Author Interview: Peter Eeles, Life cycles of British & Irish Butterflies

NHBS recently attended Butterfly Conservation’s 2019 AGM in Shrewsbury. The event was highly enjoyable, with many excellent speakers, and we were excited to unveil the brand new NHBS Moth Trap at our stall; lookout for a blog post on this new product shortly.

During the day we also caught up with Peter Eeles, creator of the UK Butterflies website and author of the ground-breaking Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies to talk about his fascination with Lepidoptera and the process of writing this incredible book. Peter was also kind enough to sign a number of copies of his book which are now available to purchase here.

1) Could you tell us something about your background and how you first became interested in butterflies?

I grew up on the southern side of Cheltenham, on the edge of the Cotswolds, an area rich in butterflies and other wildlife. It was all rather idyllic and I remember with some fondness the time spent out in the countryside with my fellow explorers! My father and my ‘uncle Fred’ encouraged this interest, but it was watching a Garden Tiger moth emerge from its chrysalis, and seeing scores of Red Admiral feeding on rotting plums, that tipped me over the edge and into a butterfly-filled life.

 

2) How long did it take you to put Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies together?

Two years to write, 20 years to obtain the photos needed, and a lifetime of study! I should say that the book would not have seen the light of day were it not for the contributions of many others, especially members of UK Butterflies (a website that I set up in 2002), the team at Butterfly Conservation, and various experts in their chosen field, such as David Simcox, project manager of the Large Blue reintroduction programme.

Life cycles of British & Irish Butterflies

3) In your introduction to the book, you detail its aims in relation to Frohawk’s landmark text, Natural History of British Butterflies. You say that Frohawk is one of your heroes: was his work the driving force for you wanting to take on your own project?

I wouldn’t say it was the driving force, but it was certainly a huge inspiration in terms of understanding the ‘art of the possible’, and the amount of field observation and research that would be needed. The driving force was a desire to produce something different yet useful, especially a work that would contribute, in some small way, to the conservation of our butterfly fauna. Something ‘clicked’ when I read several research papers that relied on the identification of a particular larval instar (the period between moults), and I realised that anything that could help the army of butterfly recorders identify each instar and the immature stages more generally would be a great help, with the potential to open up a whole new dimension of butterfly recording.

 

4) What was the most challenging butterfly lifecycle to document?

That’s a harder question to answer than you might think! Chequered Skipper was challenging due to the amount of travel involved, although a work placement in Glasgow for two years, on and off, really helped! Mountain Ringlet was a challenge due to the remoteness of its sites, its short flight period and its tendency to disappear deep into grass tussocks in anything other than very bright conditions. The Large Blue, which spends most of its life in an ant nest, was always going to be a challenge, and my thanks go to David Simcox, Jeremy Thomas and Sarah Meredith for their help with this tricky subject.

Chequered Skipper life cycle – Life cycle of British & Irish Butterflies

5) There is evidence that butterflies are already being influenced by climate change – what worries you the most about this? Are there any species that you will be excited about seeing more frequently in the UK in the future?

My biggest concern is with less mobile species that are unable to move to suitable patches in our increasingly fragmented landscape, as their habitat becomes unsuitable, or is lost due to development or agriculture. Conversely, it would be nice to see semi-regular visitors, such as the Long-tailed Blue and continental Swallowtail, gain a foothold, just as the Red Admiral and Clouded Yellow can now be considered resident, with records of successful overwintering each year in southern England.

 

6) Have you any new book projects in mind for the future?

No plans as yet, but never say never!

Life Cycles of British & Irish Butterflies
Hardback,  Sept 2019,  £29.99 £34.99

With detailed descriptions and photos of the adult, egg, caterpillar and chrysalis of each species, this book reveals in detail the fascinating life cycles of the 59 butterfly species that are considered resident in – or regular migrants – to Britain and Ireland.

Signed copies available, while stocks last.

Browse all our books covering insects and other invertebrates.

