Carnivorous bluebell contributing to butterfly decline

A foreign species of carnivorous bluebell is providing the next threat to Britain's butterflies.

Photo credit: iStock
1st April 2015

The quintessential flower of spring – the bluebell – has a dark side. The Hyacinthoides Muscipula, an American species renowned for its ability to trap insects, has been identified in a few colonies in Britain’s woodlands. What’s more, it appears to be spreading rapidly by feasting on the nation’s butterflies.

The flower, a native of the deciduous woods of the US East Coast, emits a sweet scent that is thought to draw in pollinators. As insects feed on the sticky nectar, they become trapped and slowly drawn into the mouth of the flower. There, the prey is dissolved and their nutrients absorbed.

This ability to supplement its ‘diet’ has experts concerned as the species can exist in areas where the soil quality is extremely poor. Ray Magini, the founder of The National Bluebell Society, calls the Muscipula ‘an emerging danger.’

‘On the East Coast they call it the ‘bloody bluebell’ because of its ability to trap even the largest butterflies. However, in its natural habitat, it is kept in check by black bears, which dig it up. There is no such problem for the ‘bloody bluebell’ here.”

Magini is keen to stress that while the Muscipula is limited to just several sites, its aggressive colonisation has pushed the native British bluebell from its usual plots and had an effect on butterfly numbers in these areas. ‘It’s early days, but from what we’ve seen this could be the grey squirrel of bluebells - and it’s spreading.’

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