Friday, 2 February 2007

Aye, aye, skipper

As summer moves on, the garden is alive with butterflies. Oh, there are lots of other insects but the butterflies are the most flamboyant. With all that surface area and their jaunty flight patterns, they're difficult to miss.

Surprisingly (because my garden is a haven for introduced species), the cabbage white (Pieris rapae) is not the most abundant butterfly. That tag goes to the yellow-banded dart (Ocybadistes walkeri), which visits in small swarms to feed on nectar and check out grass leaves for egg-laying sites.

Darts belong to the family Hesperidae, a large and comparatively poorly-known group. The common names for hesperids — darts and skippers — are spot on. The butterflies dance and prance from one flower to the next. They're ochre and orange blurs until they land.

When resting they usually hold both pair of wings vertically. While feeding, they often open their hind wings, revealing a glimpse of the muted patterns. The similarity between species makes them tricky to identify but the Museum (of) Victoria has a great guide to Victorian species.


Duncan said...

What do you use to glue their feet down while you get their photos? The sods won't sit still for me.

Snail said...

They seem to be less concerned about my camera than they are about me, so I can get the lens close to them by holding it out at arms length. The macro facility is very good so I can get it to within two or three inches. As the camera's a little compact digital with autofocus, I keep snapping away, hoping that something decent comes out of it.

The second one was taken with the zoom set at telephoto.

The main problem is with other male butterflies. One's posing nicely then another comes along and they entertain themselves with a bit of biffo.