Forum Posts

Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Aug 22, 2022
In General Discussions
I photographed this Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) butterfly in the UK a few days ago. Because the subject is backlit and the angle is from below I'm having difficulty in identifying whether it is male or female. Any thoughts?
Speckled Wood gender help content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Jul 26, 2022
In Conservation
There are hundreds of conservation schemes underway around the world in an effort to sustain butterflies and moths, wildlife in general and their habitats. One approach has been to leave several large areas of unproductive land to 're-wild' with little or no interference by humans. Nature has been allowed to be her own sculptor, with some remarkable results. Two such places of note are the Oostvaardersplassen in the Netherlands and the Knepp Estate in the United Kingdom. Both areas have introduced megafauna or proxy megafauna to disturb unproductive soils. These animals are left to be wild with minimal interference. Little else in the way of mankind's input has taken place, nothing else added or taken away. The result is that nature has created rich natural soils with no pollutants and vast areas of scrubland that has attracted hundreds of species, some particularly rare, some even at risk of extinction. As far as butterflies are concerned, the Knepp Estate, now called Knepp Wildland, recorded 15 different species in 2005. As I write this in 2022, 37 butterfly species are being reported. Wilding at Knepp began in 2001, so this is a remarkable natural achievement within just a few years. And it's only part of the story. Hundreds of new species of insects, other arthropods, birds, reptiles, mammals, fish and flora have also found Knepp Wildland to be the place they want to live - and they are there of their own free will, nobody has introduced them. Apart from nature doing things naturally there are also huge economical benefits to the hands off approach to conservation. Everyone has an individual understanding of conservation, what it is, what our aims should be and how projects should be funded. For me, this hands off approach seems to be the right way. I sometimes read of forced introductions, importing animals from foreign lands (including butterflies), the waste of charitable donations as introductions fail, the clearance of trees, shrubs and plants, even the reshaping of land to mankind's perceived ideal - all in the name of conservation - none of which sits comfortably with me. Personally, I am not a fan of the micro-management of a habitat to suit a particular species. I would rather see the species compete, succeed or fail as nature intended within a rich and vibrant natural habitat. Most of the landscape inhabited by humans, and a lot that isn't, is man-made or altered in some way to suit our needs rather than those of the thousands of species that ultimately sustain us. Of course it is necessary that productive agricultural soils should be used to produce our food and we need our towns, villages and cities to live in. However, there are still vast areas of unproductive, managed and fallow land that could be given back to nature with very little cost or interference. Even small areas like our own private gardens or parts of our municipal parks could be left to run wild with some amazing results, if only we can overcome our desire to meddle and tidy up and 'do what's best'. If we are not careful we will gradually loose our Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera, Coleoptera and other pollinators, then our plants and other food sources. Scientists have predicted that Homo sapiens would be extinct only four years after the last bee has died, should that ever happen. Leave nature alone and it will flourish. Maybe it is time to take a look at a popular mantra and revise it a little. "Build It And They Will Come" perhaps would serve us better if one word was changed to become "Leave It And They Will Come". I would very much like people with different opinions or ideas to join in this discussion, so we can all learn from each other and perhaps even discover some new methods of conserving our wonderful flora and fauna, for the benefit of all living things and consequently our remarkable planet.
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Apr 21, 2022
In General Discussions
I went for a gentle stroll along Southbourne Clifftop near Bournemouth in the UK this morning and came across these larvae. They are Euproctis chrysorrhoea (Brown Tail Moth) larvae which are toxic to humans, causing a long lasting itchy rash and even asthma-like breathing problems if shredded setae is inhaled. The hairs on the larvae are barbed making them difficult to remove and they dispense toxic chemicals. The caterpillars shred the hairs and they can become airborne, carried by the wind, at any time. The hairs remain toxic for up to three years. Euproctis chrysorrhoea larvae on their communal nest. These larvae are very interesting as they are unusual in building communal nests made of silk in which they overwinter. I was surprised to see so many instar stages present in one nest. Some larger caterpillars were leaving the nest to feed. During April the young larvae begin to leave the nests in order to feed. The host plant in this case is bramble. I was first attracted to it as the bush seemed to be sprouting silver discs from a distance, on closer inspection it was the nests. Each nest contained hundreds of larvae, there were around 2000 - 3000 individuals on one bush! The larvae are packed tightly within their nests and often shred setae as they move around. The hairs can become airborne and are toxic to humans, cats and dogs. Unfortunately, the bush I saw was right next to a public path, I just hope people don't touch these caterpillars out of curiosity. It is best to keep well clear, I wore a mask while taking the photos and did not touch them. This bramble bush supported over fifty nests, most facing the sun. Education is the best policy in avoiding an itchy rash, possible breathing problems and conjunctivitis from these larvae. Teach your children not to touch caterpillars and to keep a fair distance away from them. In the end, some people will of course be affected, much like having to deal with a bee sting or animal bite. But these caterpillars are part of an intricate eco-system, the hedge sparrows and starlings in this bush were having a feast!
