Silver-Studded Blue Butterflies, Birds & Bees at Iping Common. 01.07.22
Updated: Oct 27
I went to Iping Common especially to see Silver-Studded Blues, and I was not disappointed, I saw ca. 50.
Iping Common is an area of lowland heath (on Lower Greenside), and in Sussex Silver-Studded Blues are only seen on heathlands; its range in Sussex has declined severely. It's strongholds in Sussex are at Iping and Ashdown Forest. They fly between early June and late August. At Iping counts of 250 have been seen in a day, see Blencowe and Hume (2017), The Butterflies of Sussex: A Twenty-First Century Atlas, pp 278-283.
I travelled to Iping Common by public transport: train to Chichester (twice an hour, 55 minutes) the 60 bus from Chichester to Midhurst (twice an hour, 40 minutes) 60 Bus Route & Timetable: Midhurst - Chichester | Stagecoach (stagecoachbus.com), then 91/92/93 bus from Midhurst to Stedham (infrequent - check timetable, 10 minutes) 91 Bus Route & Timetable: Petersfield - Midhurst | Stagecoach (stagecoachbus.com). I walked back from Ipping to Midhurst, a three-mile walk (on laths through Stedham and Midhurst Commons, mostly forest).
All sections of this post in italics are quotations, sources are cited at the end of the quotations.
Iping Common is part of the Iping and Stedham Nature Reserve (Sussex Wildlife Trust);Iping and Stedham Common Nature Reserve is situated just west of Midhurst and is one of the best examples of lowland heathland in Sussex.... It is a great place to see some of the amazing wildlife that can only be found on this declining habitat. Over 80% of lowland heath has been lost from the UK in the last couple of centuries. On top of this the UK has 20% of the world’s lowland heath making the total area rarer than tropical rainforests. Iping and Stedham Commons | Sussex Wildlife Trust
From Butterfly Conservation Silver-studded Blue | Butterfly Conservation (butterfly-conservation.org):
Males blue with a dark border. Females brown with a row of red spots. Undersides brown-grey with black spots, a row of orange spots, and small greenish flecks on outer margin. Males are similar to Common Blue, which lacks greenish spots.
This small butterfly is found mainly in heathland where the silvery-blue wings of the males provide a marvellous sight as they fly low over the heather. The females are brown and far less conspicuous but, like the male, have distinct metallic spots on the hindwing. In the late afternoon the adults often congregate to roost on sheltered bushes or grass tussocks.
The Silver-studded Blue has a restricted distribution but occurs in large numbers in suitable heathland and coastal habitats. It has undergone a major decline through most of its range.
Size and Family
Wing Span Range (male to female): 29-31mm
Butterfly Conservation: Medium
Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in England
Listed on Section 7 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016
UK BAP status: Priority Species
Protected under Schedule 5 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act (for sale only)
European status: Not threatened
A wide variety of ericaceous and leguminous plants are used: on heathland, the most common are Heather (Calluna vulgaris), Bell Heather (Erica cinerea), Cross-leaved Heath (E. tetralix), gorses (Ulex spp).
Adult flight period July-August
A rare butterfly found on heathland, sand dunes and chalk/limestone grassland.
Countries: England and Wales
Most colonies are found in Southern England, but some colonies are present in Wales, the East of England and on Prees Heath Reserve in Shropshire.
Distribution Trend Since 1970s: minus 64% Silver-studded Blue | Butterfly Conservation (butterfly-conservation.org)
Helping each other: the fascinating relationship between ants and silver-studded butterflies.
The Silver-Studded Butterflies that I saw at Iping Common yesterday (01.07.22) would not have been there without the help they received form another family of insects: ants! The world of animals is not all about competition, predation of parasitism – animals often provide each other with “mutual aid” (as biologist and anarcho-communist philosopher Kropotkin called this factor of evolution).
Many Butterflies of the family Lycaenidae have a mutual relationship with ants. “The silver-studded blue caterpillar feeds on young shoots of bell heath, protected from predators like sand wasps by black ants. The ants even ferry it into their nest to pupate, but why? The grubs secrete sweet honeydew which the ants “milk” as payment. SDNP-Serpent-Trail-Op-D6-V2-14-05-15-LR-Final.pdf (southdowns.gov.uk)
There’s a word for the ant-friendships that some butterflies display: myrmecophily (literally, ‘ant love’). Most lycaenids, or butterflies belonging to the family Lycaenidae (almost 6,000 species worldwide), are myrmecophiles. And they show their love in myriad ways. Caterpillars of most species have small pores on their skin – called pore cupola – that secrete substances to pacify ants that may otherwise attack them. Others have dew patches, small button-like spots on their backs that ooze a thick sugary fluid to attract ants. Tactile or tentacle organs (that resemble sea anemones, except that their sensitive tentacle-like tufts are sparse) that pop out of their bodies secrete chemicals that also attract ants, and even alert them if the caterpillars are alarmed. Some species have exceptionally thick skin to tolerate ant aggression. Many also have a nectar gland (called the Newcomer’s gland), that provides sugar-rich nectar to ants through an opening on the skin. These features occur in various permutations and combinations: while some lycaenids sport only pore cupola, others display the entire suite of specialised organs.
These are costly features to invest in, but the trouble’s worth it: ant presence provides protection to caterpillars from predators. Such fascinating butterfly-ant associations range from mutualism (where both associates benefit from the interactions) to parasitism (where one benefits at the expense of the other), and from facultative (where ants tend to lycaenid larvae only occasionally and the caterpillars do not depend on them for survival) to obligate (where the larvae are entirely dependent on ants; such as some caterpillars that feed exclusively on food regurgitated to them by ants). How butterflies strike a relationship with ants using specialised organs (mongabay.com)
The silver birch stump on which the Woodlark sat
Bumble Bees and Solitary Bees
The sandy heathland of Iping Common is a very good habitat for solitary bees and solitary wasps (especially mining bees). I concentrated on looking at Silver-Studded Butterflies, so I wasn't focussing on wild bees; if I had I probably would have seen many more. Here are a few I came across while searching for Butterflies.
Buff-Tail Bumblebee, worker
Andrena argentata. (probably) - thanks to BWAS (Bees, Wasps and Ants) Facebook Group for ID help.
This small to medium-sized Andrena is strongly associated with loose, dry sandy soils in open, heathy situations. The females are quite colourful when fresh, but soon become dowdy. The males, which race over the surface of loose sand in the sun, wear out even more quickly and a bright silver-grey insect rapidly becomes a dull browny-black with few obvious hairs. It is closely related to the similar, but larger and spring-flying, Andrena barbilabris (Kirby). Although not restricted to visiting ericaceous flowers, the heathland flowering period suits this species very well, providing ample floral resources close to suitable nesting habitat. Andrena argentata Smith, 1844 | BWARS
I saw these bees in a large agglomeration on a sandy path. The weather alternated been sun and cloud; the bees were active (including seeming to mate) when it was sunny, then as soon as a cloud obscured the sun, they went into the sand, presumable into their nests.
(to be identified - will update post when I have)
Flora and landscapes of Iping Common