A Thistle Caterpillar: a silk web containing a single black caterpillar in a thistle in the meadow:
Its the larva of the Painted Lady Butterfly, Vanessa cardui.
No stage of this butterfly’s life cycle can survive a British winter and so the butterfly that laid this egg in our meadow will have just flown all the way up from North Africa. Thats an amazing thought. Each Spring there is a Painted Lady immigration into the country and some years this is in immense numbers – 2009 was the last spectacular year when 11 million of these butterflies flooded widely across the UK. I was completely unaware of that at the time. Indeed, I haven’t ever knowingly seen a Painted Lady butterfly and the photo above is not mine. But now I’m looking and so hoping to do so soon.
The butterflies arrive in Britain and immediately mate and lay an egg. The egg hatches into a caterpillar which spins this protective web around itself. It moults through its various stages and eventually pupates and hatches into a butterfly and so later on in the summer there will be British born Ladies fluttering around as well. These new arrivals migrate back to Africa at the end of the summer.
Finding all this life going on amongst the flowers and grasses in the meadows is a further complication in the decision as to when to cut it all down. We are currently hoping that the meadows will be cut in mid August which is when the farmer has availability to do it. It would be too late that that point to be used for hay but he would use it as bedding. This date sounds a good compromise between giving the rodents, butterflies, moths and so on sufficient summer and getting the nutrients off the land so that it can progress in the direction of becoming chalk grassland which is our ultimate aim.