The Butterflies of Glenveagh National Park.
Everyone who has visited Glenveagh National Park is very aware of the midge that appears when the weather turns warm but some much more pleasant insects share this dramatic glen with its vast array of plant and animal life.
The butterflies of the park add colour and delight to any walk or visit. The 19th century castle is surrounded with scents and colours coming from the wonderful gardens creating a giant playground for our butterflies to play in the sun. The bogs have come alive with the better weather also, with the brightly coloured bog flowers encouraging the butterflies to dance among the grasses and reeds popping down to explore native species such as Milkworts Polygala vulgaris, Bladderworts Utricularia, Tormentiles Potentilla erectaand Bog Asphodels Narthecium ossifragum.
Butterflies are great fun to watch and study with little or no equipment needed and with an area as great as Glenveagh National Park for observing; this summer is the time to get to know our fantastic native butterflies. Try something different this summer or maybe you’ll embark on a whole new hobby.
The first butterfly that the nature team spotted this year at Glenveagh was as excepted the Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus seen back in mid March on the Derrylahan Nature Trail. This is a small bright blue butterfly with a pale blue underside; the caterpillars eat holly berries in spring and ivy berries in late summer. It’s a good one to start off with; if you spot a small blue butterfly near a Holly tree it most probably will be a Holly Blue.
The little holly blue was closely followed then by the larger dramatic Peacock Ianachis io butterflies, which can be found anywhere stinging nettles in sunny places can be seen. The Peacock can be easily identified it is a dark red with large peacock eyes on all wings – these are to warn away predators and very striking on a woodland vegetation background. They can be found in a number of places especially in towns, parks, woodlands and gardens.
The Orange Tip Anthocharis cardamines is a great butterfly to spot - the males have the bright orange wing tip. These brightly coloured wing tips act as warnings to predators. The wings taste strongly of bitter mustard oils from the foods that the Orange Tip caterpillars prefer to eat. It gives the predators a nasty taste in their mouth.
The early warm weather this year bought a swarm of Painted Lady Vanessa cardui butterflies to our gardens and hillsides from Africa much earlier then usual. These have a wingspan of 5-6cm, pale orange with black markings; it’s a fast flying fluttering butterfly.
On the Derrylahan nature trail we have been lucky enough to see some Green Hairstreak Callophrys rubi while we were with a school group. It’s a lovely little butterfly with a wing span of just 2.6 cm. The inside of the wings are a brown colour but when it settles you can see the bright metallic green of the underside of the wings. The males and females in this species are very similar but the males often fight each other. They are best spotted in the height of summer and in a variety of locations woods, bog, sand dunes, hillsides and cliffs.
Its not just the brightly coloured butterflies that are lovely to see. The Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria can easily be seen from March to November in woodland areas. It is a dark brown butterfly with beautiful pale yellow spots speckled over the wings.
The dark brown Ringlet Aphantopus hyperantus with a wingspan of 3.8 – 4.8cm can be seen most commonly in June and July in rough grassy places especially near woods. Its an easy one to remember as the name suggests it has little cream ‘rings’ on the wings with the females being slightly paler in colour. Ringlets are great butterflies, as they will fly even in very dull weather when other butterflies are asleep.
The white butterflies are difficult to tell apart with slight differences in the wing markings. With a butterfly key to help it’s much more manageable plus looking at the vegetation they are on or around will give lots of extra clues. Large White Pieris brassicaeand Small White Pieris rapae both these species fly from April to late October but are best seen in August. These are both white with some pale yellow and dark markings on the wing tips. Large Whites normally measure 5.5cm – 6.5cm with the Small Whites being 4.5cm they can usually be spotted in gardens and are often known as Cabbage Whites as cabbage is their caterpillar’s favourite food. There are also Green-veined White Pieris napi and Dark-veined Whites Pieris bryoniae. These are both similar to the Small White but the Green veined has a hint of yellow on the underside of the wings and on hot days may be seen drinking from muddy puddles! Where as the Dark-veined White has less yellow colour and much more greyness on the wings along the veins.
Our wonderful blanket bogs at Glenveagh are host to the bright orange, cream and black butterfly the Marsh Fritillary Euphydryas aurinia. The black caterpillars of these butterflies live together in huge groups and mainly eat the dark purple Devilsbit Scabious Succisa pratensis. However they have been classed as rare and have legal protection under the EU Habitat Directive.
If you are interested in getting to know some of these butterflies, more identification keys are available from the Nature Centre, open every weekend from the 10th of July until the 30th of August. The Nature and Outdoor Learning Centre will be opening the Nature Explorer Programme this summer where children can come to the park and be guided by a member of the team each weekend on different topics including butterfly watching, pond dipping and bird watching plus many more. Prizes for the best nature explorer entry will be announced at the end of the summer.
The walks in the park are all free of charge along with the Visitor Centre Displays and car parking. Guided tours of the fine Victorian style castle are available and our shuttle bus service is active throughout the year.
Visitor Services open every day from 10am until 6.00pm.
For more information on the park and the upcoming summer events visit our web site www.glenveaghnationalpark.ie or call us on 074 91 37698.
Leanne Peoples – Nature Guide, Glenveagh National Park