Visitor Centre Residence

Becky Wallbank, long term volunteer writes:

Our new Visitor Centre has attracted more than just the terns this season. Two Small Tortoiseshell chrysalises were spotted hanging from the wooden frame and yesterday we arrived just in time to watch one of the emerging butterflies drying its wings.

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The caterpillar hangs by its tail and the chrysalis splits open where its head was to release the butterfly.


The underside of the wings have beautiful blue colours that will fade with time and use.


You can see where the caterpillar’s legs fitted and the delicate woody markings of the chrysalis.


Small Tortoiseshell butterflies are our most common butterfly here on the May. Their favourite places to flit are the warm sheltered spots behind Stevenson’s Lighthouse and along Holyman’s Road. They feed on flowering plants but their larvae eat nettles and if you have visited the island recently you will know we have plenty of them this year!


One of many fully emerged Small Tortoiseshell.

The most fascinating thing about these butterflies, apart from their ability to hibernate through winter, is their bizarre courtship ritual. A male sets up a territory, in the afternoon, near a nettle patch. He waits for a female and then approaches her from behind and drums his antennae on her rear wings. If you listen closely you can hear the noise it makes. He follows her around all afternoon repeating this process and then in the evening she makes her way deep into a nettle patch where they mate and remain attached until the following morning. Despite such a time consuming ritual, Small Tortoiseshell butterflies are the most abundant and widespread of all the butterflies in the UK.

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