Brown Tail Moth larvae (Euproctis chrysorrhoea) content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Oct 18, 2021
In General Discussions
Here is a link to an introductory article on how butterflies create thrust in flight: Butterflies create jet propulsion with a clap of their wings Below is a link to a research paper for people that prefer a more in-depth scientific analysis. It is academic in nature but most of it can be followed OK. Research paper on the mechanics of butterfly flight I hope you find the links interesting.
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Oct 13, 2021
In Development
I found this video of the complete life cycle of Hyles euphorbiae (Spurge Hawkmoth) totally fascinating, I hope you enjoy it too.
The lifecycle of the Spurge Hawkmoth content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Oct 08, 2021
In Behaviour
Here is a link to a introductory article on one of the most fascinating events in nature, the journey of Danaus plexippus (American Monarch butterfly) from the USA to Mexico and back, over four generations. Surely one of the most incredible migrations in nature. Danaus plexippus migration
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Sep 29, 2021
In Conservation
Making a place for butterflies and moths to thrive in your garden is such a positive thing to do, for them, for nature in general and for our human well-being. What can be better than observing the behaviours and antics of these beautiful creatures throughout their life cycles right on your doorstep, literally! Because Lepidoptera have a relatively short lifespan, it is usually possible to witness all aspects of a generation within a year or less - eggs being laid, the various caterpillar instars, the making and developing of pupae, eclosion, first flights and mating behaviours. The whole family can join in, most children absolutely love it and you can use butterfly gardening as a real-life tool to teach them about wildlife conservation and how to care for animals and their environments. Try keeping them away! An example of a temperate wildflower garden, designed to attract adult butterflies, moths and other pollinators Like any new venture, there is a lot to learn at the beginning. What is the climate like where you live? Which species will thrive there? Will you be able to grow the plants needed to support all the stages of a particular butterfly or moth's development? What is the soil like? How long will it take for your butterfly garden to become established? How much room will you need? I, and hopefully other members, will be providing answers to these questions over time. Butterfly gardening can lead to other enjoyable pastimes. How about photographing the various species and life stages of Lepidoptera that visit your garden? Or making videos of their fascinating behaviour? You could even start a journal of day-to-day events as your garden becomes more and more established. I am very much looking forward to other members posts, photos and videos of their butterfly gardens and am especially keen to see the ideas and methods people use in different regions of the world. Happy butterfly gardening!
Butterfly gardening is so rewarding content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Sep 22, 2021
In Taxonomy
I am not too sure of the criteria used when a member of the order Lepidoptera is placed in one of its suborders. What factors are used by scientists and taxonomists to decide which is the correct suborder? I would love to have a clearer understanding of this, so if an entomologist or taxonomist can help me out I'd be very grateful. Thanks in advance.
