Belfast Telegraph

Butterfly charity counting public to help confirm Common Blue comeback

A Common Blue
A Common Blue
Painted Lady butterfly

By Mark McConville

A butterfly which has been struggling for the last 40 years could be making a comeback in Northern Ireland, a wildlife charity has said.

Butterfly Conservation said the Common Blue's numbers soared by 75% during record-breaking heat in 2018 compared to the previous summer.

Now experts are predicting it could see its best summer on record thanks to the warm weather forecast for August.

Butterfly Conservation's senior surveys officer Dr Zoe Randle said that people "should be able to spot these butterflies in many places, especially where the wildflower Common Bird's-foot-trefoil is found, as this is the main foodplant for their caterpillars".

She added: "The Common Blue did exceptionally well in Northern Ireland last year and the country has experienced a really good summer so far, which is great news for this butterfly.

"The forecast for August is saying to expect more showers, but in between any rain, we'll have sunny spells and crucially temperatures will remain warm in Northern Ireland, so we need people to get outside and take part in the Big Butterfly Count whenever they can.

"We've already had some Common Blue sightings reported in Northern Ireland this week, so we're keen to track its progress and see if this butterfly's fortunes really have turned around, or whether the Common Blue still needs our help."

The Common Blue, the most widespread of the UK's blue butterflies, is not typically found in gardens, preferring unimproved grassland such as downland, woodland clearings, heathland and even sand dunes.

The males have unmarked, bright blue upperwings, but females have orange crescents and dark spots near the outer edges on a ground colour that varies from purple-blue to dark brown, with a mere tinge of blue near to the body. The underwings of both sexes have numerous black spots, with white halos and orange marks around the edges.

Butterfly Conservation is also keen to see if 2019 really has been a Painted Lady summer - a once in a decade butterfly phenomenon when millions of the butterflies arrive from Europe and Africa.

More than 30,000 were counted across the UK in just two days last week and great clouds of Painted Lady butterflies have been seen all over Northern Ireland since then.

People are being asked to record sightings of the Common Blue and Painted Lady as part of the Big Butterfly Count - the largest survey of its kind in the world.

Dr Randle said: "We're also keen for people to keep recording any Painted Lady sightings, as this could be a record year for them, so keep counting and we'll reveal the total number after August 11."

To take part in The Big Butterfly Count, submit sightings online at www.bigbutterflycount.org

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