Invertebrate Survey: Moth Trapping

Many of us delight at butterflies visiting the flowers in our gardens, be it the drunken admirals of autumn or the spritely orange-tips in spring, yet some of us still seem to shudder at the thought of dingy moths bothering our windows at night or worse still munching our clothes to dust in our cupboards. In the middle of June, armed with two moth traps and a couple of trusted field guides, I attended an open garden in Somerset ready to join the #Mothsmatter conversation initiated by Butterfly Conservation to dispel the moth myths and encourage a fascination for these insects.

All the essentials for cataloguing a moth catch!

Setting up a Skinner moth trap in a covered porch over a couple of cold nights, I wasn’t entirely sure what species would be flying, but sure enough in the morning as I lifted the lid and slid the egg boxes out, there were some delightful species to see. Visitors in the garden were suffice to say, in awe of the moths the light brought in; the Poplar Hawk-moth and the Eyed Hawk- moth, the Fox Moth with his rabbit ear antennae and the remarkable Buff-tip.

We are becoming well aware that UK moths are in decline with an overall decrease in numbers by 28% since 1968, and over 60 species becoming extinct in the 20th century. Moths are a key indicator of environmental health and, as vital as they are to other creatures as a food source (their declines are impacting on breeding birds and bats) they are also vital for the pollination of native flora, an essential element to the tapestry of wild life. There is also evidence to suggest that climate change is shifting the habitable ranges of many of the moths that call the UK home, and while this can produce some spectacular species visiting from continental Europe, many of the species that have relied on the temperate climate in the UK are being forced out northward.

With a recent trend in wildlife gardening and more strict rules on chemicals used in agriculture, there is hope however that we can retain and rebuild some of the moth populations that are so vital in our countryside. Butterfly Conservation have a wealth of information available on their website about the trends of moth populations and, very importantly, what you can do to take action, join the conversation and promote moths at https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/why-moths-matter

If you are interested in learning about which moth species are visiting your garden or local wild places, light trapping is simple and loads of fun. At NHBS we supply a range of moth traps suited for a number of habitats and a wide selection of amazing field guides to aid in identifying the moths you find. Below we have listed some of our favourite traps and provided a little more information on the differences between them, however if you wish to see our full selection of moth traps please visit our website.

Robinson Moth Traps

These large traps are renowned among lepidopterists because they offer the highest attraction and retention rates available. These traps are fitted with either mercury vapour or actinic electrics. Mercury vapour bulbs offer greater brightness than actinic bulbs and consequently they will often attract more moths. However actinic electrics may be favourable in areas where the brighter bulbs may cause disturbance; they also run cold and do not need to be shielded from rain, unlike mercury bulbs which are likely to shatter when used without a rain guard.

Heavy Duty 125W MV Robinson Moth Trap

 

* Price: £465.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 50 (h) x 60 (w) cm
* Weight: 7.9kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Also available with actinic electrics

Skinner Moth Traps

These traps are precursors to the Robinson, and as well as being a more economic choice, they allow the catch to be accessed while the trap is running. They feature a plastic or wooden box with a light fitted to a cross member above a long slit through which moths fall and become trapped. A highlight of this box are the transparent panels that make up the trap lid. These can be removed to access the catch while the trap is running, which is great for real-time surveys and demonstrations. These traps can be easily collapsed down for easy storage and transport.

Compact 20W Skinner Moth Trap (240V)

* Price: £179.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 32 (h) x 35 (w) x 35 (d) cm
* Weight: 3kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Alternative battery-operated units also available.

 

 

Heath Moth Traps

These traps are favoured for their lower cost and compact design which makes them highly portable (excellent for use in remote areas) and easy to store; some are even small enough to fit into a rucksack. They are usually battery powered and feature a low wattage light source of between 6 and 20 Watts (however some mains operated traps can reach 40 Watts), and consequently these traps have lower catch sizes and retention rates than Skinner or Robinson models.

Compact 20W Actinic Heath Moth Trap (240V)

 

* Price: £149.00 inc VAT
* Dimensions: 47 (h) x 25 (w) x 25 (d) cm
* Weight: 3kg
* Electrics: 240V mains electric
* Also available as a battery-operated unit.

 

 

Suggested books on Moths


Field Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland

Paperback | Nov 2018| £27.99 £34.99
A comprehensive guide with full colour illustrations and up-to-date information on the taxonomy, ecology and distributions of the UK’s macro-moths.

