Finding butter in the spring
start moving around until warmth is in the air: those that have spent the winter hibernating as adults are the first on the wing. Look out for the lovely yellow male brimstones fluttering around as they patrol along the hedgerow, searching for a female. “Brimstone” is the archaic name for sulphur, the yellow element produced in abundance around volcanoes and familiar to the ancients.
The large sulphur-yellow male brimstone is one of our more conspicuous butterflies and a common sight from as early as February through to May, but they never settle with their bright wings open.
The angular shape and strong veining of their underwings closely resemble leaves, camouflaging the butterfly at rest and during hibernation. The yellow of the male cannot be confused with any other British butterfly, but the pale greenish-white female is sometimes mistaken for a large white. Both sexes have an orange spot in the centre of each wing.
Early naturalists called the brimstone the ‘buttercoloured fly’, possibly leading to the common name for this group of insects. In olden days the “butter season” ran from March to November, coinciding with the appearance of butterflies, but the true etymology of the word butterfly remains lost in the mists of time.
Butter was once wrapped in the leaves of the waterside