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Sep 14, 2021
In General Discussions
Overview Lepidopterology is the study of butterflies and moths which make up the animal kingdom order Lepidoptera. It is a branch of entomology, the study of insects, which in itself is a branch of zoology, the study of the animal kingdom. A person who studies Lepidoptera is known as a Lepidopterist. He or she may be involved in researching the identity, behaviour, anatomy, habitats and population fluctuations of these insects. Professional level lepidopterists are usually educated to doctorate level. The word lepidopterology has its origins in the ancient Greek language, translated into modern English as 'scale-wing'. It was adopted as the name for the scientific study of the animal order Lepidoptera in 1899. Prior to this, a person studying butterflies and moths was known as an aurelian. Nowadays, there is less distinction between professional and amateur study when using the word, indeed many of the greatest contributors to our knowledge of butterflies and moths have been non-professionals. Lepidoptera Collecting Historically, butterfly and moth collecting was a pastime enjoyed by many. The practice involved capturing live specimens, killing them and mounting them in glass display cases in order to catalogue them and marvel at their beauty. This was most prevalent during the Victorian period when wealthy collectors would fund expeditions across the planet to seek out the biggest, rarest or prettiest examples. Others adopted a more scientific approach and collected species in order to classify them or discover anatomical marvels of their time. Significant historic collections still exist in museums. Most countries across the world have now introduced laws that prevent the collecting and killing of wild animals, including butterflies and moths, in order to protect them. Licences are occasionally issued to qualified professionals under exceptional circumstances. Heavy fines and even internment can result for those that choose to ignore these laws. The days of butterfly collecting as a hobby are thankfully in decline as people and cultures across the globe gradually become educated to the necessity of flora and fauna conservation. Instead, enthusiasts, students and researchers now have access to a huge amount of information in books and scientific texts, at museums, on TV and throughout the internet. The best place to observe butterflies and moths is of course in the wild, their natural environment. There, enthusiasts can watch and record behaviour: something not available from deceased Lepidoptera in a display case. At the time, many historic collectors did not realise the harm that wild animal collecting was doing. They believed they were adding to human knowledge and most were, we would not have the understanding of butterflies and moths that we enjoy today without them. Their collections are regularly studied by scientists, even now in the 21st century. Some notable historic lepidopterists:- Jean Boisduval was a 19th century French lepidopterist, entomologist, botanist, and collector. He is recognised for his collection of Sphingidae (Sphinx Moths) which is now in the care of The Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. Other Lepidoptera in his collection were sold privately. Notable butterfly and moth related works include "General history and illustrations of the Lepidoptera and caterpillars of Northern America" and "California Lepidoptera". Sir Winston Churchill was British Prime Minister from 1940 to 1945 and again from 1951 to 1955. As a child in the 1880s he was an avid amateur lepidopterist, collecting and examining specimens around his school. Interest continued throughout his life, stimulated by travels to Cuba, South Africa and India. Later, at his Chartwell home, Churchill had a passion for breeding British species which he delighted in releasing into the wild once they had reached adulthood. The National Trust has rebuilt his butterfly house at Chartwell and are attempting to recreate his breeding methods. Margaret Fountaine was a wealthy British lepidopterist, natural history illustrator, diarist, and traveller. Her diaries "Love Among the Butterflies: The Travels and Adventures of a Victorian Lady" were published posthumously and are still well read today. She raised many high quality butterflies from eggs and larvae. A collection of over 22,000 of her specimens are held by the Norwich Castle Museum. The butterfly genus Fountainea is named in her honour. Margaret Fountaine (circa 1890) Aimée Fournier de Horrack was a French entomologist and Lepidoptera collector. Her collection is now cared for by the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, France. The rare butterfly species Charaxes fournierae is named in her honour. Jacob Hübner was a German entomologist. His most famous work was "Collection of choice birds and butterflies" which he published in 1793. Other notable Lepidoptera related works include "Contributions to the history of butterflies", "Collection of European butterflies", "Directory of known butterflies" and "Systematic-alphabetic directory of all genus names hitherto issued with the depictions of European butterflies". James John Joicey was the son of British industrial millionaire Major William James Joicey. His life was a privileged one, enabling him to amass one of the largest private collections of Lepidoptera in existence during his lifetime, consisting of over 1.5 million specimens. Joicey was in a position to finance expeditions to many of the exotic and little known destinations of his time. He regularly donated specimens to the British Natural History Museum's Lepidoptera collection in London, a practice that continued well after his death. His obituary in The Entomologist read "undoubtedly the most lavish patron of Entomology, in so far as butterflies and moths are concerned, that this country has ever boasted". James John Joicey (1920) Frederic Moore was a British entomologist and illustrator employed by the East India Company Museum in London, England. He compiled the major work "Lepidoptera indica" consisting of ten volumes on the butterflies and moths of South Asia, with many plates illustrated by his son. His work was completed after his death by Charles Swinhoe, with help from others. Further works were "The Lepidoptera of Ceylon" and "A Catalogue of the Birds in the Museum of the East-India Company".
