Wednesday 13 September 2023

The Long-tailed Blue Weekend.

With Lisa living in West Sussex, and myself in East Sussex, we get the chance to explore both sides of the county without having to drive long distances on our days out with wildlife.

With 2023 looking as though it will be the best ever year for the rare Long-tailed Blue this is giving us the chance to see them in many different sites, as well as seeing different stages of their life cycle. We have already seen many eggs this year and also several adults, although these have mostly been from the earlier wave of migrants so have been a little past their best. However, now there are a few really fresh butterflies coming through and our chances of a few special photos are increasing.

Last weekend for us started on Friday, and we ventured out hoping for some Long-tailed Blue activity, but we were thinking that most, or all would still be a little worn, however, we were very happy to see some extremely fresh males and half decent females. One of the the latter we actually saw lay an egg which for a few seconds appeared to be a creamy green colour, before it turned to the usual white.

Female Long-tailed Blue.

Below is the egg we watched her lay.

Long-tailed Blue egg.

Fresh Male Long-tailed Blue sitting on Broad-leaved Everlasting Pea flower.

This session was extremely enjoyable spent with a friend too. After a few commitments on Saturday, we then ventured to a different site on the Sunday in the hope of seeing yet more of these beautiful butterflies. The weather wasn't quite so good, but still good enough for them to be flying if you can find some. This was at the site where we had found lots of eggs a couple of weeks earlier, but as most had hatched when we had found them there was an outside chance of some of the earlier ones producing butterflies. As we wandered around the Pea flowers I somehow spotted a Long-tailed Blue larva feeding on one of the pea pods. This was something that I never expected to see, let alone find. There have been very few sightings in the wild of one of these larvae. I quickly called Lisa over hoping it would not move away from where it was feeding. Fortunately, it stayed feeding in full view for some time, and although Lisa had decided not to bring her macro lens she still managed some fine photos with her telephoto.

Long-tailed Blue larva on pea pod.

After a while the larva moved away from the pod and ventured down the stem looking for another part of the plant to feed on.

Long-tailed Blue larva moving down the stem.

Of course, now Lisa wanted to find her own larva, so off she went in a determined way only to find another 2 very quickly. It is always much more satisfying finding your own and not only did she find these two but she also found a very fresh Long-tailed Blue butterfly, which on checking the photos of the abdomen, we think was a female. Unfortunately, we didn't see the top wings properly, but Lisa did manage a few closed wing photos before it flew over a large bush and promptly vanished. We then checked out some more pea further away and she then found another larva that was making a very large meal of a pea pod!! This one was also browner which I think indicates that it was a more advanced larva. Knowing that the pea pods also turn brown with age, that would make sense for the larva to change to brown gradually to keep it's camouflage working.

It's possible that we got lucky with the larvae as it was so hot, so they were venturing out of their hiding places to feed?

Up to now I can't recall seeing any photos of the larvae from the wild. As far as I can remember all the photos I've seen were from people rearing them at home.

The last of the 4 Long-tailed Blue larva that we saw, this one having a very big meal.

It certainly was a very enjoyable and exciting weekend, and with the large number of Long-tailed Blues expected to be flying in the next few weeks the 2023 butterfly season is certainly far from over. Hopefully we will both get some more fresh butterflies to photograph in the weeks to come.

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