Country Matters: Pink so the orange tips sparkle and flourish


Cuckoo flowers (biolar gré agá in Irish) may be awaiting their calls over the hills and far from a special visitor, but butterflies are on the wings, particularly a beautiful flutter called orange-tipped (barr buí), which forages from the purple petals for nectar .

he plant, also called lady’s smock, is an early bloomer in spring meadows, an unbranched hardy perennial seen from late March to June in meadows, woods, moors and upland areas where today’s excellent camera phone photo was taken below Mount Brandon area in south Kerry.

Urgent over-the-hill calls from a recently arrived brood parasite bird may not have been heard in many areas as they seek a mate for urgent oviposition in the nests of meadow pipits, robins and hedge sparrows. But all in due time as a fast-growing usurper clears a nest of eggs and young to mock the food delivered by exhausted foster parents.

On the other hand, the males of the orange butterfly emerge before the females are active and showy, patrolling back and forth on the sunny side of the road—hedge or edge of woods—and pausing when they see a potential mate, the orange tip but missing has a wider black.

The species likes moist, flowery spots in meadows, hedgerows and riverbanks and bogs, but can also be found in gardens and parks if that is where its main host plant is. It’s also keen on garlic mustard and lady violets, a pink-and-white plant in the cabbage family with a violet-like scent.

After mating, the female lays her showy orange, bottle-shaped eggs in sunny locations on tall plants, one egg per inflorescence. Larvae are cannibalists and upon hatching, a week after laying, any unhatched larvae are destroyed.

The insects will continue to feed and grow until leaves and seed pods are removed and stems are eaten away.

In mid-June, when fully grown, the caterpillars attach themselves to other vegetation with silk threads and the larvae pupate. The pupa is green with a white band and hibernates, not all becoming adults, over the winter. One expert, JM Harding, suggests that this is probably a mechanism to protect against a very cold source.

The lives of the 35 Irish butterfly species and their larvae are full of intricate detail for those who enjoy their presence in parks, gardens and countryside that have become less suited to even the more common insects as grassland monocultures are deserts to them and much more other wildlife.

However, there are many habitats conducive to reproduction, pristine places and parks and gardens with plantings of nectar-bearing flowers and shrubs.

Wild Seed plants and flowers can be grown to attract colorful insects by providing nectar and larval food.

Some suggestions to consider: violets, primroses, scabious, nettle, robin, dandelion, thistle and of course the cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis).

So keep busy and also remember to water bare garden patches for whites and blues to drink the dissolved mineral salts. Country Matters: Pink so the orange tips sparkle and flourish

Fry Electronics Team

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