Gozzano`s great poetical project, LE FAFALLE, was conceived in two parts: A History of 500 Vanessids in part 1, and a second to take in 14 species. Alas, Book 1 is very incomplete, and only sections of Book 2 were written by the time of his early death from tubercolosis. Here is a section I`ve translated portraying that magnificent (and inevitably threatened) mountain butterfly, the Parnassius apollo -
That mountaineer nothing knows of these heights
who, climbing, never happened on the flights
of this butterfly, emblem of the Alps.
The painter Segantini has become a true
intimate of Apollo, which is not a Blue
as you may think, but one of the Papilios.
You`ll find the twinkling Blues as they come into land
on bird`s-foot trefoil, Painted Ladies in their clans
wheeling indolently round some bush or cluster
but you cannot expect to meet this sumptuous
Parnassius in any comma-or-garden scene -
you must to the rhododendron levels have been
Lapping their wings, a zone of mossy sandstone
where thorax fits snugly into flossy down
silvery as the eidelweiss cascading there.
© translation David Spooner
What I try to do in my books is to show how insect metamorphic processes are more crucial to natural selection than evolutionary theorists have accepted. While not disputing Darwin, I work from A.R. Wallace`s insights. If we start from the greatest works of human consciousness (Beethoven, Mozart, Melville, Shakespeare), then humanity owes as much obliquely to the insect as the ape. Metamorphic principles have infiltrated language and creativity. I show that the new stage in the understanding of being according to the epoch of postmodern technology is not Heidegger`s geviert, but an apprehension in line with nanotechnology of the relation between human and insect. The contemporary concept of identity promotes a protean fluidity that is merely amorphous - ideal for exploitation by the consumer society and politicians who rely on voluntary amnesia, the ability to delete what was promised and perpetrated only yesterday. It also renders individuals vulnerable to the concrete solidities of fundamentalist ideologies which replace amorphousness with dogmatics.
I explore the roots of this in detail in my
THE METAPHYSICS OF INSECT LIFE (1995), further elaborated in THE INSECT-POPULATED MIND (2005).
As an advocate of the pantheistic unity of theory and practice - and let us return to the Greek multitude of `gods` of the streams and fields instead of the various Almightys - I founded Butterfly Conservation in East Scotland, and have served on the National Bio-diversity Committee for Scotland. I am a member of the academic council of the London Diplomatic Academy, which seeks to re-establish the role of the UN and international law. I opposed and continue to oppose the Iraq War as entirely the wrong post-9/11 option. As I wrote in the Independent newspaper (19 September 2007), the cultural destruction of Iraq`s archeology and general culture calls up the words of the prophet of the Babylonian exile, Ezekiel: "The end is come upon the four corners of the land." Two and a half millennia since this prophesy, the White House with its annex at No. 10 Downing Steet have finally accomplished this devastation. We are living in bonapartist pseudo-democracies where the mass media engender charismatic personality cults that delude large sections of the population.
I began writing because I sensed a gap, some unmade synthesis between the arts, linguistics and natural sciences. Two books were catalysts of my thinking, two wonderful books full of Blakean energy and synthesizing genius. They are Norman O. Brown`s masterworks LIFE AGAINST DEATH and LOVE`S BODY. His letters to me are now in the NOB Special collection at UC Santa Cruz.
Brown`s books are essential supplements to the work of his great friend Christopher Hill on the seventeenth century British Revolution, and
constitute a series of propositions for taking the American Revolution forward to a level of real fulfillment. Working back from the modern legal definitions of `person`, Brown projects onto a vast humanscape the theater of present-day life. All his work reverberates with Louis Aragon`s dire forewarning:
"It is too late for you, Messieurs, for persons have finished their epoch on earth. Push to the extreme limit the idea of the destruction of persons - and go beyond it."
