There was an article in The Guardian this morning about 2019 seeing the largest influx of Painted Ladies to the UK for a decade. In 2009, eleven million Painted Ladies arrived in this country but numbers for this year are not yet known and we are all being encouraged to take part in the Big Butterfly Count that started today until 11th August to try to put a figure to it.
We had already noticed that a few weeks ago there were many, many more Painted Ladies around than we had ever seen before. Large numbers had been spotted in the Eastern Mediterranean and they arrived in Eastern England on 14 June. Others came through Spain and arrived in Western England two weeks later. Apparently lots of eggs have now been laid and the young should be hatching out of their pupae as adults during the Big Butterfly Count window of time.
Armed with this knowledge, we went out this morning to see if we could find any evidence of Painted Lady breeding on the Thistles in the meadows.
The Butterfly lays an egg on the Thistle and, when the caterpillar hatches out, it builds itself a silk tent for protection. It goes through five instars (where it sheds its skin in order to increase in size) and builds larger tents as it grows.
Here is a tent with quite a large caterpillar inside and dark faeces gathered at the bottom of the tent:
We found several of these tents as we inspected the Creeping Thistles:
Here is one of the Caterpillars outside of the protection of its tent:
We have marked up the Thistles that we found these nests on and will return in a week or so to see if we can find the pupae.
As we were inspecting the Thistles, we came across other interesting things such as this large female Wasp Spider (Argiope bruennichi):
She is quite an unmistakable Spider as it is, but apparently the web with this white central ribbon is very characteristic as well.
She spins her web low in the grasses because she is trying to catch Grasshoppers and Crickets such as this Roesel’s Bush-cricket (Metrioptera roeselii).
There were also these, with their bright red eyes and the most unappealing of names: Flesh Flies
And these beautiful Six-spot Burnet Moths:
The reptile ecologist came today. He is relocating Slow Worms to us from a nearby plot of land that is being developed. We haven’t seen him for ages though because reptiles go into aestivation in hot dry weather and are not to be found warming up under his sampling squares. Aestivation is a light summer hibernation, necessary because they eat snails and slugs who also aestivate in weather like this.
However, we saw him today because he had caught Slow Worm Number 100 – a juvenile born last year:
We saw a Slow Worm ourselves today under one of our sampling squares. It is a large female who will be full of young at the moment- even though they are reptiles, Slow Worms give birth to live young because their eggs hatch inside their body.
The juvenile Green Woodpeckers are turning up on various cameras. Here is one up by the tiny pond on the strip:
This pond is also being used by a wide variety of birds. Here is a group of Linnets:
And it is extremely pleasing to now be getting frequent visits from Yellowhammers again:
Having devoured all available cherries, the Magpies are now stripping the wild plum tree:
The Badgers are coming out to start on the peanuts before it gets quite dark, giving us a rare opportunity to actually see them with our own eyes. We watched this little vignette following through a scope from afar:
Here is last year’s cub on the cliff path early in the morning:
It has been so hot and dry here with no rain for such a long time. But rain is forecast overnight tonight and so we have prepared ourselves to divert as much as possible into the pond which is critically low:
So often we hear of rain sweeping across the country but so often it seems to miss this easternmost finger of Kent. Fingers crossed that tonight we actually get some.