Event Report

A slate grey sky, sharp persistent westerly wind with the threat of a deluge usually discourages outdoor effort but not for our optimistic and committed members. And as for rain, it stayed dry throughout our workday.

We targetted an area of scrub that we knew contained some fine specimens of Alder Buckthorn. If we could clear the surrounding scrub we would make the Alder Buckthorn available for breeding by Brimstone and Holly Blue butterflies as well as the range of bees that are obsessed by the unexpectedly rich nectar the plant’s tiny flowers provide.

A great effort was made. Five hours later we had a great clearing made.  We kept sufficient scrub to give shelter to the buckthorns while allowing light to reach the area. An old pond, which I last saw around 20 years ago, was still there. Perhaps the frogs will return to breed there in the next few weeks.

Another butterfly that we hope will benefit from our work is the Dark Green Fritillary, which is very rare in Kildare, Meath and many other counties, especially counties lacking a coast. The violets in the clearings which grow in patches among dry grass leaf litter offer promising breeding opportunities to this dynamic, beautiful butterfly. We’ll see if this happens in June/July!

Thanks to all who braved the elements. There is strong camaraderie on our workdays with conversation and lunch making the work so much sweeter!

An Alder Buckthorn plant now available for the Brimstone butterfly.
A cleared area at Lullybeg, County Kildare.

Caring for your over-wintering butterflies in February/March

At this time of year, day-length is increasing and the angle of the sunlight is reaching further indoors. The light is reaching tucked-up butterflies, rousing them and causing them to appear at windows.

No matter how energetic the butterflies are as they toss themselves against the glass, it is not the time for their release. It is bitterly cold, wet and occasionally stormy this February and there have been no records of wild free-flying butterflies so far this year. This weather may continue into March.

Place any butterfly that has awoken in your home in a glass jar, lined with a kitchen roll. You can place more than one butterfly in the jar. Place in the fridge and release only when there is a warm, settled spell, usually from late March. I have over-wintered a Small Tortoiseshell until mid-May. It flew energetically away, apparently none the worse for its extended rest.

Not all butterflies survive, even when the recommended measures are used. It is likely that these casualties arise from insufficient weight gain pre-winter or loss of weight during the winter when fat reserves are wasted flying indoors for a prolonged period.

Owing to the volume of inquiries this winter, we will advise when to release the butterflies.

Here is a photograph of two Small Tortoiseshells on kitchen roll in a glass jar that I am over-wintering in my fridge where the temperature of four Celsius is ideal to keep them dormant.

Small Tortoiseshells being over-wintered in the fridge in a glass jar with the lid removed for this photograph. Line the base of the jar with kitchen roll for the butterfly to perch on and to absorb any excess moisture. Photo J. Harding.

Butterfly Guides Believed to have been Murdered for Protecting Butterflies

From the state of Michoacán in Mexico comes the sad and disturbing news of the violent deaths of two butterfly guides,  Homero Gómez and Raúl Hernández who were protecting the Oyamel fir forest habitat of over-wintering Monarch butterflies.

The Oyamel fir forest is a Monarch butterfly forest located in part of Michoacan, Mexico and Mexico City, Mexico. Billions of butterflies migrate from Canada and the United States to Mexico to hibernate during the winter.  The clusters of Monarch butterflies bedecking tall forest trees with their orange wings is one of the greatest natural sights on Earth.  Their migration constitutes “70% of the total overwintering population of the Monarch butterfly’s eastern population” (UNESCO, 2013), becoming one of the most dramatic and spectacular migrations of all insects. The monarch butterfly has an important value to the environment and the culture. Because of the number of Monarch Butterflies migrating, they are one of the greatest pollinators in America (Taylor, 2009).

Oyamel fir forest has been illegally logged, therefore the ecosystems and the Monarch butterflies are under threat. The World Wildlife Fund data reveals that “[a]ccording to a survey carried out during the 2012-2013 winter season by the WWF-Telcel Alliance, and Mexico’s National Commission of Protected Areas (CONAP), the nine hibernating colonies occupy a total area of 2.94 acres of forest—representing a 59% decrease from the 2011-2012 survey of 7.14 acres. The migration of these insects is endangered to extinction threatening the equilibrium of the continent’s environment.

Homero Gómez, one of best-known guardians of the monarch butterfly in Mexico and a leader of the ejido (a Mexican cooperative system of community and shared ownership) disappeared on January 13. Mr Gómez’s body was found in a well on 29 January.  The state attorney has stated that the death was an accident. Officials initially said his body showed no signs of violence, but a post mortem examination revealed he had suffered a blow to the head before drowning in the well.

However, a second guide, Raúl Hernández,  44, disappeared on Monday 27 January. His body was found six days later at the top of a hill in the El Campanario Monarch butterfly sanctuary. Forensic experts said his body was covered in bruises and he had a deep wound to his head. An investigation into his death is underway.

Conservationists fear his death may be linked to that of Homero Gómez.  Gómez’s family said that prior to his disappearance, the activist had received threats warning him to stop his campaign against illegal logging.

He was a tireless campaigner for the conservation of the Monarch and the pine and fir forests where it hibernates. The sanctuary he managed opened in November as part of a strategy to stop illegal logging in the area, which is a key habitat for the species. He was also involved in reafforestation.

Mexico has serious corruption and criminality problems. In 2019 there were 34,582 recorded killings, the highest rate ever. In Michoacán 53 police officers were detained recently by prosecutors in connection with the disappearance of Gómez.  The justice system in Mexico allows offences to go unpunished, with only 3% of murders in Michoacán state solved.

This background of corruption and violence makes the conservation work of  Gómez and his community all the more remarkable. He knew his life was under threat yet he refused to be intimidated. Homeo was committed to saving the hibernation habitat of the Monarch and his community’s environment.

At Homero Gómez’s funeral, a handful of monarch butterflies flew into the church in Ocampo and fluttered above the congregation. In Mexican culture, the monarch is considered the soul of the recently departed as its annual return to Mexico coincides with Day of the Dead on 2 November.

His son, also named Homero, says that Homero Gómez firmly held that belief too: “We know he will return in the form of millions of butterflies in November.”

Event Postponement

The site management day planned for Fahee North, County Clare on Saturday 15th February has been postponed due to the adverse weather forecast for the weekend. The event will be held in September. Details of the new date will be posted on the Events page when known.

Butterfly Conservation Ireland regrets any inconvenience caused. We hope you can join us in good weather in September.