Butterfly chrysalis

by Richard Jones

The speckled wood is a slim elegant creature, with large broad brown wings, and yet the squat green pupa under the frisbee looked wholly other.

Chrysalis of a speckled wood butterfly on the underside of a plastic frisbeeI don't know how long the frisbee had been lying there, but when I broke it free from the stiff frosted grass beside the pond, it left a circle of tell-tale yellowing stems and roots beneath. When I turned it over I was maybe expecting some torpid snails, or perhaps a dew-encrusted millipede huddled down into the thatch. What I saw, was a succulent plump emerald gem - the chrysalis of a speckled wood butterfly.

It took me some while to recognize exactly which butterfly species it belonged to. The speckled wood is a slim elegant creature, with large broad brown wings, and yet the squat green pupa under the frisbee looked wholly other.

The speckled wood is unique amongst British butterflies in that it regularly overwinters in both caterpillar and chrysalis phases. This gives rise to overlapping adult emergences, starting in March, so butterflies are on the wing all year until early November.

So working backwards I calculate that the fully-grown caterpillar found its unusual flying saucer shelter some time last September or early October. It had been waiting, undisturbed, ever since. I don't know why we have these toys if they are going to lie around the garden, untouched, half the year.

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Gardeners' World Web User 12/01/2010 at 11:14

What other butterflies overwinter in the UK?

Gardeners' World Web User 13/01/2010 at 07:56

Reply to Mrs Cullen All of Britain's 55 or so resident butterfly species overwinter here, but in different stages of their development. Hairstreaks overwinter as eggs, cabbage whites as chrysalides, and others usually as either caterpillars or chrysalides. Five winter as adults: peacock, small tortoiseshell, comma, red admiral and brimstone. It is only the migrants -- painted ladies, clouded yellows, Camberwell beauties -- that die off completely to re-invade the following year.

Gardeners' World Web User 15/04/2011 at 15:19

You are amazing. If I were walking and saw that on the ground I wouldn't have thought anything about it. It looks like a leaf. Good thing you came along.

Gardeners' World Web User 28/11/2011 at 18:40

Interesting that it is coloured green, which would make it more visible at this time of year. Perhaps their natural place is among evergreens such as holly and ivy? My parents have an open fire and burn logs which are kept under cover, this is a favourite hibernation place for Peacock butterflies who look like dry leaves. Only when they are bought into the house and open their wings do we have 'butterfly patrol' and gather them up, to be placed back in the store. Whether they survive is not known.