Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Into Surrey's Last Wilderness

It's very cheering that, even after six decades (off and on) of butterfly hunting, I'm still enjoying lifetime firsts. It happened last year with that unexpected and unheard-of Brown Hairstreak, and it happened again today with a beautiful little butterfly that I'd never encountered before - the Silver-Studded Blue. The difference was that, with this one, I'd actually set out to find it - not that that is any guarantee of success. I knew there were colonies of Silver-Studded Blues on heathland around Brookwood Cemetery (a place I'd been meaning to visit for some while, and about which I will no doubt write in due course).
 By a happy combination of luck and judgment, I soon found myself on a patch of heathland - gorse young and old, coarse grass, brambles, bare earth, a few ponies grazing - and within minutes I'd seen the first silver-Studded Blue of my life. Then another and another, and more and more as I wandered around the heath in a state of butterfly bliss - I must have seen five or six dozen in less than an hour.
 These really are extraordinarily pretty little butterflies (just a tad larger than the Small Blue), the males an intense azure blue, especially in flight, and both sexes exquisitely marked on the underwings with a distinctive pattern of studs and spots. Like the Small Blue, they are happy to settle and show off both upper and underwings - a butterfly lover's dream - and like many other blues, they have a symbiotic relationship with ants, in this case black ants. The larvae provide the ants with a sweet exudate and the ants repay the favour by looking after the butterfly's pupae in their nests.
 The Silver-Studded Blue is a beneficiary of a big heathland restoration project, the professed aim of which is to save 'Surrey's last wilderness'. That is something that's well worth doing - indeed, without it, Surrey's Silver-Studded Blues would be gone in a few years, and that would be a sad lepidopteral loss.

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