Find­ing but­ter in the spring

Canal Boat - - Waterside Wildlife -

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

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