Tuesday, 30 July 2013

A Purple Emperor, Red Admirals and Red Queens


Purple Emperor Butterfly




The different bees and butterflies I've seen over the past few days could form an exotic court. I've seen red queen bees, a Purple Emperor and some Red Admiral butterflies (but sadly no Painted Ladies!) I admit I am fascinated that so many of our butterflies have been given grand or royal names - and I imagine the Purple Emperor gained its name because it is so beautiful and rare. This butterfly is only found in certain places in the south of England, and - where it does exist - it's not easily seen, because it spends its life flying high up in a tree canopy. Only occasionally does the male descend to the ground, and then this lovely butterfly is attracted to (of all things) rotting flesh and animal excrement...

Although that doesn't sound pleasant, I've long wanted to see a Purple Emperor.  I knew that - like the Heath Fritillary I saw a few weeks ago - I was never going to see this butterfly on the smallholding. So; when I discovered that Purple Emperors could be found among some oaks a short drive away, I decided to go there in the hope of seeing one.  I didn't expect to spot one at all, so I was thrilled when I did see a male in the long grass at the foot of a large oak (not settled on anything nasty that I could see). The oak could well have been the 'master tree' in the wood where males gather to intercept females and chase each other away.  This Purple Emperor didn't linger very long, so I could only grab a couple of photos, but it was one of the most exciting butterfly sightings of the summer.

A few minutes later I came across this Red Admiral...


On the smallholding, I've been lucky enough to see lots of butterflies in recent weeks, including Ringlets, Gatekeepers, Small Tortoiseshells, Whites, Meadow Browns and Small Skippers...









I may have seen Essex Skippers, too, but I'm still not brilliant at telling my Small Skippers from my Essex Skippers!!

The Peacocks have found the buddleia (although none of these could be seen at all when I did my Butterfly Count this year).  I'm hoping to see some more Red Admirals, too - as well as Painted Ladies (although I haven't seen these here for a couple of years).

Red Queens

I have all new queen bees hatching in my hives and I now want to mark them so that they're easy to identify among all the other bees. First of all, I have to wait until the queens have returned from their mating flight (this is when they fly off to the 'drone congregation areas' where the males are hanging out waiting for the virgin queens).  When a queen is back from mating and has started to lay eggs, then she's ready to be marked.







Queens are marked with a dot of colour on their thorax from a pen (or paint) and queen bees born this year should be marked red (a different colour every year tells beekeepers how old a queen is).

But marking queens can be difficult in mid-late summer.  There are tens of thousands of bees in the hive and although the queen looks a lot different from the other bees, she can also be hiding under a large heap of them (queens are very good at this). Finding the queen - and then keeping my eye on her while I reach for the red pen - isn't easy. Queens move very fast over the comb and they also don't like the light - their instinct is to go down into the darkness of the hive when the roof is lifted off.  So; if I manage to see the queen, I usually have one shot at it, and then I've lost her.  And I also have to be very careful when I do mark her, because if she becomes smothered in red pen or paint, then the other bees are likely to reject her.

So far, this year, I haven't been able to mark one queen red. The red queens I have seen have been in other people's hives and not mine. So I've been backwards and forwards to the hives with the red pen...

...and it's almost as if the bees know what I'm up to.

Bees in the Garden

The bees have been very active in my garden in the hot weather.  Here are a couple of the flowers they're foraging on at the moment...

Bergamot





Veronica












I've been really lucky to have a wonderful display of lupins this year, probably thanks to the lack of slugs - and these have been loved by the bumblebees. I think this bee looks as though it's going to dive into a plant full of pillows...





And finally, it seems the heatwave may have finished (although it is supposed to be hot again for a couple of days later this week).  Here is one member of our household who hasn't enjoyed the heatwave at all and will be pleased if it's over at last...

Harry in the shade









50 comments:

  1. Fantastic butterflies Wendy. I saw a White Admiral in some local woods a couple of weeks ago and was thrilled with that, so can well imagine your delight at seeing the Emperor.

