In late summer and early autumn, we still have a large number of species flying. A good, ‘natural’ garden stocked with native herbs and trees can attract all of the species featured below. Here is a selection of these butterflies and moths. All but one of the moths shown are strictly nocturnal and spend the daylight hours concealed among the leaves of trees and shrubs.
Scorched Carpet, double-brooded in the south and midlands of Ireland, breeds on Spindle. This foodplant relies on calcareous soil, which means the moth is found in limestone areas and areas with lime in the soil. The moth occurs in areas of scrub and hedgerows, including some gardens.
The Canary-shouldered Thorn breeds on a range of deciduous trees. It flies mainly during September and is striking for its canary-yellow thorax. Despite the bright colouring, the moth is rarely seen unless a light trap is used to attract it. It likes wooded areas, including mature gardens.
The Frosted Orange breeds on thistles, particularly on Creeping Thistle, where the larva feeds internally on the plant stems. Despite the abundance of the foodplants, the moth is not very abundant in Ireland. It flies in August and September.
The Gold Spot likes wet areas, including marshes, where its wetland foodplants, like Flag Iris, occur. It flies in two broods, in June and later in August/September. It is common in Ireland. It can sometimes be seen flying during daylight, during overcast, mild weather.
The Common Blue (male pictured) is widespread in Ireland in grassy places, using a number of vetches and clovers as larval foodplants. Black Medic and Common Bird’s-foot-trefoil are commonly used where these grow in suitable conditions. The species flies in at least two generations annually, and responds to summer drought by producing very small individuals in late summer. In some years it flies into early October.
The Small Copper belongs to the same butterfly family as the Common Blue. It breeds on Common and Sheep’s Sorrel, both dock species. This beautiful, active butterfly is widely distributed in Ireland but it is rarely numerous in any one place. Two or even three broods can be seen per year. In years with three broods, it flies from May to October, with an overlap between the second and third broods in years with prolonged warm weather in late summer and autumn.
The Brimstone butterfly (the male is brimstone yellow on the upperside of his wings) produces just one generation each year. It is our longest-lived butterfly in the adult form, lasting up to a year. This one hatched in August and is feeding for a few days before disappearing for the rest of the year, reappearing in March to breed. Eggs are laid, in Ireland, on two small trees, Purging Buckthorn and Alder Buckthorn. A puzzling feature of this species is that the abundance of the insect in spring is often unmatched by its apparent relative scarcity during the previous summer and autumn.
Red Admiral on Devil’s-bit Scabious. The butterfly in this photo is perfect, having emerged the day the photograph was taken. After feeding, this butterfly is likely to migrate southwards, heading to the continent to breed. Some will stay put, breeding here, in warmer coastal locations, where the immature stages will develop slowly during the colder months. This is a recently noted change; before 2000 all autumn Red Admirals were understood to leave Ireland in autumn. Now, most still do so, but this is changing.
All photos J. Harding