AND NOW FAST FORWARD TO ANOTHER GREAT POET OF THE FAUNA OF THE ALPS. THIS TIME FROM SWITZERLAND, THE NOBEL PRIZE-WINNER, CARL SPITTELER.
FOREWORD TO SCHMETTERLINGE
BY CARL SPITTELER
In cheerful mood with hands quite full
I set out to market at a stroll
and found a snoozing semiotician at the toll:
“Anything to declare?”
A wink - a literary rabble lay browned off
while the patrol stood eyes sharp right
flexing their critical might.
I was recalling my animal mission
during this intriguing animation
when the sentry interjected
— This sure pricks public interest the more!
What`s that you prize?
Let`s see with my own two eyes!
— There`s nowt but butterflies.
— You`re not telling me there`s nothing to tax?
— Look for yourself, just the tight hairy thorax.
He weighed and measured, twitching to regulate
found fault, fussed, muttered to himself
then whispered some correct format,
saying this and meaning that
SUDDENLY - heaven only knows why
All three scattered in their fuzz
way up to the skies
and went off shooting through the town
glistening from roof to roof up and down
then a dead straight road they follow
along furtive hedges into green hollows
over river and field and meadow
they fly, and airborne roam
until in flaming twines, roses, festoons
they found a home.
Translator: David Spooner
COMMENTARY to VORWORT (FOREWORD)
This poem from Switzerland has not been translated into English before. It is written out of an unusual, almost Aesopian perspective, like other poems in this 1889 book , Schmetterlinge (Butterflies). Carl Spitteler would regularly tramp the Alps, observing the wildlife, and he developed a knowledge of lepidoptera matched in the literary world only by Nabokov and Gozzano. The virtue of taking an insect-eye`s view of the world is especially clear in this ironical take on bureaucrats and academics. Their efforts to bring everything under their intellectual domination is mocked in this celebration of the flight of the creatures.
The main challenge of translation was to find sharp contemporary equivalents for the object of Spitteler`s satire. In order to bridge the almost 120 years between the writing of the original and present-day intellectual and academic industries, I have sought to give it a modern spikiness. I have already produced in 2006 the first translation into English of his novel Imago (1906), where Swiss society at the turn of the last century is portrayed as inhabiting a far more relaxed world than today`s. So the poem has had to be updated for a more robust, perhaps even frantic, end-of-its-tether age.
Unlike some other poems in Schmetterlinge, there is not much idiomatic Swiss-German in the Foreword. I have worked from the original publication of this poem, since the final few couplets that Spitteler later added, and that appear in the Artemis-Verlag Collected edition of 1945, seem unworthy of the poem as first conceived.
Spitteler uses various forms of rhyme in the poem, sometimes line to line and at sometimes in alternate lines. Rather than attempt to follow exactly the pattern of his German rhyming - difficult at the best of times from German into English - I have rhymed, or half-rhymed, where it has come naturally.
THE PRESENT STATUS OF SCOTLAND`S RAREST BUTTERFLIES
in memory of Dr. John Berry, Scottish naturalist extraordinary and lepidopterist for all seasons
by David Spooner
published in the Forth Naturalist & Historian
The lepidopterist and novelist Vladimir Nabokov wrote (Boyd, 529) that he could never distinguish between the aesthetic pleasure a butterfly gives, and the scientific task of identifying it. Butterflies with their sensitivities to climatological and geophysical data offer much information about the state of the planet, being so immediately responsive to change. Warmer autumns and winters have resulted in a proliferation of scrub and grasses (Bowles 2001, 128 and 2002, 210), while foot-and-mouth disease in 2001 reduced the suitability of many habitats due to lack of grazing.
