Finally I met The Duke
After three long days of teaching in Leeds, I felt entitled to a day off, so Chris and I went to visit the only population of Duke of Burgundy in Lincolnshire - a new species for both of us. We met the ranger for the site, and, thanks to his expert knowledge, we saw our first couple within minutes. One was rather faded but this beauty was quite fresh. They were late emerging this year, and the peak seems to have been last week, when a total of 10 were seen. Today we eventually found four.
This small butterfly frequents scrubby grassland and sunny woodland clearings, typically in very low numbers. The adults rarely visit flowers and most sightings are of the territorial males as they perch on a prominent leaf at the edge of scrub. The females are elusive and spend much of their time resting or flying low to the ground looking for suitable egg-laying sites. Eggs are laid in small batches underneath the leaves of Primrose and Cowslip plants. They take seven to 21 days to hatch depending on weather conditions. Caterpillars stay hidden during the day, emerging to feed on leaves at dusk. Even after six weeks of feeding they remain smaller than 2cm long. Conditions during this stage are critical to their survival, with summer droughts posing a huge threat - earlier this spring the ranger feared that last summer may have caused them to become extinct in Lincolnshire. Caterpillars will leave the foodplant to pupate in grass tussocks. This species overwinters as a chrysalis until the following spring.
There were lots of other good butterflies around including Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, Brown Argus and Green Hairstreak. But I spent the rest of my time at the site collecting herbarium specimens for the LoveLincsPlants project. Several species I collected had fairly delicate flowers, so I pressed them in the field. This was no easy job because any slight breeze made the newspaper flimsies flap around, and arranging the specimens nicely seemed to need at least four hands!