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Butterflies and conservation.

Introduction

There are 20,000 species of butterflies in the world, but only 59 species in the UK.  Some migrate here from other countries, and some examples are The Painted Lady and the Clouded Yellow Butterfly.

Some butterflies are massively on the decline.  According to butterfly conservation UK,  there is a 70% decrease in butterfly species. There was only a decline of 57% of all Uk butterfly species in 1976.

This decline is caused by many factors, such as climate change, pollution, other parasitic animals devouring their young ,  and habitat  destruction. That is why conservation is so important,  to help live keep going and stop the decline.

I had prided myself on raising frogs in my house when there wasn't a water source for them to go to, or when frogspawn had been deserted on the pavements. Then, I started to raise ladybirds and also butterflies. The species I have raised are The Painted Lady and the Small Tortoise Shell butterfly, Peacock Butterflies. 

Butterfly fact file:

The Painted Lady( Vanessa Cardui) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Painted Lady(Vanessa Cardui)  is one of the most familiar butterflies in the Uk. It does not hibernate in the Uk during the winter. Instead it migrates to hotter countries, such as Asia.  They are seen throughout the world due to migration.

                                       

Another name for them is, the Thistle Butterfly. They are often called this because they feed on plants with thistling ends, such as nettle, a common food plant for caterpillars. They also seek to lay their eggs here.

Their eggs are light green and are often laid in small clusters on or under the leaves.  Caterpillars  take three to fives days to hatch, then seven to eleven days to turn into a pupa, and eventually, in ten days, will be a butterfly.

They reach 10.5cm!

Tortoise Shell.(Nymphalis  Californica)

This butterfly is actually fairly common throughout the Uk and parts of Ireland. Like the Painted Lady, it is an orangey colour. The main difference being, it doesn't have the white spots on the edge of the wings and is much smaller in comparison to the Painted Lady.  It reaches 4 cm to 6cm, making it a moderately sized butterfly.

Painted lady female.jpg
Totroise shell buttterfly.jpg

The Peacock Butterfly (Aglais Oi) 

cPeacock butterfly 2.jpg

These are one of the most vibrant butterflies in Britain, and also my favourite butterfly species. Their wings are gorgeous. Black on the outside and on the inside red and brown. They have the wonderful peacock eye patterns on their wings too. They are a common sight in the UK.

The males range smaller than the females, their wingspan measuring 6cm. The female has a wingspan of 7cm.

Food plant choice is normally nettle, and that is where they choose to lay their eggs.

Eggs are normally a light green and are laid in messy clusters.

Butterflies come from an order of insects called Lepidoptera. This order also includes moths. They are defined by having four scaly wings.  They are  often mixed up with Trichoptera( insects that are box-shaped and have young that are always aquatic) . Caddisflies are from the order Trichoptera.  Unlike the order Lepidoptera , insects from Trichoptera group tend to have hairy wings, not scaley.

Butterflies don't actually sleep. They sit still in the bushes, in the trees, and remain dormant.

Some interesting information

How to carry out your own  Butterfly conservation project:

1: Buy a suitable enclosure: Butterfly nets can be found on Amazon or eBay. Small caterpillars can be kept in small plastic containers until they are bigger. Once the caterpillar is at its last stage, transfer them to a net enclosure. If you choose to keep caterpillars in a plastic container, ensure that they have plenty of ventilation and are taller than wide. Personally, for butterflies I find net cages to be more suitable as it allows larvae to spread out and not be too close to one another.

 

 Do not keep adult butterflies or older caterpillars in plastic containers or vivariums, only nets! The thickness of plastic and glass will make climbing, forming their Chrysalis, and moving around as adult butterflies extremely difficult. Plus, as adults, they could bump into the plastic/glass when flying and damage their wings, rendering them helpless in the wild. Butterflies can't survive without their wings.

.Spray every other day. Every day would cause mould to form in the enclosure, causing death.  Use kitchen roll at the bottom of the enclosure—every one to three days. Caterpillars are very messy! Take caterpillars out using gloves and place them in a small container. Empty the net of faeces and change the food plant. Place the caterpillars back in the net carefully and slowly.