    I always love reading about your bees and seeing the accompanying photos. How amazing to have to dot the Queens- that sounds an almost impossible and I should imagine somewhat frustrating job!

    And finally, lovely Harry. Teddy sympathises about the heat- he didn't enjoy it much either, and is happy to be back on energetic walks in slightly cooler air!

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    1. Thanks CT. I'm a bit envious of your White Admiral, I would be delighted to see one. It is really satisfying to mark a queen bee well - just not this summer, unfortunately. And I'm glad Teddy has his energy back, Harry has been flaked out until about 10 o'clock in the evening when he suddenly comes alive - not good for peace in the household!

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  2. I've never seen a Purple Emperor, so I'm very jealous! Your bees are very impressive; I do wish we had the space for them - perhaps one day. I realise I have never seen Bergamot before.....terrible given the amount of Earl Grey tea I've drunk over the years! Harry looks very sweet. We're looking for something Border-size as his companion. There's one ready in Essex in September but we'll only be there in August so we can't have her. A shame as we know their other offspring are lovely. Gorgeous photos as always Wendy.

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    1. Thanks Em. As I didn't really expect to see a Purple Emperor, I was really thrilled. I'm a fellow Earl Grey drinker, too, I've planted lots of Bergamot for the bees here. They love it! And good luck with your search for another dog. We were very lucky with Harry, he was born just a couple of miles away.

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  3. Poor Harry, I know that Alfie can sympathise with him. Butterflies are so beautiful except those that are the bane of my life - cabbage whites! You have some truly lovely pictures and good luck with marking the Queen Bees xxx

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    1. Thanks Fran. Heatwaves aren't good for dogs, are they? I know what you mean about Cabbage Whites, if only they didn't go straight for the garden greens!

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  4. Great photos, I love the lupin one. This hot weather has been so good for the butterflies and bees, my garden has been full of them, especially bumblebees. xx

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    1. Thanks Debbie. It has been wonderful seeing so many bees and butterflies this year. I've had lots of bumblebees here, too - there must be nests nearby but I haven't found any yet.

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  5. Dear Wendy - I have been heartened this summer by all of the butterflies and the bees that I have seen in our garden. I hope that it is good news for them. Our Buddleia was covered in Peacocks, so I dashed indoors for the camera, and that was their cue to make a quick exit.
    It really sounds a complicated business looking after a hive of bees, good luck with your red pen and finding a queen to carefully mark her thorax.
    Love the photo of the bee diving into the lupins, and what wonderful bright orange pollen baskets are on the hind legs.
    What a thrill to see a Purple Emperor and actually manage to photograph it too.
    Poor old Harry the heat gets me like that too.

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    1. Thanks Rosemary. Honeybees had a terrible winter, on the whole, so I hope that any surveys show that they've benefited from the hot summer. And the same with other pollinators and butterflies. My buddleia is either full of Peacocks or there are none there at all - very strange! I was very fortunate with the Purple Emperor, a couple of minutes later and I would have missed it altogether. And Harry really doesn't like the heat at all, he has to follow the shade around the garden as the sun moves throughout the day!

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  6. Great photos! Earlier this year I was quite concerned at the lack of butterflies and suddenly, they're everywhere I'm happy to say. x

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  7. Thanks Suzy. I agree, after last summer and the cold spring I didn't expect to see many butterflies this year, but they do seem to have recovered. It would be wonderful if they could really build their numbers up.

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  8. Wow! a Purple Emperor Wendy, what a find, I have never seen one.

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    1. Thanks Roy. I do feel very lucky to have seen it.

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  9. Lovely photos Wendy, it's wonderful seeing all the bees and butterflies in the garden.

    I'm with Harry on this heat.. so much better now it's cooled down a bit.
    Julie :o)

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    1. Thanks Julie. The sun has really brought out the bees and butterflies, hasn't it? Harry has never liked the heat, even early morning walks in this heatwave can be a bit much for him.