Lepidopterology: Definition and History content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Sep 14, 2021
In General Discussions
Butterflies and moths are arthropods categorised in the animal kingdom class Insecta, in the order Lepidoptera. There are two suborders, Rhopalocera (butterfly) and Heterocera (moth). Although distinct differences exist between most butterflies and moths, there are exceptions to every example and it is difficult to be definitive. Deciding what an unknown subject is, butterfly or moth, depends on species. Behavioural traits and appearance help but there are some butterflies that behave and look like moths and some moths that behave and look like butterflies. By far the most reliable way is to first identify the species and then consult published documentation that gives information on the taxonomic tree of the species in question and whether it is Rhopalocera or Heterocera. Below is a broad guide which gives a reasonable chance at coming to the right conclusion. Illustration of some of the main differences in butterfly and moth anatomy Credit: Mrice20 - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0 Antennae Butterflies usually have thin antennae resembling a pair of single hairs protruding from the head. Most often their antennae culminate in a club like structure furthest from the body. Moths usually have feathered or tapering antennae without the club like structure. There are exceptions. Wing Posture When resting butterflies usually fold their wings closed and hold them upright above their bodies. Moths most often lay their wings back against their bodies, forming a tent-like shape. Species do exist in both suborders that do the opposite. Bodies Butterflies tend to have long, slender bodies. Normally, moth bodies are short and wide. Most moths are more densely covered in setae than butterflies are, a substance that resembles fur although it isn't actually fur and evolved separately. Again, there are exceptions. Behaviour Most butterflies are diurnal, flying during daylight hours. Most moths are nocturnal, flying at night. Most is the key word here, not all. Colouration Broadly, butterflies are the more colourful of the two suborders. Butterfly colouration and patterning has generally evolved to either attract a mate or help protect from predation. Because moths tend to fly at night and rest during the day, muted colours have evolved as a form of camouflage. Again, there are exceptions. The Frenulum and Retinaculum Perhaps the most reliable method of determining whether an unknown subject is a butterfly or a moth is to examine if it possesses a frenulum and retinaculum which are absent in butterflies but exist in moths. They are structures on the wings consisting of a spine on the hindwing and a loop on the forewing. Together they form a kind of latch that prevents the hindwing riding over the forewing. Examination is of course not an easy task and is normally only undertaken by professional entomologists or lepidopterists with the right skills and facilities. As usual there are exceptions. The Australian butterfly species Euschemon rafflesia (Regent Skipper) is the only true butterfly species to possess a frenulum and retinaculum. They are also represented in the hedylidae (moth-butterflies found in the Americas) which form a separate family within Lepidoptera. Euschemon rafflesia (Regent Skipper) butterfly which, uniquely for butterflies, possesses a frenulum and retinaculum. So, in conclusion, what is the difference between butterflies and moths? It's not an easy question to answer definitively and is of little scientific consequence anyway. Throughout history, the common names BUTTERFLY and MOTH have both been adapted somewhat by different cultures as the centuries have passed, leaving the terms a little ambiguous. Perhaps it is better to think of both butterflies and moths as the lepidopterans that make up the animal kingdom order Lepidoptera and not to worry too much about finding reasons to differentiate between them.
The Difference Between Butterflies and Moths content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Aug 05, 2021
In Morphology
I have been researching some behavioural traits exhibited by Heliconius melpomene (Postman butterfly). During my research I have read that a male imago can force copulation by clasping an unwilling female with appendages that have evolved specifically for this purpose. Does anyone know the anatomical name give to these appendages? Secondly, I have also read that after copulation a male H. melpomene may inject the female with an anti-aphrodisiac, increasing the chance of only his genes being passed on. Does anyone know the anatomical name given to this injecting organ? Information about any published texts or diagrams on these body parts and/or their location would be helpful. Thanks.
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Jul 24, 2021
In Behaviour
Several species of the Lycaenidae Lepidoptera family have been seen 'rolling' their wings. I came across this video on YouTube which shows the behaviour well. Celastrina argiolus (Holly Blue), performing 'wing rolling' procedure. Credit : Mary Batchelor Individuals of both sexes have been observed 'wing rolling', sometimes while feeding and sometimes when resting. Interestingly, very old individuals have not been seen acting in this way, it seems to be the preserve of younger adults. Various theories have been put forward as to the possible reason for this behaviour, including as a predator deception mechanism, the preening of wing scales, an aid to perching balance, generating a warning sound and communicating with ants. It is fascinating behaviour. Any other views or theories on this?
