French letters

IMG_6128blogsizeThat’s me back in Shetland from a week in France – a week primarily intended as a chance to recharge the batteries after a (non wildlife-related) stressful past few months, but with a significant element of work thrown in for good measure – I had a major piece of wildlife-related writing to work on, and the absence of any distractions was hugely welcome.

IMG_5839blogsizeThat’s not entirely true though… The garden of the rural house I was staying in had a lawn that was keeping the local butterflies busy – Clouded Yellows, Meadow Browns, and Common Blues were all frequent visitors laying their eggs in the garden. The Clouded Yellows and Common Blues were typically fussy, taking their time to choose just the right foodplant upon which to carefully lay an egg; the Meadow Browns were much less choosy, landing briefly before dropping an egg loosely to fall into the grass’s understory.

Occasional Scarce Swallowtails flashed through the garden’s airspace, but weren’t lingering. The same couldn’t be said for my only new (in the wild) butterfly of the trip – Geranium Bronzes were a constant presence feeding on the clover. This species was originally from South Africa and was introduced (accidentally or perhaps deliberately) into the Balearic islands, from where it’s now colonised mainland Europe.

IMG_6496blogsizeWhether their introduction is entirely benign is debatable. Native to France, but definitely packing a punch were the European Hornets that droned around the garden’s fruit trees, making light work of ripe plums. It had been years since I’d seen one at close quarters; I’d quite forgotten what a substantial wasp these bad boys were.

IMG_5638 blogsizeAlso present, and most active in the evening were Praying Mantises – there always seems to be a faintly diabolical intelligence and awareness in these predatory insects. Any movement near them caused them to rear up and present their razor sharp barbed forelegs. A creature not to be trifled with – as no male mantis would need telling. The females are partial to consuming the males while they’re still mating…

IMG_6232blogsizeWatching one impartially consuming a live beetle was strangely grimmer than seeing Killer Whales hunting seals back here in Shetland. Less challenging were the fabulous lizards that skittered up and down the farmhouse walls. It’s easy to like (and anthropomorphise) a lizard – their faces are as lovable as a mantis’s eyes are cold and calculating.

In other news, there was much wine, good food, and added sunflowers. Back home now for the autumn. More writing to come from me shortly, and a trip somewhere much more exotic to look forward to before the year’s end…



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3 Responses to French letters

  1. Pam says:

    Wow. Butterflies look fantastic. As does the Preying Mantis. I enjoyed raising them with the kiddos and in the library, and releasing them later in our garden. European Hornets look nasty. I remember an encounter we had in Hokkaido when we (Anna, John, and I) and our bird guide were set upon by a Asian (Japanese) Giant Hornet. The bird guide (who knew what it was) was really terrified. By his manner, I figured that we needed to get out of there quickly, hopefully without annoying the hornet!!

  2. Also just returned from sunny France! Interesting that you caught up with a new species as I did too – Indian Silverbills on the French Riviera! I had no idea what they were and certainly hadn’t planned to see them but apparently French Category C. Love the butterflies too and never get bored of the swallowtails.

    • Jon Dunn says:

      I forgot to mention another butterfly semi-tick – the so-called red variant (properly known as f.clytie) of Lesser Purple Emperor. One was tazzing around the dining area outside my front door at one point. Too fast and too flighty to be photographed. I needed something rotting and ripe to lure it in. Fox poo is well-regarded in this regard. Alas I had none readily to hand.

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