Consideration of Scottish butterflies begins with the Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon), a butterfly that is mainly confined to Scotland despite attempts to re-establish it in England, where it died out in 1976 and where viable breeding is still doubtful. Remarkably this Skipper was only discovered in Scotland in 1939 in a region centred on Fort William in oak woodlands on the flood plain of River Lochy. The Scottish Wildlife Trust undertook a number of surveys in the 1970s uncovering many new localities, at which point the Nature Conservancy Council extended monitoring, and finally Butterfly Conservation came up with a comprehensive Species Action Plan. It is now known in some 50 locations, all in the north west of Scotland, and is relatively stable. It is a Red Data species in Britain and classified as a vulnerable species in Europe, despite its recent expansion in Hungary and Italy.
The major threats to the Chequered Skipper are overgrazing of larval habitats, and dense scrub leading to a shading of adult habitats. As the Millennium Atlas of Butterflies puts it:
Although the distribution appears stable in Scotland, there are serious concerns about the changing management of the butterfly`s woodland edge habitats. Increased browsing by deer is preventing the regenerating of native woodland in many areas and several recent forestry initiatives include the fencing of woods against deer. Although this encourages natural regeneration of trees, it can lead to the rapid loss of open space, including breeding areas of the Chequered Skipper. This situation is known to be adversely affecting the butterfly at a number of sites, including some nature reserves. Greater effort should be made to incorporate the needs of insects that require open spaces into such schemes, possibly by introducing some rotational clearance of woodland and maintaining open spaces in potential breeding areas (Asher et al 2001, 55).
The caterpillars of the Skipper require areas on flushed soils and scrub, while the adult looks for the richer peat sites. The lower poorly drained peat is unsuitable for larvae, and the tree line soon obscures adult flight paths. The larvae need open grassland dominated by the food plant purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea) growing on wet but not waterlogged soil with bog-myrtle (Myrica gale) and birch. (In England it was found on false-brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum)). Adult males require wet tussocky grass and open scrub, while the females look for open bracken, herb-rich meadow areas moving toward bog where the moor-grass is plentiful. The palaemon caterpillar wraps itself in the grass during the summer and hibernates during the winter.
There is one generation a year with adults flying from the 3rd week of May until the end of June, occasionally into early July. Eggs are laid singly on the foodplant, and the larvae subsequently live within tubes formed by spinning together the edges of a leaf. These caterpillars have a long gestation period after feeding in November, and recent research shows survival rates are higher where the foodplant remains green into autumn. These grow on exceptionally aerated soils that are rich in nitrogen and deep green. Feeding signs usually occur halfway up the Molinia blades, with notches on either side. The larvae activate in April, and pupate without further feeding. On emergence the males are territorial and depend on airspace 3-4m across. Low vegetation and a number of taller perches are important to maintain high temperatures and clear vision. Females look for large amount of nectar and may congregate in patches of bugle (Ajuga reptans) and marsh thistle (Cirsium palustre).
Sheep-grazing and rapid tree growth can very easily lead to local extinction. It has disappeared from Glen Nevis because of over-grazing. As so often, complex biodiversity comes into play, with serious conflicts of species and land-use interests. However joint action is being carried by Butterfly Conservation with Scottish Hydro-Electric whose coppicing of wayleaves for power lines creates clearing where nectar plants and grasses can grow.
Large Skipper (with acknowledgment to www.scottishbutterflies)
The Large Skipper (Ochlodes venata) is confined to the south west of Scotland. While it is widespread in England and absent from Ireland, it has a foothold in Ayrshire and Dumfries and Galloway. Speculation that it is spreading eastwards is not borne out by recent observations, but its presence in Scotland is stable. As George Thomson reported in his classic conspectus:
Mosses, damp meadows, coastal cliffs, rough grassy slopes and open woodland are the places in which this species may be found. It is fond of feeding from flowers, but more often darts about the low plants, settling with its wings in the characteristic half-open position (Thomson 1980, 65).
It is univoltine. Adults appear in late May and numbers peak in July. In the sun, males patrol in mid and late morning seeking mates. Earlier in the morning and during the afternoon, the male will perch and await passing females. Eggs are laid singly on the undersides of cock`s-foot (Dactylis glomerata), and purple moor-grass or false-brome. The caterpillars hide in tubular grass constructions they create by joining the edges of a leaf stalk with silk. They overwinter in this hibernaculum before pupation and emergence in late May.
The Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) is, as its name suggests, quite inconspicuous in its browns and greys. It is the most widespread Skipper in England and Ireland, and has a resemblance to the Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) which is however absent from Scotland. The Dingy Skipper is confined in Scotland to a few colonies in the north east, mainly on coastal dunes between Inverness and Banff such as the Spey Bay SWT reserve, together with separate groupings in Dumfries and Galloway. At present it has no statutory protection though, like other butterflies unsecured in the rest of the UK and the Republic of Ireland, it is protected in Northern Ireland under the Wildlife (N. Ireland) Order (1985). In the north east of Scotland, its habitats are generally dunes and undercliffs, though it has been reported inland in Moray, while in the south west it also flies along woodland tracks, clearings and wastelands. Could there possibly be subtle genetic differences between butterflies at these distant sites?
Common bird`s-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is the Dingy Skipper`s main foodplant. Eggs are laid on the longest shoots of the larger plants in sheltered positions. The caterpillars create a tent by drawing leaves together, and then feed through the summer months, spending the winter in a more elaborate hibernaculum. Pupation occurs in spring within this covering, and the imago emerges during May and flies into June. It can be seen basking in the sunshine, but at night like the moths to which the Skippers are closely related, it will almost wrap its wings around dead flowerheads in a way unique for indigenous butterflies.
There appear to have been some losses since the 1980s, though its numbers are stable overall. Many of the colonies are very small, containing fewer than 50 individuals at their peak. Over-shading by trees and scrub growth are constant threats to its numbers, together with either over- or under-grazing. Natural selection may not be on the side of some of these rare butterflies. The fact is that they are pernickety creatures, and the Dingy Skipper like the rest of the rarities requires stronger statutory protection.
The Small Blue (Cupido minimus) has a sparse population extending from Hawick in the south with a huge gap until Moray and Angus coastal areas, then running sporadically as far as the northernmost north east coast. The Hawick sites have been continually threatened by overgrown salix, mediocre early summers and sparse plantfood, and are now probably devoid of the butterfly, despite conservation work. It is now an insect of the eastern coast beyond the central belt. There is a single plantfood, kidney vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), and the caterpillars feed inside the flowerheads on anthers and seed. They are, like the Orange-tip young, cannibalistic and eat any younger larvae encountered. Scarcity of the foodplant on a habitat thus soon leads to extinction.
Winter is spent in crevices in the earth or beneath moss. Males tend to group on the edges of breeding grounds on shrubs, and this can be easily observed at the site on Seaton Cliffs in Angus. The Millennium Atlas remarks:
Both larvae and pupae have structures that attract ants and in continental Europe they are usually tended by ants throughout their development. However, detailed observations in Britain have rarely found ants in attendance, possibly because few native ant species forage high up on the flower-heads. There have been very few observations of the overwintering larvae and pupae but they are possibly attended by ants (Asher et al 2001, 145-146).
The relationship of C. minimus with ants, then, remains open to further investigation. (I was recently an adviser to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and this symbiotic relation between ant and blue butterfly proved the crux in our rescue of the El Segundo Blue Butterfly (Euphilotes battoides allyni) on the dunes by Los Angeles Airport). Although the Small Blue`s flight period begins earlier in England, in Scotland it flies anytime between the last week in May through June, the time-span lasting only 2 weeks. The shimmer of blue is quite distinct despite their smallness, although the female is less suffused with blue than the male. Unlike most other butterflies, their colouring is not an effect of pigmentation. Instead light is refracted on scales layered like tiles on their wings.
