There has been some excitement at Loch Leven NNR, a new species has been recorded on the reserve for the first time! Most of the time, species that haven’t been recorded on reserves before, tend to be ones that are a bit specialist e.g slime moulds, micromoths and lichens. However, this new species is a cracker! It is in fact a Butterfly and it has been increasing its range in Scotland. It is normally seen on the canopy of old oak trees. Have you got it yet…..?
It’s Purple Hairstreak! and we have lots of them!
These characteristic butterflies have been expanding their range in Scotland over the last few decades. It’s stronghold in the UK is southern England, and further north, they are much less common. They are entirely dependent on Oak trees where they feed as caterpillars and then lay their eggs as adults. As adults, their main food source is the Honeydew (sugar rich liquid secreted by feeding aphids) that is present on the Oak leaves.
Don’t let the above photos fool you however, the normal views of Purple Hairstreak are as follows;
They are particularly hard to find as they spend most of their time on the tree tops, probably the main reason they are under-recorded. They are a small butterfly, so they can be hard to spot against a canopy. Sadly, Purple Hairstreaks have been declining in the UK; as much as 30% in the last 30 years.
The colony here at Loch Leven NNR (on the oaks, next to the River Leven at Levenmouth) have probably been here for some time as I counted 30-40 individuals. They are a butterfly that could be easily missed, as they only come out in the evening when people are usually scoffing their tea! After 5pm is recommended if you are out searching for them. The colony was found here last week by some enthusiastic Purple Hairstreak hunters, and who knows how many more Purple Hairstreak sites are around!
I urge anyone to get out there and have a look for Purple Hairstreak. All you need is a sunny, warm evening in late summer (mid July to late August) and some oak trees (even a single oak tree can support a colony). Have a look at the tree tops and see if you can spot any movement. If you do find any, then please put your records into your local biological records centre or irecord – https://www.brc.ac.uk/irecord/enter-casual-record. It would be great to raise awareness of this fantastic butterfly and find out more about their range. As always, if you want to get your eye-in, then I would come check out our newly discovered, thriving population here!