Hope Department of Entomology, Oxford
Over the past couple of months, I have been fortunate to spend some considerable time in the good company of Pete Eeles at the Hope Department of Entomology at Oxford’s University Museum of Natural History (OUMNH). Pete, who runs the UK Butterflies website at www.ukbutterflies.co.uk, has added, and continues to add, considerable value to this excellent resource and it has been my pleasure to join him on what can only be described as a mutually rewarding adventure of discovery.
As an example of our earlier and continuing research the Large Blue (Phengaris (Maculinea) arion) has played a significant role. Our studies have involved tracking down specimens from lost colonies and reviewing historic literature relating to their final outposts e.g. from areas including North Cornwall, South Devon, Somerset, the Cotswolds and Barnwell Wold in Northamptonshire. The image capture process, expertly undertaken by Katherine Child (OUMNH), has provided an excellent means of better understanding the original descriptions and has provided an excellent graphical means of comparing regional colonies. Some of the specimens we have selected for inclusion are historic in their own right, in that they have been used in past reference works, not least, the Barnwell Wold specimens of P. arion from the important Dale collection, which feature on Plate 12, Figures 1 and 2, in Butterflies by E. B. Ford (pictured below).
Of the literature, which has been reviewed, the diaries and correspondences of the late James Charles Dale (1792-1872) have transported us to a period when Large Coppers, Mazarine Blues, Swallowtails, Bath Whites and other lepidopteran wonders graced our countryside. The middle image below, showing Dale's log from circa 1835, is of particular interest as it details the capture of Papilio arion, now Phengaris arion, from Mouse's Pasture, Bromham near Bedford. Examination of other diaries in Dale's archive also indicate reference to this location which is referred to in A History of British Butterflies by the Rev. F. O. Morris, 1853. Dale’s diaries and communications have sometimes been a challenge to read, but the effort has been worth it, as their contents continue to take flight into our imagination.
The search continues ...