The Small Blue is listed in Schedule 5 of the 1981 Wildlife & Countryside Act which states
It is a criminal offence to sell, offer or expose for sale, or possess or transport for the purposes of sale, whether alive or dead, any wild specimen and parts or derivatives of them, or for anyone to publish or cause to be published any advertisement indicating or suggesting that they buy or sell such things, without a license.It is a criminal offence to kill, injure or take the species from the wild; possess any live or dead wild specimen, or any part of, or anything derived from them; sell, offer or expose for sale, or possess or transport for the purposes of sale, whether alive or dead, any wild specimen and parts or derivatives of them; or for anyone to publish or cause to be published any advertisement indicating or suggesting that they buy or sell such things, without a license.
Despite the recent extinction of this butterfly from Dumfries and Galloway and probable extinction at Hawick, the survey in preparation of the 2001 Atlas revealed 109 additional 10km squares since the 1970-1982 survey, including many new ones in Scotland.
Northern Brown Argus (www.scottishbutterflies.)
The Scotch White Spot is the almost perfect name for what is presently known as the Northern Brown Argus (Aricia artaxerxes), since it is distinguished from the mainly English plain Brown Argus (Aricia agestis) by the white spot in the middle of the forewing, and is a butterfly predominantly of Scotland. As George Thomson declared in The Butterflies of Scotland, “the Scotch Brown Argus, Northern Brown Argus or Scotch White Spot has the honour of being the first butterfly to be recorded from Scotland in literature (Thomson 1980, 116-117).” Where it occurs in the South, in County Durham, its spot is usually dark brown or black. The situation has, however, recently been complicated by genetic studies on a late flying Argus in South Derbyshire in 1999, which was shown to be a hybridization of the Northern Brown and Brown Argus!
The foodplant of this butterfly is common rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium), usually but not always in lightly grazed sward. Typical sites are rocky slopes, either inland or coastal. While in northern England it usually occurs on limestone pavement and outcrops, in Scotland it also occurs in predominantly neutral or even acidic soils where common rock-rose is able to grow if there is some calcareous influence through weathering or flushing (Asher et al 2001, 157). However these sites, south-facing and sheltered, are always well-drained. Of 13 colonies studied in 1986, only 3 were found on calcicolous grassland, 4 being neutral and 5 acidic (Clunas 1986). George Thomson observed in his book that the species appeared in the second week of July on the east coast of Scotland as opposed to earlier flight in the west (Thomson 1980, 123). However increases in cloud-cover in the west over the past two decades means that the Northern Brown Argus can now be seen as early in the east as in the south-west, which is to say mid-June at Seaton Cliffs. Although its flight is usually over by mid-August, it was recorded by Keith Bland at Fealar Gorge, west of Braemar on 22nd September, 1997.
Eggs are laid on the upper side of a leaf of H. nummularium, where they are clearly visible and easily counted. They hatch after 6-15 days. The caterpillars do not eat the eggshell, but move to the underside of the leaf where they pierce the epidermis and feed on the interior, leaving the surface intact. They start basking in spring, pupate after the 5th or 6th instar in late May, and while pupating lie on the ground attached to vegetation by silk threads. The pupa hatches after some three weeks. In late afternoon and early evening, small groups of the imago can be seen resting together on long grasses or in flowerheads.
A. artaxerxes had been under-recorded and research for the Atlas almost doubled the number of 10km squares where it was found. It appears in the Borders, along the coast of Dumfries and Galloway, and then has an eastern distribution to south-east Sutherland with strong populations in Perthshire and northern Tayside. Asher and co-authors observe that “it has undoubtedly declined in the south of Scotland, especially in the Borders and around Edinburgh, but further surveys are needed to assess its true status (Asher et al 2001, 158).” However overall it is stable in numbers, even though it is not a highly adaptable insect like the freer flying countryside species. It remains extremely sedentary and so has limited colonizing ability. This Argus requires light grazing of the sward, and where selective spring and autumn grazing has been introduced as it has at St. Abb`s Head NNR since 1992, its numbers have increased dramatically.
The Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) feeds on marsh violet (Viola palustris) in Scotland, but also on common dog-violet (Viola riviniana). It is restricted to short, sparse vegetation with a very warm microclimate where the larvae feed on the violets. Temperature must be exactly right among the bracken and leaf-litter (33C) for egg-laying. Unlike its close relative the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene), it needs well-drained grassland habitats with decayed bracken, and deciduous woodland. The decline in coppicing has led to an increase in shade and subsequent decline, especially in the south of Scotland. Over the whole of Britain it has declined by 60% in 30 years. However the re-planting of woods, often with non-native conifers, provided new habitats for the butterfly during the 1950s and 1960s - though even these plantations have now grown dense and shady.
The Pearl-bordered Fritillary requires a mosaic of branches and grass which does not become overgrown, and hence relies on the activity of stock and other animals. Eggs are laid on dead branches and leaf litter. Larvae bask on the litter, and will move many metres for suitable sites and foodplants. In Scotland, euphrosyne tends to disperse into metapopulations, similar to the American source-and-sink habitats, often thinly spread over a relatively wide area. The pupae lie in the litter and emerge in late May and June.
There have been other recent losses in Dumfries and Galloway, but in its strongholds in Argyll, the Highlands, west Aberdeenshire and northern Perthshire, it remains stable. As already suggested, there often arises a conflict of ecological interests. The extension of native woodland and the growth of shadow, together with fencing, has entailed a loss of deer grazing to keep the swards short. The prospering of this butterfly - which is especially spectacular in its colouration in Scotland - remains a formidable challenge.
The ecology of the Marsh Fritillary (Eurodryas aurinia) in Scotland is even more demanding than in England or Wales, generally preferring shorter vegetation. Colonies occur on areas of tussocky grassland dominated by Molinia caerulea, and associated with flat areas of Sphagnum supporting its abundant foodplant, devil`s-bit-scabious (Succisa pratensis). The largest colonies are on Islay where grasses are virtually absent and the habitat relatively poor, but where the sites are lightly grazed by sheep or cattle, or both. Over-heavy or under-grazing will not suffice. As a Scottish Natural Heritage Report remarks:
In Scotland, as in England, E. aurinia has declined from the east of the country, and there are extinct sites in Grampian, Inverness, Strathclyde, Glasgow and the Clyde valley, the Borders and Dumfries & Galloway [and we may add Perthshire at Logiealmond and Kinfauns], the majority occurring before 1939. Current known distribution is confined to the Strathclyde region and focussed on the Taynish peninsula, north along the coast to just above Oban and on Lismore, and on the Hebridean islands of Islay, Mull and Jura (Ravenscroft and Gaywood 1996, 3).
It is now extinct in the eastern half of Britain, though I recently visited an introduced colony in Lincolnshire which continues to flourish after some years, and this suggests that a little imagination goes a long way where habitats are propitious for re-introductions.
Eggs can be laid in large batches up to 350 with less in later batches, but they are smaller clusters in Scotland. The larvae are gregarious and spend much of their time in a communal web; these webs are found on shorter scabious rosettes here than in England and Wales. They overwinter in their 4th instar in a small hibernaculum close to the ground, and emerge in late winter or early spring to bask together thus raising body temperatures. They begin to disperse in their 5th instar, and in their 6th and final instar become solitary. Then they pupate in low grass or tussocks and leaf litter. The peak flight period is the end of May to mid-June. By mid-July they are gone.
Marsh Fritillaries undergo great fluctuations in numbers, with periodic crashes and expansions. The years 1982-1985 were a time of expansion, followed by more lean years in core sites. The reverses are connected to variations in food supply, weather and parasitism of the caterpillars by braconid wasps of the genus Cotesia. There is considerable movement of populations of this butterfly, with patterns of dispersal, new colonization and local extinctions characteristic of metapopulations. The Action Plan for E. aurinia reports that although there are 35 definite sites in Scotland, “the situation is not as healthy as might be assumed from these figures as most colonies are small and their extinction rate is high (Barnett and Warren 1995b, 10).” Clearly this is a seriously endangered butterfly, and has the highest level of legal protection. An important initiative in September 2001 brought together farmers, landowners and conservationists on Islay to discuss the needs of farmers and the butterfly. The farmers are crucial to the survival of this Fritillary, dependent as it is on low-intensity cattle- and sheep-grazing pastures.
