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Silver-washed fritillary – # 18 Butterfly challenge

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Silver-washed fritillary, Ireland’s largest resident butterfly (Photographed on 23 July 2016)

To see at first hand what was happening on Ireland’s raised bogs, I visited many midland bog sites in July. Quite simply, what I saw shocked and saddened me; almost everywhere wanton destruction of this most special of Irish habitats, wrought by both State and private citizen alike. As an antidote to this devastation, I called in to Abbeyleix Bog as I knew about the wonderful conservation work that has, and is, being carried out there. Here the local community, supported by Ireland’s state agencies, are restoring this site to its former glory, and creating a showcase for locally led conservation action. The evidence of the care and pride invested here at Abbeyleix Bog for community benefit, could hardly contrast more with the plundering of the same national resource only a few miles up the road.

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The hindwing is suffused with pale silver streaks, from which this species gets its name.

Walking along the track that skirts Abbeyleix Bog I was delighted to see, resting on one of the display signs, a silver-washed fritillary. This is Ireland’s largest resident butterfly and the last of the fritillaries to emerge, not seen until late June each year. This was my first for the year, so I was thrilled. As I watched this beauty and wondered was there merit in photographing it on the artificial surface of the sign, out of the corner of my eye, I saw another perched on an ivy leaf off to my right. As I homed in on the second to get a photograph, I disturbed another. Then I noticed there were others, at least ten, basking in the shafts of sunlight penetrating through the overhanging branches. A short walk further along the track revealed at least another ten, feeding hungrily on the purple knapweed. What a delight that my visit coincided with the recent emergence of these magnificent creatures. All beautifully fresh, vivid orange, standing sentinel over the approach to their territory; to their home.

Silver-washed fritillary is a butterfly of deciduous and mixed woodland found wherever there is a rich ground flora of violets, its larval food plant. It can be difficult to tell apart from its close relative, the dark green fritillary; identification is easiest by observing its underwing which is suffused with pale silver streaks, from which it gets its name. Fortunately, both species occur together at only very few sites, which makes separation of the two species on the basis of habitat alone possible, as  silver-washed fritillary never occur on the open grasslands favoured by the dark green fritillary. We are fortunate that silver-washed fritillary is a fairly common and widespread species adorning many of Ireland’s native woodlands, and the population seems to be doing well.

Speckled wood #1, Dingy skipper #2, Wall brown #3, Common blue #4, Holly blue #5, Small blue #6, Meadow brown #7, Ringlet #8, Wood white #9, Cryptic wood white #10, Orange-tip #11, Green-veined white #12, Large white #13, Small white #14, Green hairstreak #15, Marsh fritillary #16, Dark green fritillary #17 & Silver-washed fritillary #18.

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Abbeyleix Bog is a showcase for locally-led conservation action