A small tortoiseshell. Picture: Paula Farrell
As I write this piece the sun is shining, I have just done the first cut on my lawn for the year, and while doing so, the first butterfly I have encountered in 2021 fluttered past.
Now although Met Éireann is predicting a drop in temperature in the coming days, for now I am enjoying the bright warm day.
The National Biodiversity Data Centre coordinates the all-Ireland Butterfly Monitoring Scheme and annually this monitoring scheme starts on the first of April, so my observation of the small tortoiseshell butterfly (ruán beag as Gaeilge) is just in time for the start of the season.
The small tortoiseshell is a very common butterfly and easily identified with its orange, black and white markings, and if you look closely you will also notice blue spots around its border.
It’s a medium-sized butterfly that is resident in Ireland all year around and can be widely observed in our gardens and parks.
The butterfly I observed emerged as an adult in the summer of 2020, and by late September it had found a dark space to hibernate — that hibernation space may even have been in my home!
Emerging from its winter hibernation, this butterfly will seek a mate, eggs will be laid and after April, this species will not be observed on the wing again until mid-June.
The small tortoiseshell is not the only butterfly that can be observed over the coming weeks.
Watch for the brimstone, the green-veined white, peacock, orange tip, speckled wood, small white and wood white butterflies.
Why are butterflies important? Butterflies are pollinators but also as we know so much about their lifecycle, changes in their populations can often indicate changes in our environmental quality.
You can encourage butterflies to your garden by planting native nectar rich flowers, and, if you have space, the small tortoiseshell butterfly loves a lush crop of nettles.
If you observe a butterfly in your local area become a citizen scientist by submitting your observation to www.biodiversityireland.ie.
If you come across a wildlife species that you would like help identifying I would be happy to help. Contact me at email@example.com.