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  10. As always, your blog is both instructive and entertaining, with super photos.

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    1. Thanks for your kind comments, Ian.

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  11. I've never seen a Purple Emperor so it was wonderful to see your photo and to hear all about their way of life amongst the oak trees. I love the photos of your bees on the flowers. Poor Harry I know just how he feels:)

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    1. Thanks Rosie. I am fascinated by the fact that there's a whole world going on in a tree canopy that we're barely aware of. I can't imagine I'll ever be fortunate enough to see a female Purple Emperor. And Harry has a bit more energy today, but I expect he'll be flaked out again tomorrow if the forecast is correct.

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  12. Wonderful Photos :) So envious of your Purple Emperor sighting and well done especially getting a photo :) Every year I say I will go looking (but nearest site over an hour away :( ) and every year I run out of time!! Keep your eyes out for Painted Ladies - I saw my first yesterday :)

    Good luck with marking your Queen bees - sounds a rather difficult task!!

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    1. Thanks Caroline. I must admit I couldn't believe that the Purple Emperor was settled right next to the path, but I could have so easily have walked right by it. It's wonderful that you've seen a Painted lady, I will keep an extra eye out now I know they're here. I shall be watching my buddleia closely! I hope to mark the queens sooner rather than later, but I expect it will be later when there are less bees in the hive.

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  13. How beautiful is that butterfly!! Fantastic that you got to see it! The skipper and the admiral are wonderful too. Interesting to learn about your bee activities too :)

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    1. Thanks Lou Mary. It is a beautiful butterfly, isn't it? I love the purple sheen on the wings when they catch the light. The Small Skippers are loving the Bird's Foot Trefoil we have growing here, and I'm hoping that this year I'll be able to see the Red Admirals right into the autumn.

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  14. I must say it's really exciting seeing all those bees...makes my heart pump faster. I can imagine how hard it is to mark one queen....I'll look forward to seeing you finally triumph!

    Oh wow....how lucky are you to actually see a Purple Emperor! I've never seen one. I didn't realize they lay on rotting flesh though.

    I do love butterflies and now I'm finally seeing them in droves, it's heavenly isn't it?

    Harry....oh what a darling he is!xxxx

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    1. Thanks Snowbird. The hives are bursting with bees at the moment, but the numbers will start to reduce in August. Then (hopefully) I should start to see the queen more, she won't be able to hide from me so easily! Apparently the male Purple Emperors look for salt on rotting flesh etc, luckily I could take a photo of this one without it settling on anything I didn't want to take a photo of! And I have to agree about Harry!

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  15. I am so envious that you saw a Purple Emperor.

    That's all.
    C

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    1. Thanks Celia. Now I'd like to see a female!

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  16. Oh poor Harry, I know how he feels. Now it is getting cooler again I feel a lot more inclined to get out and about in the garden.
    Your description of marking the queen was fascinating. I don't think I would have time at the moment to manage a hive, but I do enjoy reading about yours.

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    1. Thanks Jessica. I've loved the heat, but it has been a bit disruptive. I've not spent enough time gardening. I'm pleased you've enjoyed following the stories of my hives, especially as this isn't perfect beekeeping!

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  17. Hi Wendy,
    It must have been so wonderful to find the Purple Emperor and get a picture of it too! The lavender is the favourite spot for the bees and butterflies in our garden at the moment. I wish I could grow lupins we have given up with them as the slugs caused such damage.
    Sarah x

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  18. Thanks Sarah. I always find it exciting to see rare wildlife - and the Purple Emperor is such a stunning butterfly. Lavender is such a wonderful bee and butterfly flower, isn't it? And I have lost lupins to slugs, too - the lupins that do best are the several that have self-sown.

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  19. How amazing to see the Purple Emperor, even better when you made the effort to go out...and it was there. Hopefully we are all enjoying the bees and btterflies this year, it seems like we have waited a long time for weather good enough to bring them all out. The queen bee marking sounds very difficult...I'm sure my hand would be shaking too much.

