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Visit woods this weekend for chance to see fritillaries
4:27pm Wednesday 11th July 2012 in Rural Focus
SOUTH Wilts RSPB is hosting an open day at Garston Wood nature reserve on Sunday. The wood is right on the Wiltshire/Dorset border, one-and-a-half miles north of Sixpenny Handley, on the road to Bowerchalke.
The wood is awash with butterflies in July, among the coppiced hazel and old oak trees. There will be free guided walks every hour, on the hour, from 10am until 4pm, but visitors can also wander around by themselves if they prefer. An amble around the wood takes about one-and-a-half to two hours and stout footwear is advisable. If the weather is kind, visitors should see many large, bright orange and black, silver-washed fritillary butterflies carrying out their courtship display flights. They share the wood with white admirals – both these species have responded well to the woodland management and their numbers are rising.
After mating, the female fritillary lays her eggs in chinks in the bark of mature trees, mostly oaks, usually 1-2m off the ground on the mossy north or west side of the trunk in shady areas which have lots of dog violets.
The tiny egg hatches after a fortnight and the tiny caterpillar eats its eggshell, spins a tiny pad of silk, and hibernates on it until spring. It then wakens and walks down the trunk and goes in search of violets to eat.
A spectacular form of fritillary called valesina can be seen every year in central southern England. The upper wings have a dusky, greenish sheen and the underwings have a pinkish hue.
Valesinas vary, year by year, from five-15 per cent of females.
They are less attractive to males and can fly in much cloudier weather than normal females.
After mating, female white admirals flutter in and out of partially-shaded woodland areas, seeking spindly, straggling growths of shady honeysuckle to lay their eggs on. The tiny caterpillar disguises itself with its own droppings for the first two weeks but then abandons this defensive habit (which deters ants) and builds a honeysuckle leaf shelter in which it hibernates from September to March.
The leaf does not fall off in the autumn because the caterpillar fixes it to the plant stem by its stalk using silk. It resumes feeding in the spring, on newlysprouting honeysuckle leaves and turns a beautiful green with dark orange spikes along its back. The exquisite chrysalis, also green, hangs suspended by its tail from a honeysuckle stem and strongly resembles a withered leaf for about two weeks, when the adult emerges and the cycle begins again.
Walks will start from the car park entrance at the northern end of the wood (OS SU04195) and refreshments, plants and RSPB goods will be on sale.
For further information call 01722 712713 or 07761 635949.