Scarlet Tiger Moth
Take heed, these are the ultimate warning colours: the combination of scarlet, black (albeit with an iridescent green sheen), orange and white means that this spectacular-looking moth must be extremely unpleasant to eat. Don’t try it, just admire its colours. The moth itself is active on warm still evenings in late June, when the males patrol two to three metres above the ground in search of females. More butterfly than moth in habit, it is primarily a creature of southern river valleys, but occurs quite freely in several city centres, including Bath, Oxford and Winchester.
Purple Emperor Butterfly
The delicate scales of the male’s wing upper sides offer an iridescence that is seen only at certain angles, and flashes from electric blue, through deep royal to full purple, violet and beyond as the wings move. At the wrong angle, the wings appear black or brown, and it’s difficult to see all four wings showing full purple together; but when they do, this butterfly seems tropical – more at home in the Amazon than in our southern woods. The best of British wildlife is like this – it makes you think “this can’t be British”, but it is! The male’s iridescence is both an attractant to females and a warning to rivals and predators. The female relies more on camouflage, and size. Both sexes also have false eye spots on the forewing undersides.
We only have a single species of kingfisher, although warmer countries may possess several – but ours takes a lot of beating. The electrifying blue of its back and wings is known simply as kingfisher blue, rightly, though there is a streak of lighter blue down the back and the wings are pinpricked with dazzling azure. In addition, the orange undercarriage speaks of living sunset. The white chin and collar strap are seldom noticed. This is the bird that we all want to photograph, though it’s difficult to capture as it tends to fly past us in a speedy whirr of brilliance, often preceded by a high pitched piping call. Nature often uses dazzling, vivid colour to shock prey into submission.
This is perhaps the loveliest of our dragonflies and damselflies, and the standard is very high (the brilliant emerald dragonfly is utterly stunning). The males seem African or South American, possessing a prominent dark blue band midway through the dark veined wings, and iridescent blue-green bodies. The overall effect is amazing. The female’s body colours are similar though more subdued, but her wings are shot uniformly with olive green. As with many species, the males are often more showy than the females – to impress the ladies. The males are territorial, defending prominent vegetation tussocks along the stream edge, where they indulge in a flight dance that uses their colours to the utmost fullness.
Matthew Oates is an author, broadcaster, naturalist and the National Trust’s roving butterfly expert. His books include In Pursuit of Butterflies: A Fifty Year Affair.
Subscribe to BBC Countryfile Magazine today and you can enjoy generous savings from the shop price plus, free UK delivery and discounts off special editions and back issues.