Lycaenidae 'Wing Rolling' Behaviour content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Jul 20, 2021
In General Discussions
The Lepidoptera genus Fountainea is named in honour of the wealthy British lepidopterist Margaret Fountaine (1862-1940). She was a natural history illustrator, diarist, and traveller. Her diaries "Love Among the Butterflies: The Travels and Adventures of a Victorian Lady" are still well read today. A vintage paperback version of Margaret Foutaine's "Love Among The Butterflies". It is interesting how the book's subtitle has changed for this edition, no doubt in order to appeal to new readers from a different era. There are eight species within the genus fountainea, which are neotropical leaf butterflies-: Fountainea centaurus (Felder & Felder, 1867) Fountainea eurypyle (C. & R. Felder, 1862) Fountainea glycerium (Doubleday, 1849) Fountainea halice (Godart, 1824) Fountainea nessus (Latreille, 1813) Fountainea nobilis (Bates, 1864) Fountainea ryphea (Cramer, 1775) Fountainea sosippus (Hopffer, 1874)
The genus Fountainea content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Jul 15, 2021
In General Discussions
Impressive imitation and posture from this caterpillar on what I believe is a Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn) branch. Feel free to put me right if I'm wrong. Expand the image to see it in detail. Its the larva of Opisthograptis luteolata (Brimstone Moth).
Another example of great camouflage content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Jul 15, 2021
In Conservation
Scientists and conservationists are reporting a slight shift in Apatura iris (Purple Emperor) distribution. This beautiful butterfly prefers to habit ancient temperate forest and woodland, especially areas with an abundance of Quercus (oak) trees. During the twentieth century, such land was extensively cleared to make way for farming activity, especially in Western Europe. Thankfully, this practice is much in decline due to pressure from wildlife conservation groups. Purple Emperors are moving north The Purple Emperor's range is reported to be shifting northwards, especially into Scandinavia and Russia, where there is still an abundance of forest. The move could also be influenced by climate change: as temperatures rise the butterflies may be seeking cooler climes. Overall, numbers are recovering from losses over the last century or so but there are still localised pockets of decline.
The Purple Emperor's range is shifting content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Jul 12, 2021
In Nutrition
This is an interesting image, taken in Thailand. Quite a large group of mixed beauties that appear to be foraging for minerals, a few wasps as well. It looks like half a dozen species. Excellent, not taken by me unfortunately, I wish I had been there.
Butterflies foraging for minerals content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Mar 31, 2021
In Behaviour
Male Heliconius melpomene (Postman Butterfly) found in Central America and Mexico seem to 'search' for females by patrolling defined areas in their range. Once a suitable female is found, the male will clasp her tightly using appendages developed specifically for the task, and force copulation. To make matters worse for the female, the male then injects her with an antiaphrodisiac reducing her chances of mating with another male, whilst increasing the chances of only his genes being passed on to the next generation.
The male Postman butterfly forces copulation content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Mar 30, 2021
In General Discussions
Sphinx Pinastri (Pine Hawk Moth) has evolved colours that give a high degree of camouflage within their habitat, shown clearly in this photograph of a breeding pair at rest against the bark of a pine tree. The moth at the top is male, the female is at the bottom. Females are usually a little paler than males.
European Pine Hawk Moths display superb cryptic colouration content media
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Phil Morland
United Kingdom
Mar 29, 2021
In Morphology
Euschemon rafflesia (Regent Skipper) is something of a behavioral and genetic oddity. Although classified Rhopalocera (butterflies), they have some traits usually more common in Heterocera (moths). ​With the exception of Hedylidae (a novel family of American moth-butterflies) they are the only true butterfly to have developed a frenulum and a retinaculum. Together these form a structure on the wings consisting of a spine on the hindwing and a loop on the forewing. They couple to form a kind of latch that prevents the hindwing riding over the forewing. E. rafflesia are also readily attracted to light sources - as most moths are. Its body shape is perhaps a little more moth like than butterfly like,. An interesting oddity.
The Australian Regent Skipper is a little odd content media
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Phil Morland

United Kingdom
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