Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 12, 2015

The Emperor and Others

To the Broxbourne Woods of Hertfordshire in search of the impressive and enigmatic Purple Emperor.  I have never laid eyes on these butterflies before and I am pleased to say that I can now say that I have.  I have seen it written that a first encounter with one is an experience never forgotten.  True enough – they are not an insect which is easily forgotten.  They are strikingly marked with bold white streaks across purple-sheened (in the males) or velvety, dark brown – almost black – wings.  What’s more, with a wingspan measuring up to 9cm across, among our native UK butterflies they are matched only by the female Swallowtail.

Having seen a couple gliding high up around the treetops, one in particular did indeed provide us with a memorable sight, as it flew past at head-height to settle on a leafy branch well within binocular range.  Perhaps needless to say however, it is those others that embellish the backdrop around which we might seek out such sought after things that will so often make their own impressions.  Today it was the general butterfly plenty that accompanied us on our search for the emperors, something, of course, which is becoming all too infrequently found.  The numerous Ringlet that bounced about the ride-side grasses and still-blossoming bramble, the vibrant orange, freshly emerged Comma, or the Silver-washed Fritillary that never fail to inspire.  Around and among them dragonflies dashed, including their own and no less impressive Emperor and longhorn beetles and bumblebees took their own from bramble flowers.

There is one other that is worthy of specific mention.  A large, orange-brown wasp buzzing past usually spells Hornet.  This time though, it didn’t quite ring true.  It seemed rather too leggy and flew with a lower-pitched buzz, a little reminiscent of the sound that a playing card makes on the spokes of a wheel when attached to a bicycle (as was once the wont of young boys across the land).  It was a Horntail, another very impressive insect.  It is actually a particularly large species of sawfly and indeed on of Europe’s largest of largest of all Hymenoptera (ants, bees and wasps).  They are creatures of the woodlands where females seek out recently felled or diseased trees in which to drill her ovipositor and lay her eggs.  Indeed quite a stunner in itself.

Horntail (Urocerus gigas). Ross Gardner 2015

Horntail (Urocerus gigas). Ross Gardner 2015

It seems only fair to provide the opportunity for look at the butterflies referred to in the title, so click here

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