Saturday, 24 February 2007

Four-footed flutterers

As I left the house to brave the convoys of chronologically-challenged Sunday drivers, a butterfly dive-bombed me. I probably should have taken this as an augury of doom and stayed home but I pressed on. (Not least of all because I had a shopping list that included toilet paper, chocolate and beer. All essentials.)

The menacing insect was a painted lady (Vanessa kershawi), which has a rapid and unpredictable flight. It zoomed over my head and landed on the leadlight on my front door. The dead leaf camouflage that would have rendered it almost invisible in the scrub wasn't quite as effective on the stained glass. (Although it would have been even more obvious had I bothered to clean the window.)

Painted ladies belong to the family Nymphalidae, which also includes the spectacular Heliconiinae of South America, the wanderers and browns. Despite the diversity of form, all nymphalids have reduced forelegs. This means they appear to possess only two pairs of legs instead of the usual three. This feature is easy to spot if the butterfly has settled. If it is flying, you've got next to no chance.

This painted lady soon tired of my shoving the camera into its face and zipped off. That left me with no other choice than to brave the Saturday afternoon traffic, much of which was driven by the sort of people who would lose a chess match to a cheeseburger. I got the shopping done though.

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