Now that our ability to travel and move around is severely restricted while we try and ride out the coronoavirus pandemic, our gardens are a welcome source of sanctuary. Even a small backyard or an outside balcony can offer welcome respite from being confined to our homes. We are just past the spring equinox and miraculously fine sunny weather has arrived. The increasing length of daylight and rise in temperatures means that those butterfly species that have been hibernating over winter are now taking to the wing.
One of the most striking early emerging butterflies is the Brimstone, the sulphur-yellow males being the first to venture out. Also taking to the wing are Peacocks, which have very dark undersides and distinctive eyespots on their plum coloured uppersides. Another early species is the Comma, a butterfly with distinctively jagged wings which resembles a dried autumn leaf when at rest. A little later we should start to see Small Tortoiseshells, a relative of both the Peacock and the Comma, and the female Brimstones which are a much paler version of their male counterpart. Orange Tips, so named for obvious reasons, will start to appear in April. Only the males are adorned with the striking orange colouration on their wing tips. The females, being largely white with no orange markings, are easily mistaken for Small Whites when on the wing.
One of the first priorities of butterflies after their winter break is to look for sources of nectar which will replenish the energy reserves that they used overwintering. This boost in fuel supply allows them to keep flying and find a mate. Sources of nectar at this time of year are limited to spring flowering plants. Fruit blossom is in good supply of nectar so if you are lucky enough to have a fruit tree in your garden you may find that it will attract some butterflies. Flowering hedge plants such as blackthorn will attract butterflies such as the Brimstone. An added bonus is that this butterfly uses blackthorn as a food plant for its caterpillars. Even a small bush will attract egg laying females. Hawthorn which begins flowering in April is also a potential food source for nectar-seeking insects. Flowering plants such as primroses and hyacinths are also good attractants for butterflies as well as bringing early colour to your garden.
If you want to, why not keep a record of the butterflies that visit your garden? Make a note of what date you saw them and perhaps even record what plants they visited to feed. This can be a potential project to keep restless children occupied! You can get useful information about identifying butterflies from the Butterfly Conservation website https://butterfly-conservation.org/butterflies/identify-a-butterfly
In these difficult times the appearance of butterflies is an indication that summer is on its way and with it a sign of hope of better times to come.