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Talkback: First butterflies of the year

Wow this is amazing I love butterflies. Spring is my favourite time of the year because that is when there are most of them. Once my step-cousin once removed ate one by accident, he said it tasted weird.


  • I was watching a peacock butterfly a few days ago, and wondered how the poor thing managed to survive. Its wings were so ragged, with chunks missing, and the colours dull and dusty. What is their lifespan? Am I right in thinking they overwinter in sheds & suchlike? If so, how often can they do so?
  • Thank you for the name and picture of the speckled wood butterfly - we've had one come for several years and I couldn't find the picture in our book. We've also had a holly blue this week, and an orange tip. Peacocks came a couple of weeks ago, and our second butterfly of the year was a brimstone. We do seem to have more butterflys this year - is it because I have increased the early flowering plants in the garden, or is it a better year for them? How do they survive cold winters?
  • Hm! You are all more fortunate than me as all I've seen are a couple of cabbage whites. I do love watching the butterflies when I have the chance - they are sooooo beautiful. I keep my binoculars handy so that I can get a good view. Hope I get some more colourful ones appearing soon.
  • the top picture is of a male Orange Tip.
  • Reply to Grannyanne and Mary

    Four British butterflies are adult during winter: brimstone, comma, small tortoiseshell and peacock. All other species pass the winter as egg, caterpillar or chrysalis. Older textbooks also give large tortoiseshell, but this is now extinct here as a regularly breeding species. It may have been replaced with red admiral which was always said not to be able to survive our cold wet British winter weather. It is now so often seen in December and January that hibernation must be occurring, rather than migration.

    All these butterflies seek out dark sheltered places. Natural hibernation sites are in ivy and clematis thickets, hollow logs and trees, caves and rock cavities. Sheds, greenhouses, lofts, garages, compost bins and even spare rooms are also occupied. The fact that these butterflies are so common and widespread means that they are very able to survive, despite the cold winter weather.
  • Reply to Aurelian

    Thanks for your comment. I'm always open to having my identifications queried. I've had a look at my original transparency (from which this is a scan), and I'm still fairly convinced it is a female. Even though the wings are tucked tightly together I think if this were a male, a short narrow line of orange would still be visible on the fore edge of the front wing just inside the apical dark mark. I know the memory plays tricks, but I still have a strong impression that when I took the picture (some 15 years ago) it was a female I had been stalking. I have no decent pictures of a male orange-tip.
  • Yes I saw a Pieris napi and it was on my Aquilegias that I had grown from seed
  • I think you will find that the Butterfly illustrated is in fact a female Orange tip not a green veined White as you suspected. The first Butterfly i've seen this year was last Saturday the 25th April at a local garden centre and it was a Green veined White. The first of many for this year i hope.
  • here in the North the Mock Orange remains dormant for now in a shady place facing North - but the first butterflies were over wintering tortoise-shells and cabbage whites; BUT... I was amazed to see 3 swallows flying high. Any other sightings???
  • Reply to jimnjor.

    Unfortunately I did not have a good photo of a green-veined white to illustrate the piece, but I do mention near the bottom of the text that the picture is an orange-tip.
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