Tortoiseshell was in perfect condition

Small Tortoiseshell.
Small Tortoiseshell.

THIS is a very strange story. The butterfly in my photo is a small tortoiseshell. Two weeks ago I found it lying on my kitchen window sill. ‘Oh good,’ thought I. Somebody has brought me a specimen and left it here in perfect condition.

The wings were stretched out, the colours were pristine and there were no peck marks in it wings which would have shown it had been attacked by birds.

My wife took it into the kitchen and laid it on the table. I thought I would keep it in a little plastic Waitrose pot which had once held the mackerel pate- a Sunday treat we often indulge. There our little Faberge brooch remained for two days.

What had killed it? We began to wonder about its history. I asked any friends who are interested in butterflies, among them those who carry out the weekly butterfly censuses in Sussex. ‘Did you leave a lovely small tort on my window Mark?’ ‘No Richard, I have hardly seen one this season.’ ‘Certainly not- if I found a dead one I would have kept it for myself.

They are my favourite insect: all that cryptic jigsaw of colours: all those little blue crescents on the hind wings. I love that deep orange too, reminds me of my favourite meal-breakfast- with chunky marmalade they make at the WI here.’ and so he trailed on.

No doubt his mouth was starting to water which just shows you what a special butterfly this is.

He even mentioned those yellow bars which, yes, you’ve guessed it, look like those specs of butter not quite covered by the Seville peel. Then there was the tawny body-crispy toast. I had to stop him.

A few days later, I thought the insect would make a very pretty picture on the hogweed/umbels growing in the garden.

I tipped Aglais urticae into my palm and placed it gently on the pig-smelling pinky white blossoms and took my picture.

Then came the unexpected movement. It moved its wings. I called my wife. Her hand warmed it, for it flexed again. We placed it on the buddleia. By this time we were getting excited. But for an hour it never moved again.

Thinking that if I left it there, the chiffchaff which hunts for insect on the bush would snap it up, we took it back indoors.

I placed it eventually back in its mackerel pate pot, with the lid off. There it remained for several days.

Every morning we peered at it and it never moved. It must be dead after all. One last chance, we thought. Put it back on the blossoms.

The temperature was good at 21C. We couldn’t believe it and probably neither will you, but it just opened its wings and flew away, never to be seen again.