Red Admiral butterflies and ivy

November 17, 2017

in Gardening For Wildlife, Insects

Red Admiral butterfly and ivy
Planting ivy (Hedera helix) against a fence, shed or outbuilding and allowed to flower, can be useful not only for Red Admirals topping up before winter but also a host of other wildlife that uses it for food, shelter and nesting.  Many people are afraid of ivy believing it to be a problem for trees it uses to climb up.
“Ivy growing on trees is often thought to be a serious problem, endangering the health of even very large trees. However, its presence on the trunk is not damaging and where it grows into the crown this is usually only because the trees are already in decline or are diseased and slowly dying.”
Interesting ivy article about wildlife, its uses, traditions and folklore by the Woodland Trust

Ivy is a top wildlife plant

You may find other butterflies hibernating in your house.  What do you do? 

“All my articles and videos, available free, are funded by my presentations and sales of award-winning bumblebee nest boxessolitary bee boxes,  and wormeries. Please help by spreading the word and forwarding this link to your friends and colleagues.  Thank you” George Pilkington
Admiral Armada by Richard Fox of Butterfly Conservation makes interesting reading.
10 November 2017

One butterfly has completely stolen the show in Britain this year. Reported on New Year’s Day, coming second in the summer’s Big Butterfly Count and still gracing gardens in early November, the Red Admiral has had an exceptionally good year, possibly its best ever.

Strong, capable fliers, Red Admirals regularly undertake migratory journeys of hundreds of miles, typically in a northerly direction in spring/early summer and then southwards in the autumn. In this way, they track favourable climatic (and, therefore, vegetation) conditions that enable the Red Admiral to breed continuously throughout the year.

The impact of this lifestyle is clearly seen in the previous great Red Admiral years of recent decades, such as 1996 and 2003, when numbers of other migratory species such as the Painted Lady butterfly and Silver Y moth also soared.

Red Admiral on apple

But the causes of this year’s butterfly bonanza may be more complex. Over the past decade or so, rather than emigrating to warmer climes ahead of the first autumn frosts, Red Admirals have started to overwinter in Britain in large numbers, probably in response to climate change. We don’t yet know whether these butterflies are ones that have migrated here to spend the winter (just as Blackcap birds from Germany are increasingly doing) or ‘homegrown’ individuals that have simply stayed.

It does seem clear, however, that these tough insects do not enter a proper dormant state like our other overwintering butterflies (the Brimstone, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock), but roost during bad weather and become active on sunny days right through the winter. As a result, nowadays, the Red Admiral is the most commonly seen butterfly in winter in the UK – quite a turnaround for a species that was hardly ever seen here in winter just a couple of decades ago! Breeding continues too, with territorial and courtship behaviour observed and developing caterpillars found throughout the winter.

In the past, with little or no overwintering here, the abundance of Red Admirals recorded in Britain in any one year bore no relation to that in the previous year. However, with Red Admirals now surviving our winters, we might expect knock-on effects from one year to the next as we see for resident butterfly species. The number of Red Admirals recorded in Britain during 2016 was high and the subsequent mild winter and spring may have benefitted their survival and enabled early breeding. Indeed, Butterfly Conservation received more reports of Red Admiral in January 2017 than of all other butterfly species put together, and numbers recorded on UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme transects in spring and mid-summer were well above 2016 levels.

It’s too early to say whether 2017 will prove to be the best ever year for Red Admirals in the UK. But either way, keep a lookout for these impressive insects on ivy blossom, other late flowers or windfall fruit on sunny days this month.

Richard Fox           Head of Recording, Butterfly Conservation

@RichardFoxBC              Article can be found here

You can submit your sightings of Red Admirals or other butterflies to Butterfly Conservation via the free iRecord Butterflies app.

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