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    1. Thanks Suzie. I agree, I think we're all appreciating the bees and butterflies this summer after last year when they were hardly around. I think that marking a queen bee takes good eye sight most of all; once she's held in a cage it's important to quickly mark her thorax, and not her head, wings or abdomen - not too easy when she wants to keep moving.

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  20. Is Harry a border terrier? We used to have one many years ago when I was little. Lovely dogs. I love your beautiful flower and bee photos!

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    1. Hello Jane - and thank you. Yes, Harry is a border terrier and he does have a lovely nature - we're very fortunate to have him. He's a very gentle dog. It's very hot here again today, so I expect he'll be back in the shade trying to find a breeze!

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  21. Oh how lovely to be able to see a Purple Emperor I have only seen them on natural history programmes and I realise they are hard to come across - so you must have felt blessed to be able to photograph one. Still a dearth of butterflies here sadly - although I did spot a Peacock high up on the Buddleia the other day - but it was camera-shy.

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    1. Thanks Elaine. I have the exact spot where I saw the Purple Emperor in mind so one day I hope to go back and see if I can catch another glimpse. If it is the 'master tree' where these butterflies gather I might be lucky again! I hope the butterflies discover your buddleia; they seem to be visiting mine in waves - there can be several there (Peacocks and Small Tortoiseshells, mainly)- or there are none at all. Very strange.

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  22. I know how Harry feels! So lucky to have seen a Purple Emperor, that's incredible - and to have got such a wonderful shot of it. And it was fascinating to read about marking the red queens.

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    1. Thanks Helen. I'm used to looking for wildlife and then not seeing it - so I was delighted that this time it all worked out. Like most beekeepers I do want to see the queen every time I lift the roof off of the hive, and so I am keen to mark the queens asap. This year's red will really make them stand out from the other bees.

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  23. this is a lovely post! good luck with the bee marking! I havent had as many butterflies in my garden this year... thats a worry.

    Leanne x

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  24. Thanks Leanne. I wonder what the results of the current butterfly survey will show about the state of our butterflies. I really look forward to seeing the nationwide results. And I was about to try bee marking again today, but we have thunderstorms here and these always upset the bees' mood - so it will have to wait!

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  25. I'm so impressed at the range of butterflies you get Wendy, and the photos you manage to capture of them, although learning that such a beautiful butterfly has such challenging eating habits does change my view of them somewhat! Good luck chasing the queens with your red pen, sounds a dangerous endeavour.

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    1. Thanks Janet. I do have a range of butterflies here, but of course I'm still envious of areas of the country where there are butterflies I would never see! It is ironic that a butterfly with such an imperial name should be drawn to such unpleasant stuff, isn't it? And trying to pin a queen down can be also difficult because the other bees instinctively guard her.

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  26. You have plenty of wonderful butterflies, so lucky to catch the Purple Emperor! We have been told by our local "expert" that we should have them as they frequent the tops of oaks and ash and we have plenty of those, so far though - nothing! Your story of your bees is fascinating, is the queen a lot larger than the others, I've always imagined it must be very difficult to find her?

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    1. Thanks Pauline. How wonderful that you have Purple Emperors where you are. I hope you catch sight of one. I've read that the males come down to the ground mid-late morning for a while, and that is the time I saw mine.
      The queen is longer and a different shape to the other bees, but she's the same colour - so this time of year with so many in the hive they do all blend together. Marking the queen with a red spot will make her really stand out.

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  27. Your butterflies are beautiful! You are lucky to have seen a few varieties. We only see the swallowtail butterfly around our home, but it is beautiful and it makes me happy.

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    1. Thanks Stacy. I am fascinated by butterflies, they are such lovely, fragile creatures. How wonderful that you have a beautiful Swallowtail butterfly where you are; I hope one day to see the rare Swallowtail here.

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  28. Lovely butterfly photos your dog looks so layed back

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    1. Thanks Julie. Harry can have bursts of energy, but I think he's generally sleeping out the hot weather.

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