‘FÉILEACHÁN 2013’ is a report compiled by David Nash, organiser of the national butterfly recording scheme, and produced by the Dublin Naturalists’ Field Club. The report summarises butterfly reports for last year from around the country.
One of the interesting announcements in the recent report is that there is now very strong evidence to support the view that the Comma, once regarded as a vagrant, is naturalised in Ireland. The south-east is presently its stronghold and it appears to be spreading nationwide.
The butterfly is so named as it has a prominent white mark on its underwing shaped like a comma. Its other notable feature is the scalloped margins of its hind wings. It can look somewhat like a tattered and ragged-winged version the very common Small Tortoiseshell so there is a strong possibility that its arrival here went un-noticed by many people.
It was first recorded by Elizabeth Keogh when she spotted three individuals in Raven Wood, Co Wexford, in 2000. Since then there were sporadic reports culminating last year in 36 sightings in counties Carlow, Dublin, Kilkenny, Meath, Waterford, Westmeath, Wexford and Wicklow.
The Comma is widespread in England and Wales and is in the process of colonising Scotland. The range of the species extends southwards to North Africa. It occurs throughout Europe and Asia and stretches eastwards as far as Japan.
How it got to Ireland is unknown; it is assumed that either immigrant adults may have made the flight naturally borne along by a strong easterly winds or that eggs or caterpillars were accidentally introduced on imported fruit bushes or young trees.
In Britain adult females lay eggs on several plants including Common Nettle, Elm and Currant and the caterpillars feed on these plants when the eggs hatch. Comma eggs and caterpillars have not been recorded in Ireland yet so evidence of proof of breeding is awaited.
Records of the handsome Comma are requested for the recording scheme especially photographs of the underwing showing the decisive comma mark. Tattered and raggedwinged Small Tortoiseshells demand closer examination this coming summer. Needless to say, pictures and details of eggs and caterpillars would, of course, be a first.
As days become warmer, adults should be emerging from hibernation very soon and foraging for nectar in gardens, along country lanes and in woodland. For details of David Nash’s recording scheme, how to submit records and all you ever wanted to know about Irish butterflies see www.butterflyireland.com
The Comma is a recent addition to Ireland’s butterfly fauna