Thursday, August 05, 2010

The butterflies of Ballybeg

It doesn't take a very thick guidebook to butterfly watch in Ireland. Only twenty-eight species are permanent residents of the island. Even fewer make their home on the windswept Dingle Peninsula. Most would not knock your eye out. Meadow Browns. Small Heaths. Coppers. Common Blues. Run-of-the-millstream sorts of things. A few more extravagant species sometimes make an appearance. Red Admirals, with their nautical epaulettes. Eye-spotted Peacocks. Painted Ladies, hussied up in rouge and henna. My wife plants butterfly bushes in hopes of attracting these gaudier species. They come. They dally. They flitter on.

The caterpillars have more tempting fare to feast on. Nettles for the Red Admiral and Peacock. Thistles for the Painted Lady. Lord knows we have enough of that stuff. Red Admirals migrate to Ireland from their winter home in central and southern Europe. Why they choose this brisk, damp place for their summer holidays rather than the sunny south of France, I'll never know. Ah, but then you could ask the same question of me.

On rare occasions, American Monarch butterflies have been observed in western Ireland, having arrived inadvertently on the prevailing westerlies. How these slips of papery tissue survive the two-thousand mile Atlantic crossing and still have the energy to flit is a mystery. What a shock it must be to find oneself on these rockbound shores of thistle and nettle rather than in the luscious fir forests of Mexico.