Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 4, 2020

A Welcome Return

Argynnis paphia

Silver-washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia)

With so many losses and seemingly ever-steepening declines taking place in the natural world, it is with no small degree of pleasure to report a definite gain, at least in my local area, but hopefully elsewhere also.  It concerns no less than one of our most impressive of butterflies, the Silver-washed Fritillary, a large species that requires  little more than the simple combination of richly orange-brown wings, marked with black lines and spots in striking contrast, to turn the head.  On settling, the partly eponymous silver-green sheen on the underside serves only to enhance their beauty.

They have returned to several of my local, south-east Essex woods, something which appears to be taken place further afield around the county as a whole.  Their absence had stretched across several decades.  In one, well-recorded wood, (Belfairs Nature Reserve) very few observations were taken after the 1950s, extending only into the 1970s.  The insect I had the pleasure of encountering last summer in the Essex Wildlife Trust’s Pound Wood nature reserve was very probably also the first seen there, it could be guessed, since the early part of the 20th century.  So too the butterfly that prompted me to write this post, which I photographed yesterday in West Wood (Thundersley).

The larval food-plants of the Silver-washed Fritillary are dog-violets (Viola sp.).  Interestingly the butterflies don’t lay their eggs directly onto the plants, but are known instead to do so about a metre up the trunk of tree with violets growing about the base.  Certain Viola species are common enough, widely distributed plants.  May the butterfly’s resurgence continue.


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