The Wall (Lasiommata megera) is limited in its Scottish range, quite like the Large Skipper, to the coastal areas of Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloway. There has been a sprinkling of sightings further up the west and east coasts. It has been spotted at St. Abb`s Head, and I myself saw one flattened against a wire mesh fence on the cliffs above St. Andrews Bay in May 1993, clearly a detained voyager on a blustery southern wind. Its distribution in England is narrowing in the south, and moving northwards, but there is little evidence that it is making much headway beyond its southwestern strongholds within Scotland.
The Mountain Ringlet (Erebia epiphron scotica) was one of the first butterflies, along with Aricia artaxerxes and possibly Erebia aethiops, to colonize in the Late Glacial period. It is now confined to two of the areas occupied at that time, the Scottish Highlands and the Lake District, and is the only montane butterfly in the UK. A recent report has cast doubt on its ability to survive beyond the year 2050 if present levels of increases in climate warming continue. Studies at Ben Lawers NNR suggest a 1C or 2C rise in mean temperatures would reduce suitable habitat by 40%, but its adaptability may be being underestimated. It has, after all, millennia of experience in Scotland! The survey for the 2001 Atlas failed to re-record E. epiphron scotica in 12 10km squares where it was found in 1970-1982, but discovered the butterfly in 22 new 10km squares.This is an increase of 34%. Weather conditions are, of course, a major factor in the flight of this Ringlet, and I recorded excellent numbers in the mountains above Kinloch Rannoch in 2000, followed by none at all in 2001. There is almost certainly a two-year cycle allowing it to circumvent poor seasons, and maybe there is even a three-year seasonal cycle.
The flight period is relatively short occurring any weather-suitable time between June and early August in Scotland. It lasts some 2-4 weeks, and the peak is quickly reached after emergence. Adults can fly in overcast and rainy conditions so long as the temperature is 13-14C. Its primary foodplant is probably mat-grass (Nardus stricta), and that `probably` indicates the difficulty of studying the ecology of this butterfly, as anyone who has tried to monitor eggs and larvae can testify. Indeed one Report has surmised that “caterpillars may be more abundant at nights (Pearce et al 1999, 9).” Larvae do feed at night on Sheep`s-fescue (Festuca ovina), dropping to the base of tussocks by day. They hibernate in late August or September and emerge in spring. The imago takes nectar from whatever flowers are available.
The Scottish Mountain Ringlet is larger and often has brighter colouration than the Lake District species (E.epiphron mnemon). Colonies occur between 350-900m and occasionally over 1000m, but most are found between 450-800m (Thomson 1980, 173). They are usually south-facing in Scotland, while those in the Lake District have various aspects that include northerly. Populations shift slightly from year to year, and depend upon some sheep grazing to keep the turf at a required height. Adults fly close to the ground with males more active, moving as far as 200m per flight. The putative foodplant, mat-grass, is abundant on 99% of mountains in the UK.
There are some other rare butterflies to be seen in Scotland, but most are not established here.
The Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa) was recorded in Sutherland and Shetland in 1995, and sporadically in 1996 as a result of a strong airflow in high-pressure conditions coming from Scandinavia. Clouded Yellow (Colias croceus) is quite a regular visitor to Scotland with occasional invasions of large numbers as in 1992 when they swept through the Central Belt. And there were considerable numbers in 2000. The Millennium Atlas foresees the possibility of this species establishing permanent populations as a result of global warming (Asher et al 2001, 95). The Holly Blue (Celastrina argiolus) is a desultory visitor seen occasionally at Rockcliffe in the southwest, and one in the East Neuk in 1998. The Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) is a very rare sight in Scotland, though I have seen one outside Dunning, which was almost certainly a home-bred release. The prolific Buckthorn running from Kinshaldy towards St. Andrews could, perhaps, be seriously considered for the introduction of this butterfly by SNH. True, the buckthorn is north-facing, but the Brimstone is a resourceful butterfly which can fly 11 months of the year. And finally there is the Comma (Polygonia c-album), perhaps a resident insect already. Over the past 5 years, it has expanded into the Borders and Lothian, and with its northerly migration, promises to establish itself firmly over this decade. It was spotted again at Dirleton, East Lothian, in 2002, and I recorded one at Swinton, Berwickshire. They are sporadic, but clearly getting a foothold - or winghold. The outlook for countryside species like c-album within Scotland is clearer than for the habitat-specialist species. The progress of the Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) may be a prelude to the progress of the more adaptable countryside butterflies. It has increased in Scotland by 100% over the past 30 years.
References and further reading
Asher, Jim et al (2001). The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Oxford University Press.
Barnett, L.K. and Warren, M.S. (1995a). Marsh Fritillary Species Action Plan. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham.
Barnett, L.K. and Warren, M.S. (1995b). Pearl-bordered Fritillary Species Action Plan. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham.
Bayfield, N. et al (1995). Small Mountain Ringlet project: field studies, rearing programme and questionnaire survey 1994-1995. Institute of Terrestrial Ecology.
Bourn, N.A.D., Jeffcoate, G.E. and Warren, M.S. (2000). Dingy Skipper Species Action Plan. Butterfly Conservation , Wareham.
Bourn, N.A.D. and Warren, M.S. (2000). Small Blue Species Action Plan. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham.
Bowles, Nick (2001). Wildlife Reports: `Butterflies.` British Wildlife, 13:2. December 2001.
Bowles, Nick (2002). Wildlife Reports: `Butterflies.` British Wildlife, 13:3. February 2002.
Boyd, Brian and Pyle, Robert Michael (2000). Nabokov`s Butterflies: unpublished and uncollected writings. Allen Lane, London.
Brown, Lesley (2000). Butterflies of the Forth Valley. CARSE, Stirling.
Butterfly Conservation News, 1997-2002.
Clunas, A. (1986). The biology and habitat requirements of Aricia artaxerxes Fabricius (Lep: Lycaenidae). Thesis, University of Edinburgh.
Dennis, R.L.H. (1977). The British Butterflies. Classey, Oxford.
Emmet, A.M. and Heath, J. (1989). The Moths and Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. 7 part 1 Hesperiidae to Nymphalidae. Hartley Books, Colchester.
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biodiversity The variety of life on the planet, or any given part of it. There is no finer account than Edward O. Wilson (1992). The Diversity of Life . Harvard University Press paperback.
colony A group of individual butterflies occurring in a distinct habitat apparently separated from other groups of the same species.
coppicing A traditional method of management of broad-leaved trees, producing a supply of poles by cutting just above the base of the trunk on a regular, usually 7-year, cycle. This allows the trees to regenerate, but allows more glades with sunlight for lepidoptera.
flight period The length of the adult (flying) period.
foodplant The plant species on which the butterfly caterpillars feed.
hibernaculum The shelter of an overwintering larva, usually created from a leaf.
imago The final, fully developed adult stage of insect development, following the larva and pupal stages.
instar A stage of growth between successive moults in caterpillars.
introduction The intentional or accidental release of an organism to a place outside its recent range.
reintroduction The intentional release of an organism into a part of its native range from which it has become extinct.
Species Action Plans Plans that began in the 1990s, drawn up by Butterfly Conservation in response to the serious problems for butterflies with special habitat needs.
univoltine Having one brood or generation each year.
© David Spooner