One of my character deficits is a complete lack of interest in science-fiction but this is more than made up with a curiosity for the macabre and in the natural world there is no shortage of amazing case studies. The most recent one is the 'zombie' cicadas of North Carolina. I won't go into the details here (as I did with the zombie dung flies last year) but I invite you to look them up on the internet using the key words psychedelic fungus.
A much gentler subject is that of butterflies - Andrew Graham writes:
'Autumn may be approaching but in the right weather conditions it is still worth keeping a lookout for butterflies. A dozen or more species can still be expected to be on the wing in late August and into September.
'The white butterflies, which seem to have had a good year, will keep flying as they have more than one brood a year which may overlap. The second brood of large and small whites may have laid eggs on suitable (though not necessarily from your point of view) food plants in your garden and allotment, the resulting caterpillars feeding hungrily ready to pupate before spending the winter as a chrysalis. If we have a favourable autumn, there may be a third brood of large whites later in September.
'Many will have noticed the good numbers of peacock butterflies this summer: most buddleia bushes hosted at least few in July and August. Small tortoiseshells have also done better than in recent years. After feeding up on flowers’ nectar to increase their fat reserves, by late summer both species will start to look for suitable hibernation spots. Garden sheds and garages are often selected as places where they will be protected from frost and rain until the first warm sunny days next spring. If one mistakenly comes into your home at this time this will be too warm - and bright - for it through the winter, so it is better to put it outside to find somewhere more suitable to hibernate before the weather really deteriorates.
'A number of our blue butterflies have a second brood with adults on the wing in August and September. Common blues and the brown argus can be seen in the vicinity of Tisbury but the bright electric blue adonis blue is found up on the chalk downland. The freshly emerged male is just so bright it is hard to mistake: if you are unsure whether a blue butterfly you see is bright enough to be an adonis, then it probably isn’t one.
'Another downland specialist which is right on the edge of its range hereabouts is the silver spotted skipper which can be found at Fontmell Down and in spite of being a tiny fast-moving creature and elusive, each summer you will see people carefully scanning the turf of the down’s steep hillside hoping to catch a glimpse.
'At time of writing, we are “enjoying” the heat of one of the plumes of hot air reaching us from north Africa. What remains to be seen is whether migrant butterflies such as the painted lady and clouded yellow come with it. There was an eruption of painted ladies in 2019, but they have been extremely thin on the ground this year. We rely on annual migrations of this species as they reverse migrate back towards Africa at the end of the summer and only a few overwinter here. Clearly few made it through last winter, perhaps as it was so wet.
'Clouded yellows, which are a wonderful sight in late summer, are a rich buttery yellow/orange colour in flight. They are strong fliers and frustratingly are more often seen in flight than perched. They can be told apart from the male brimstone that may still be about it as is more lemony yellow and lacks the black wingtips of the clouded yellow'.
Photo: Barn owl
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