were seen as far afield as Devon and Tyneside. This sheer spread of sightings has prompted conservationists to pray for a colder than average winter to help the butterflies hibernate and successfully emerge in 2015. If this were to happen it would be the first time the scarce tortoiseshell has managed this in 300 years of butterfly monitoring.
One exotic species which has achieved this is the continental swallowtail butterflies. 2013 witnessed a flood of these butterflies immigrating into the UK and this year we witnessed their offspring emerge along the coasts of the country, from Suffolk to Dorset. If the same were to happen again in 2015 it would appear the butterflies are attempting to establish a colony in the UK.
Butterflies are excellent indicators of healthy ecosystems and this unprecedented immigration of exotic butterflies are a welcome addition amongst conservationists to the UK’s depleted butterfly fauna. Certainly if 2015 follows on the trends of the past year, it will be an exciting one for lepidopterists and conservationists alike.
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