Battle of competition and a thrilling ten-minute duel

The moment of surrender.
The moment of surrender.

THIS is not the best battle action picture in the world but I just about captured the moment of surrender.

The two butterflies are brimstones. They had just completed a titanic battle in the skies above the Downs, the battle of the sexes yet with the common cause of procreation.

It had been a battle of competition and after the thrilling duel that lasted about ten minutes it all ended on the ground at my feet.

The one on the left is a female. She is recognisable by her white wings. The male is the yellow one and he is the representative of the sex which gave us the name butterfly in the English language, a corruption of butter-coloured fly to the ancients.

You have probably seen him out in the spring sunshine earlier in March and now once again in late summer as the first broods appear, children of the springtime families.

I was watching brimstones pottering about around the woodland edges of downland for some minutes as the white females and the yellow males stoked up on nectar from wild basil and hawkbit flowers.

They had been having minor skirmishes here and there with males seeing each other off or now and then touching females rather as rams poke at ewes to see if they are ready.

Not much action though, more of a pretty picture of fluttering about like Edwardian ladies in frilly blouses and long white dresses parading themselves before the beaus in yellow waistcoats and bright cream jackets with straw boaters, sizing each other up in the marriage stakes.

You see this scene especially in the sultry days of August when the crowd is of youngsters newly arrived rather than the older more serious parents who have actually had to spend six months in starvation and hibernation waiting for the serious business of life to begin.

That is what this August’s youngsters now have to face. If they come through winter successfully then they will have the sort of battle I witnessed earlier this spring.

The female had flown round and round a male until he had suddenly realised that she was there and went after her.

She flew straight up like a rocket until I could barely see her. She looked like the first star of evening.

He chased her but she shot off over the woods at about twenty miles an hour.

After a minute out of sight she returned and then went even higher up until I needed binoculars to keep up. She zig-zagged all over the sky, dived, climbed, circled often leaving him behind but he always caught up.

This race battle lasted for ten minutes as I said, when suddenly she dived back to the glade I was in, struggled through the grasses, then lay down on her back when I took the picture. The rest is history as they say.

She would then have laid her eggs one at a time on the undersides of the buckthorn bushes. Their sweetly scented flowers would have attracted her from far.

Now in August I have been watching her children at it again.

Richard Williamson - Nature Notes