Comma a new ad­di­tion to our but­ter­fly fauna

Fingal Independent - - LIFESTYLE - JIM HUR­LEY’S

The spells of fine weather last week with warm sun­shine, higher than nor­mal tem­per­a­tures and slack winds re­sulted in sev­eral but­ter­flies be­ing on the wing rather late in the sea­son. The odd Small White, Red Ad­mi­ral, Small Tor­toise­shell and Speck­led Wood was about and, sur­prise, sur­prise, I spot­ted a lone Comma look­ing like a tatty and raggedy Small Tor­toise­shell but much brighter and more orange in colour.

The Comma is a new ar­rival to our shores. It is a strong flier and an in­sect of wide dis­tri­bu­tion; its range ex­tends from north Africa to much of Europe and right across Asia to Ja­pan. It is com­mon in Bri­tain and is steadily ex­tend­ing its range north­wards into Scot­land. In re­cent years it has colonised the Isle of Man and the is­land of Ire­land. How it got here is un­known but there are two the­o­ries.

One the­ory is that a pop­u­la­tion erup­tion in Bri­tain may have co­in­cided with favourable easterly winds that car­ried the in­sects across the Ir­ish Sea to our green and pleas­ant land. The se­cond the­ory is the species may have ar­rived as eggs, cater­pil­lars or pu­pae on plants im­ported from Bri­tain.

How­ever the frilly winged but­ter­flies got here, they man­aged to sur­vive and thrive. Dis­tri­bu­tion maps of the Comma in Ire­land show that most re­ports are from the east coast of the coun­try pos­si­bly sup­port­ing the the­ory that in­sects are be­ing car­ried across the Ir­ish Sea by easterly winds. There is no ev­i­dence that the Comma is a mi­grant.

When the but­ter­fly closes its wings, the un­der­sides are a mix­ture of dull browns save for a prom­i­nent white mark shaped like a comma; it is that mark that gives the in­sect its com­mon English name.

Like our very com­mon Small Tor­toise­shells, Com­mas hi­ber­nate as adults. To tide them over the win­ter to need a high in­take of sugar in au­tumn. As they ap­proach the time for hi­ber­na­tion they range far and wide seek­ing out the last of the nec­tar-bear­ing late sum­mer flow­ers, wind­falls and rot­ting fruit. As a re­sult, these wood­land but­ter­flies may well be seen in gar­dens at this time of year.

When adults hi­ber­nate, they close their wings. The mot­tled brown un­der­sides and the jagged out­line as a re­sult of the scal­loped edges of the wings give the im­pres­sion of a with­ered leaf as the in­sect clings mo­tion­less to the trunk of a tree. The cam­ou­flage is ob­vi­ously highly ef­fec­tive in mak­ing the but­ter­fly in­con­spic­u­ous to preda­tors.

The Comma is a re­cent ad­di­tion to the but­ter­fly fauna of Ire­land.

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