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I have been interested in nature for most of my life but since I retired I spend as much time as I can exploring the nature reserves and wildlife hotspots of my adopted home, Dorset in southern England. Whilst out I record what I see and take snaps where I can (I am no photographer!) and that forms the basis of my Nature of Dorset website. When I find something new I like to research it and write about it in my nature notes, it is how I learn and hopefully you might find my notes helpful as well!

This website is for the people of Dorset interested in wildlife and for people from elsewhere interested in the wildlife of Dorset!

12 March, 2014

The brimstone butterfly: bucking the trend

The brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni) is unique in several ways. Firstly, it has an almost unpronounceable and unspellable scientific name, Gonepteryx rhamni! 
Secondly, its larvae feed exclusively on alder buckthorn and purging buckthorn which are generally found in open chalk downland areas and yet the brimstone is plentiful here in Purbeck where these buckthorns are not common. They are frequent visitors to our garden where there is certainly no buckthorn at all and it is believed that
they do travel great distances.
Thirdly, whilst some species like the red admiral, peacock and small tortoiseshell do hibernate most of our main early specimens of these species are immigrants from Europe. The brimstone, however, is a specialist at hibernating and our first sightings in early spring are those that have seen the winter through in hibernation. When at rest the wings have a remarkable resemblance to ivy leaves and it is generally in ivy that they hibernate undetected thanks to this camouflage.
Brimstone is the old name for sulphur and the male's vivid bright yellow colouring gives rise to the common name. The female is white and is often assumed to be an early large white but, of course, it lacks the black on the wings that the large white has.
What a lovely sight these butterflies are on a warm spring day; a true joy to behold.
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