There are quite a number of butterflies around at present. Beautiful fresh-looking Red Admirals are nectaring on flowers or basking in the sun; some have recently hatched out from eggs laid earlier in the year; others have migrated across the channel. Some of these butterflies now overwinter in this country, although this is a recent phenomenon. They hibernate, and can often be found in cool outhouses, garages, etc. During warm spells they sometimes emerge from hibernation and odd individuals can be seen in any month.
Another butterfly which is very common right now is the Small White (see right), one of the two whites often referred to as "Cabbage Whites", because of their habit of laying their eggs on brassicas. The difference between the two species is one of size, and their markings are subtly different. One of the biggest differences is that the Large White (see below) lays its eggs in clusters on the back of cabbage leaves (and other brassicas) and when the caterpillars hatch out they quickly defoliate the plants. Small Whites, on the other hand, deposit their eggs singly and on a wider range of plants, so that their caterpillars are less destructive in the vegetable garden. Butterflies from the second brood of Small Whites, which is flying now, are quite yellowish underneath which gives them a creamy appearance when you see them flitting about. The more robust-looking Large Whites have bigger black tips to their wings, but are in short supply this year.
One of the stars of autumn which people look out for is the Clouded Yellow (see right). This is a migrant butterfly from the continent. It which breeds in North Africa, and makes its way north, often appearing in small numbers in autumn. Occasionally there is a huge influx, known as "Clouded Yellow years". They are usually seen singly, and one made an appearance in the herbaceous garden at Exbury last week. They should not be confused with another yellow butterfly, the Brimstone, which is also about; their shape is quite different and they have quite a lot of orange on the upper surface. As they perch, like Brimstones, with their wings closed, this can only be picked up in flight.
Another continental visitor, a Hummingbird Hawkmoth (left), recently appeared in the Sundial Garden. These strange-looking diurnal moths hover like a hummingbird, and use their very long proboscis to feed at tubular flowers.