I don’t think there can be many people who aren’t captivated by the beauty of butterflies. I call them Beauty and Beast, not as in the children’s story Beauty and the Beast. They are one and the same. Beast when they are hungry caterpillars and Beauty when they emerge from the chrysalis as a delicate flying insect.
In 2009 in an article in the magazine, Country Living, it said that “British butterflies have had a hard time in the last 50 years. Intensive farming, the loss of open land to housing and changes in land-use have caused dramatic declines in many of the UK’s 59 resident breeding species.” It went on to say, more hopefully, “But a growing awareness of the importance of garden wildlife shows that even the smallest plots can attract butterflies.” Indeed, only one butterfly can be considered a nuisance (the Large White) “It’s speckled black and yellow caterpillars shred nasturtiums and garden brassicas. All others are a delight to behold.”
I am not a naturalist, but I love butterflies. To different cultures, butterflies mean different things. I read recently that Ancient Egyptians used butterfly symbols in their tombs and temples and in China, two butterflies dancing together in the air represents love.
My three photos above were taken in a friend’s garden, in the grounds of Knightshayes Court, Devon (NT) and in Jack’s Patch Garden Centre, Teignmouth.
I have been thinking about butterflies quite a lot since recently buying the children’s book, The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper’s Feast. In the Nature Notes in that book it says, “Butterflies are a group of day-flying moths.” I never knew that. Indeed, that reminds me of when, more than 20 years ago, I interviewed Neil Garrick-Maidment, a seahorse specialist, and from him I learned that seahorses are fish. I thought they were crustaceans. I don’t know why, I just did. I also learned that the males have the babies. What a tremendously good idea! Therefore, butterflies are really day-flying moths (moths, or the majority of them, fly at night) and they differ from true moths in having club-tips to their antennae, and no mechanism for hooking their fore wings and hind wings together. Indeed, there are only 68 species of butterfly, of which [say the Nature Notes, and this was almost 40 years ago, so doubtless numbers have since declined] 10 are rare, compared with over 2000 moths.
This was a good basic guide for our children even though the illustrations are paintings rather than photographs. My own favourite book on butterflies is Beningfield’s Butterflies, by the late wild life artist, Gordon Beningfield. (1936-1998)
This book is a joy from beginning to end. Beningfield shows butterflies in their natural surroundings. In his Introduction, he says “My paintings try to communicate my feelings about the unspoilt countryside while it is still there to be seen. Perhaps if my pictures succeed in evoking the beauty and delicacy of butterflies, they will help a little towards encouraging their conservation.”
Photo Credits to the three above paintings: Gordon Beningfield’s Butterflies (Chatto & Windus)
That was almost 40 years ago. Since then, as we know, butterflies have continued their decline. Only two weeks ago in the Weekend, a weekly publication by Waitrose supermarket, it says, “Number of 40 out of 57 butterfly species declined last year. The Lulworth skipper fared worse, falling by 60% from 2015 to 2016.”
It was Beningfield’s book, I am sure, that led to him being asked to produce illustrations for four postage stamps, which I bought and which I have kept with his book ever since.
While researching butterflies recently for a forthcoming article I came across a book which I promptly ordered and it arrived this morning:
It says that Peter Marren “is a wildlife writer and repentant collector who has long since turned to conservation. Rainbow Dust is a distillation of nearly half a century of watching, reading and thinking about butterflies.”
I have already read a page or two and straight away I know I will enjoy this book, the guy speaks from the heart, and from personal experience. The very best way to write, I think.
This final photo for today has nothing whatsoever to do with butterflies, I just like it which I think is a good enough excuse for posting it here.
Taken in Hidcote Manor Gardens (NT)
Until next time.