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Butterflywatch: In winter, brimstones raise concerns about adaptability.
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Butterflywatch: In winter, brimstones raise concerns about adaptability.

The initial butterfly sighting during the year is typically a welcome indication of the emergence of spring. However, it is now making its appearance during midwinter.

When I see a bright yellow male brimstone butterfly happily flying near a hedge, full of white flowers from the blackthorn bushes, I know that spring has begun. This typically happens in the middle of March. However, this year on February 15th, I spotted one in Surrey amidst the blooming blackthorn and cherry plum. Surprisingly, my first butterfly sighting of the year was on New Year’s Day: a red admiral taking advantage of our unusually mild winter weather.

For individuals who are concerned, brimstones frequently appear and disappear during the beginning of spring, when there is a brief period of nice weather followed by an extended period of poor weather. I have not personally spotted a brimstone near my residence in Norfolk, and typically there are additional sightings about a month after the initial one each year.

The main question is whether species in the spring can adjust, or if mild extremes will disrupt important timing between caterpillars and their food sources.

Red Admiral butterfly on green foliage

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During the month of April, naturalist Matthew Oates has observed that purple emperor larvae undergo a transformation in which they shed their brown winter camouflage and turn green for spring. Oates expresses hope that the larvae are making the right decision. As long as sallow leaves also begin to sprout in the early stages of spring, the caterpillars will be able to avoid detection by predators.

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As we anxiously anticipate the arrival of more butterflies, let us remember the inspiring words of Oates: a caterpillar should never be underestimated.

Source: theguardian.com