2: Depending on what stage of the butterfly you are getting( Egg or Caterpillar), plan how to set up the enclosure, and find food for the caterpillars: If you choose to buy eggs, plan ahead and gather food for them. Research what your breed of butterfly feeds on. Most feed on nettle, but others eat other food plants, so ensure you research them first. 

3.Place foods in a plastic pot filled with water: Ensure the holes in the pots are not too big to ensure 9the caterpillars do not fall in and drown. Spray the leaves of the food plant to provide a source of hydration for Caterpillars.

Looking after your caterpillars in the Chrysalis:

Caterpillars will form Chrysalis in seven to ten days.  In order to allow them to form their chrysalis , place extra food plants in there, so they can hang from them. A big advantage of having a net enclosure is the fact it can easily dangle from the net. 

You can use a pin to place them back at the top of the net. Just ensure you put the needle through the long brown bit way above the chrysalis to avoid injuring the butterfly inside. If you find this too fidgety , I would ask someone to help you. It's not an easy thing to do.

Unfortunately,  butterflies are in the category of R selection , which means they are one of the many animals and insects to breed more young than necessary. This is because their young tend to be weaker and are prone to be caught by many predators in the wild.  Sometimes a chrysalis will turn a very dark black, indicating that the butterfly has died inside. Sometimes, this just happens at random; sometimes, it's because it has been knocked. Just be aware that some butterflies may die, and it's just nature. That is why it is best to purchase a big group of caterpillars. I recommend buying them as caterpillars as raising really small eggs can be very difficult.

Painted Lady chrysalis hanging from a plastic pot lid .

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Here is my first attempt. I used the insect lore kit. It is useful, but  expensive  if you want more than 5 caterpillars. You can also find them in the garden, normally on nettle, but sometimes butterflies lay their eggs on other foodplants. However, eggs are fairly hard to spot, and telling the species even harder. I have sourced mine online from Ebay.

Breeding and telling gender:

 

Telling females from males in butterflies and moths is very difficult. However, one way to tell is by the abdomen. Females have a rounder, thicker abdomen, which only goes slightly behind the wings, whereas males have a sleeker abdomen, going past their wings. However, determining gender is easier in different species of butterfly. For example, the female and male Monarch butterfly has different patterns to each other, making sexing easier. Male Monarchs have small black spots on their bottom wings, but females do not. Female monarchs have darker lines around their wings, and their veins protrude out their wings more.

Butterflies breed by attaching themselves to the abdomen. They produce facing away from each other. It can take a few hours or days to generate. Sometimes the females choose not to breed and live longer than usual. After females produce their 500 eggs they die. It is known that butterflies in the wild actually lay fewer eggs than ones kept in captivity. The main reason for this is that butterflies in captivity have protection from predators and other threats. However, butterflies in the wild have a daily struggle to avoid predators and may not reach their full egg-laying capacity. 

 

 Female butterflies are very picky and reject males when they make a mating attempt. Once the males have finally been accepted as a partner, they attach via the abdomen and mate. After, butterflies fly together completing their mating ritual.

Pictures to show the difference are

MaleThis picture was taken weeks ago before I finally let him go. Unfortunately, there were complications with breeding, so I let them go but wanted to raise some more.

Notice the male has a thin abdomen reaching past its wings.

 

 

Painted lady butetrfly.jpg
Painted lady female.jpg

Female: Shorter, thicker abdomen, which is in range with the wings.

Butterfly Body Structure

The proboscis is somewhere underneath the insects head.

cPeacock butterfly 2.jpg

Wing 

Antennae.

Compound eye.

Feet

Thorax

Abdomen

In this video, one of my Peacock Butterflies( Aglais Oi)  is really close to the floor of the net. Butterflies tend to come down on the floor to drink water from the a

pavement. Male butterflies are especially known to do this.

Here, you can see the slim proboscis. Butterflies and Moths can't physically eat, only suck nectar, water through the straw like appendage known as the proboscis. 

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