On 10 August, local butterfly expert Terry Lyle found a Long-tailed Blue in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park. This is the second record for Tower Hamlets of this butterfly, following one at East India Dock Basin in 2012. It is the 32nd species of butterfly recorded at Cemetery Park, a phenomenal number for an inner London site. This is testament to the hard work put in over many years by the Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, both in enhancing butterfly habitats, and in recording butterflies and other insects.
Terry recounts his exciting find: “A needle in a haystack has nothing on this. When I found the butterfly, in one of our wildflower meadows, Lockhart Field, I was not looking for butterflies and had no net with me. In overcast weather, I spotted it at rest, wings closed, on a grass stem. I realised it wasn’t the Common Blue I’d expected, as the underside was quite different. In particular, there were two prominent spots near each hind wing margin, next to a delicate little “tail” projecting from each wing. Realisation, Long-tailed Blue! Great excitement, and a dilemma. What to do? It would have been too risky to try to capture it in a small container I had. I hurried back to the Soanes Centre for a net. I should have marked with spot with a bright object, but a Large Skipper butterfly, much more conspicuous, which had been resting nearby, was still there, helping me find the Blue. I netted and containered it! Exhilaration and relief!”
The butterfly seemed exhausted, and the weather was cool and cloudy, so the decision was taken to retain it overnight. Several butterfly enthusiasts from all over London visited the Soanes Centre to see it. It was fed with sugar water while in captivity, and safely released the following morning.
The Long-tailed Blue (Lampides boeticus) is one of the most widespread and abundant warm climate butterflies in the world, though absent from the Americas. It is found all over Australia, and reached New Zealand in 1965. It has a very strong migratory habit. In Europe, it is resident as far north as Provence. It migrates regularly to central France in summer, only sporadically further north, and only rarely, and never in large number, to Britain. It has bred in Britain, but will not survive our winter. Females lay eggs on the flowers of numerous Pea family plants with seeds large enough to sustain the caterpillar. These include Everlasting Pea, Broom, Peas and Runner Beans. The caterpillar bores into the young pod and feeds on the seeds as the pod grows larger.
Header photograph: Ken Greenway/Friends of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park