The comma butterfly. Picture: Dennis Hunt/Sussex Wildlife Trust

Sussex Wildlife Trust: Meet the butterfly that’s bucking the trend

With more time to spend in the garden, Sussex Wildlife Trust’s learning and engagement officer, James Duncan, has been able to record creatures he has seen, species by species. Here, we focus on the comma butterfly, which can be seen all year round. James said: “This must surely be one of Britain’s most distinctive butterflies – not necessarily for its wildly exotic colours but certainly its unique shape. It’s also one of our major butterfly success stories, having increased its population size by over 50 per cent in the last 40 years. In stark contrast, it was in such major decline during the late 19th and early 20th century that it teetered on the edge of extinction.” The comma changed its diet to stinging nettles after mass harvesting reduced hop, its main food source. James said: “Unlike humans, the comma may also be benefiting from the effects of climate change, helping its population to expand further northwards. Whatever the reasons for its expansion, one thing is for certain, it’s bucking the trend amongst UK butterflies.”

By Elaine Hammond
Wednesday, 1st April 2020, 10:22 am

The comma is named for the white punctuation mark on the underwing and best known for its cryptic camouflage. James explained: “With its jagged, heavily-scalloped wings in a closed position, any resting or hibernating comma does a superb impression of a dead leaf, and an accurately decaying one at that. Amongst branches and leaves, it’s almost entirely inconspicuous. The camouflage doesn’t stop at the adults, as the caterpillars bear a remarkable resemblance to a bird dropping, helping them to avoid predation. They’re undoubtedly a powerful flyer, furious flaps interspersed with bouts of gliding. Helpfully for observation, they’re also a predictable butterfly and the males have a tendency to return to the same perching spot after short flights.”

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