May is a lovely month to look for butterflies, several of our native species are on the wing at this time of year including the striking yellow Brimstone. It is thought that the name butterfly comes from this large, yellow beauty, literally Butter Fly! When you see one flying it is highly visible but actually, it can be well camouflaged too; have a look at the shape of the brimstone’s wing and you will see that it closely resembles a leaf. When at rest they can disappear amongst the foliage.
Brimstones can be seen early in the year as they overwinter as adults, emerging from hibernation to lay eggs in April or May, ready to hatch as green caterpillars in July. Following pupation in August, adults are back in early autumn, feeding and finding sites to overwinter. The other spring butterflies that you see will have either overwintered as adults, such as the red admiral or small tortoiseshells or as a chrysalis or pupa – orange tips do this as do holly blues. Some butterflies overwinter as caterpillars, the meadow brown for example.
Brimstone caterpillars feed on buckthorn and alder buckthorn so if you are planting a hedge try and include these, buckthorn favours calcareous soil and alder buckthorn more acidic conditions. Churchyards are great for butterflies as they contain such a rich array of plants. If you have an area which is managed as a meadow you may have many species of a caterpillar chomping away at the plants within it. Look out for orange tips laying eggs on cuckoo flower, garlic and hedge mustard, or the Speckled Wood, also flying in May, which lays eggs on native grasses such as Yorkshire fog and couch grass. This butterfly prefers long grass so may use a tussocky area at the back of your churchyard, perhaps near shade trees.
We’d love to know what butterflies you see as well as any other wildlife that you spot. Why not while away a sunny hour or two looking for butterflies in this beautiful place.
Diocesan Churchyard Environmental Advisor,
individuals and groups in the diocese receive 20% members discount on all CfGA materials. Use the discount code diomem22