Nettles
 

  Be Nice to Nettles Week
  a CONE initiative
Nettles
 
“Stinging nettles give us an insight into both the capacity for nature to flourish even in some of the hardest urban conditions, and how plants are essential in providing us with some of the neccessities of life.

Not only do they provide excellent food for some butterflies and moths, but we can make tea from their leaves, use them as dyes, and once stung we will never forget their power to protect - as good a piece of environmental education as any.”

Mathew Frith
Urban Advisor, English Nature

 

 
 
 

Comma - Polygonia c-album

 Comma - Polygonia c-album
 Copyright Butterfly Conservation
© Butterfly Conservation
The ragged outline to the wings is like no other butterfly found in the UK.

The comma is a prime example of changing fortunes in the world of wildlife. From the 1820s until the 1930s this butterfly was extremely scarce and could only be reliably found on the Welsh Border. Then possibly as a result of global warming and an increase in the area of nettles available the comma began a remarkable recovery. The southern half of the country was re-colonised over the next twenty years and a steady northward spread has been taking place since then. Both the adults and larvae have been found in Cramlington since 2000.

Primarily a woodland butterfly the male emerges from hibernation in March and takes a vantage point in sunny glades from which to swoop on passing females. Following a heated chase mating usually takes place in a high shrub or tree after which the female sets about finding suitable egg laying sites.

In the past the main food plant was the hop but a decline in village breweries has seen the change to nettle as the main larval food plant. The female is generally not as choosy as her cousins and will lay on nettles that are somewhat shaded - the primary requisite being a sheltered site. The eggs are laid singly on the top most leaves and the caterpillars hatch after about 15 days.

 Comma caterpillar
 Copyright Butterfly Conservation
© Butterfly Conservation
 

The caterpillar itself is perhaps one of the more interesting of the Nymphalid family in that it mimics a bird dropping to prevent it from becoming a bird's meal. When sitting curled up and motionless on a nettle leaf the skin patterns of dark brown, tan and a big white splash on the rear would fool most casual glances.

Another interesting feature of the comma is the ability to breed two generations in one year like its cousin the Small Tortoiseshell. Taking advantage of warm springs some of the adults will emerge quickly being destined to reproduce rather than hibernating. What is unusual is that these adults are a bright golden colour rather than the normal orange hue and are most attractive. The adults emerging from this second brood join the other single-brood adults to feed up before hibernating in leaf litter or trees in sheltered woodlands.

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Did you know?
Native American braves would flog themselves with nettles to keep themselves awake while on watch.
 
 
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