Sunday, 4 September 2016

Selvedg'd Heath Eye (Petiver, 1717) …

Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus)

Despite its contemporary British vernacular name, C. pamphilus is not confined to heathland and can be found in a wide range of habitats particularly those that are more open in structure, such as grassland, heathland, railway embankments, disused quarries, meadows and coastal dunes. It occurs only sparingly in woodland where it can be found in ones and twos along wide woodland rides.

The main distinguishing feature of this discreet species is that this is the smallest of the Satyrids found in the UK and is closer in size to a Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus), Brown Argus (Aricia agestis), or even one of the golden skippers than its relatives, such as the Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina). However, its weak fluttering flight is quite dissimilar from these species and is relatively easy to identify in the field. The sexes are alike yet females tend to be a little larger, more rounded and generally paler than the males and her eyespot is typically not so prominent. This delightful though often overlooked little butterfly always settles with its wings closed, where the eyespot on the underside of the forewing is usually visible, acting as a decoy to potential predators. The forewings are tucked behind the hindwings when roosting for long periods, or during episodes of dull weather; the butterfly looking quite inconspicuous as the browns and greys of the underside of the hindwing blend in with their surroundings.

A freshly emerged male having just alighted on a grass stem is pictured above.

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