Fab fritillaries!

Flanders Moss NNR

At this time of year the grassland meadow at Ballangrew, on the west side of Flanders Moss, is brightening up – becoming dotted with a variety of flowering plants. Some of these are bog specialists, adapted to grow in wet acidic conditions, such as marsh thistle, marsh cinquefoil and marsh lousewort. We manage the area by allowing some grazing and removing scrub and its great to see the fruits of our labour as the meadow blooms. The volunteers will be happy to know that all their hard work battling with spiky gorse bushes was worth it!

The star-shaped flowers of marsh cinquefoil

With these flowering plants come the insects that feed on their rich nectar source and pollinate them. Butterflies and moths are particularly abundant in the meadow and we spotted some small pearl-bordered fritillaries fluttering around. This is just where you would expect to see these beautiful butterflies as they occur in damp, grassy habitats and feed on the nectar of thistle flowers.

You can most easily tell them apart from the very similar pearl-bordered fritillary by looking at their undersides – the small pearl-bordered has a mosaic of white, orange and brown markings, whereas the pearl-bordered has two distinctive white patches. Both have a string of seven ‘pearls’ on the outer edge of the wing, giving them their name.

Small pearl-bordered fritillary on a marsh thistle flower

If they are sitting flat, you can still distinguish them from the pearl-bordered as the black chevrons on the outer edge of their wings are attached to the wing border instead of floating above it.

Whilst small pearl-borders are common and widespread in Scotland, their populations have undergone serious declines in some parts of England. Their plummeting numbers are thought to be due to habitat loss and degradation so it’s really important that we continue to provide suitable habitats for them.

You can help Butterfly Conservation to monitor these and other species of butterfly with the iRecord Butterflies app – the app is free and really straightforward to use. It also includes a great butterfly guide which has useful diagrams to help you to distinguish commonly confused species which look very similar, such as the small pearl-bordered and pearl-bordered fritillary. Good luck and happy butterfly hunting!

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