Friday, 16 January 2015

Coming To The Aid Of Some Butterflies

It's not just birds and mammals that need our help when it comes to rescuing, from time to time something all together much smaller and different requires some help.

On Thursday I received a call from the lovely people at Secret World Wildlife Rescue about some hibernating butterflies in a building that needs to be plastered but the wonderful builder didn't want to disturb the butterflies so called Secret World, who then called me! After much research and discussions it was decided that someone would take the butterflies and put them in the loft of their house to join those already hibernating there. The tricky bit was to remove them from the building and transport them safely without them warming up and thinking it's spring.

So, this morning we went to the building armed with cardboard boxes, a torch and camera to collect the butterflies and moths as it would turn out to be. We went from room to room, taking some photos and carefully removing the butterflies and moths one by one and putting them into the boxes. Once they had all been collected we made a quick count of species and off they went to their new hibernating home.

Peacock butterflies on the wall

Small tortoiseshell butterflies on the ceiling

In total we rescued:
30 peacock butterflies (Aglais io)

21 Small tortoiseshell butterflies (Aglais urticae)

7 Herald moths (Scoliopteryx libatrix)

Herald moths in the box ready to go to their new hibernating site

One thing we observed when moving the butterflies was the rasping noise that the peacock butterflies produced. this rasping sound is produced when the forewings are rubbed together as they open and close, flashing the bright patterns and eyespots. Outside, flashing the eye spots and patterns of the wings acts as a very good deterrent to predators but in the dark the eye spots would not be seen so they produce the rasping noise as well and this has been seen to be an effective deterrent against mice.

These butterflies and moths will be put in the loft and left to sleep out the cold months emerging again in Spring. This was an unusual rescue and a first I think for Secret World, but we cannot thank the kind builder enough for contacting the staff at Secret World and allowing us to go in and remove the insects. The majority of rescues involve birds and mammals but occasionally the smaller creatures need help to, so below is some advice on what to do if you find any hibernating butterflies or moths.

Advice on hibernating butterflies and moths

Here in the UK we have four species of butterflies that hibernate regularly as adults (Brimstone, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock) and in recent years there have been reports of Red Admiral butterflies hibernating in the UK and this is probably due to warming temperatures. The two species you are most likely to come across in the house, garage or shed are the small tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies.

As it gets colder, butterflies look for a dark, dry and sheltered location to hibernate and there they will stay until spring. However, sometimes the places they choose can be our homes and this can cause a problem when we put the heating on and the house becomes warmer than it was when the butterfly started to hibernate. Unfortunately this can trick the butterfly into thinking that it is spring and time to go outside but this would be fatal for it as there would be no food and the cold temperatures would certainly kill it. If you find a butterfly in your home and it's not moving, please leave it where it is, however if the warmth of the house is causing it to become active you may need to relocate it to somewhere more suitable such as an unheated outbuilding, like a garage or shed or even a loft if you know you have butterflies hibernating there already (normally older houses with gaps where the butterflies can get in and out).

It is always good to check to see if you have any hibernating butterflies in the garage, shed or loft as if there are already some butterflies there they are able to find their own way in out and again come spring. Moving them should only be done as a last resort and if you do need to move them please be very very careful as they are very delicate and also the warmth from your hands can be enough to bring them out of hibernation if handled for too long.

Peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies hibernating in a small group on the ceiling
As our butterflies needed to be moved between buildings, we placed them into cardboard boxes to transport them, these boxes will be placed into the loft and left open rather than handle them for a second time. If you have moved your butterflies into a garage or shed with windows then come springtime, those butterflies that have survived as they wake up they will probably head straight for the window and can get caught up in spiders webs so just check on them regularly to make sure they can get back outside safely. 

Herald moth and peacock butterflies hibernating together on the the ceiling
Our butterflies and moths are now safe and the builders can get on with the work. Please don't worry of your hibernating butterflies don't make it through the winter this is not uncommon and can happen for numerous reasons. 

A huge thank you goes out again to the builder for noticing them and allowing us to go and move them to a safer place and to the staff of Secret World for organising the rescue! 

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