 


Concise Guide to the Moths of Great Britain and Ireland
Paperback | Oct 2018| £13.99 £16.99
This compact guide features full colour illustrations and concise descriptions for almost all British and Irish species of macro-moths

 

Emperors, Admirals & Chimney Sweepers | The Weird and Wonderful Names of Butterflies and Moths
Hardback | May 2019| £24.99 £29.99
A beautifully written book that seeks to explore the origins and meanings of the names of our butterflies and moths.

 

The Moth Snowstorm | Nature and Joy
Paperback | Apr 2016| £9.99
Drawing on a wealth of memorable experiences from a lifetime of watching and thinking about wildlife and natural landscapes Michael McCarthy presents a new way of looking at the world around us.

 

Please note that prices stated in this blog post are correct at the time of publishing and are subject to change at any time.

NHBS Quick Guide – Butterfly Nets

Take a closer look at the beautiful butterflies of your region with one of the wide variety of butterfly nets offered by NHBS.

From the portable Crushable Pocket Butterfly Net to the heavy-duty Large Butterfly Net, we offer a butterfly net for every need (and for every age – check out the Children’s Butterfly Net). With these nets, you can safely capture and examine butterflies and other insects, then release them back into the wild.

We list over 1500 lepidoptera books at NHBS, including these Butterfly Bestsellers.

Large Butterfly Net

Large Butterfly NetThis complete butterfly net set includes a 47cm (18 inch) diameter frame, a deep net bag, and a 60cm extension handle. The extension handle can be removed from the frame for transport, or to use the net frame/bag without the extension where extra length is not required. The net bag is constructed from soft Terylene material that will minimise damage to insect wings and stand up well to UV degradation. Available in both white and black netting. This large, strong portable net is also suitable for catching bats.

Standard Butterfly Net

Standard Butterfly Net
This complete butterfly net set includes a 37cm (14 inch) diameter frame, a deep net bag, and a 60cm extension handle. The extension handle can be removed from the frame for transport, or to use the net frame/bag without the extension where extra length is not required. The net bag is constructed from soft Terylene material that will minimise damage to insect wings and stand up well to UV degradation. Available in both white and black netting.

Small (Children’s) Butterfly Net

Children's Butterfly NetA lightweight butterfly net well suited for children and educational use. The wooden handle provides good grip and reach. The net bag is constructed from soft Terylene material that will minimise damage to insect wings and stand up well to UV degradation.

Butterfly Net and Ultra-Light Frame

Butterfly Net & Ultra-Light FrameThe net handle is black moulded plastic on a black plastic coated aluminium frame. There is a hook on elastic in the end of the handle to hang the net from a belt or rucksack. The net is attached by velcro and can be easily removed to wash. It is very light fitting a “spoon shaped” frame 38 x 28 cms. and 50 cms deep. The net material is olive green (camouflage colour) mosquito size mesh.

Lightweight Folding Butterfly Net (Small)

Lightweight Folding Butterfly Net (Small)tThe Lightweight Folding Butterfly Net can be used with its telescopic handle half extended for close sweeps, and fully extended to lengthen your reach to over 1m. The net is highly portable and folds down into its own bag for carrying (it’s small enough to fit into a typical rucksack). The frame is robust and designed to withstand years of field use.

Crushable Pocket Butterfly Net

Crushable Pocket Butterfly NetA butterfly net with a spring steel frame which twists up, allowing the net to be collapsed and folded to a pocket size (instructions provided). The net is supplied with a short brass handle for general use; this can quickly be extended by inserting a stick or a piece of wood to into the handle.

Check out our full range of Butterfly Nets

Browse our wide selection of butterfly and entomology titles in Arthropods and Insects

Browse our extended range of Wildlife Equipment

New! British Insect and Butterfly Field Guides

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Hot off the press from Collins are two great identification guides – the new edition of the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects, and the immensely popular third edition of the Collins Butterfly Guidenow available in paperback!

The new edition of the Collins Complete Guide to British Insects is a photographic field guide to all the common and some unusual species of insects across Britain that the keen amateur naturalist is likely to spot. Over 1,500 species are illustrated with detailed photographs chosen for their help in identification. Featured insect groups include: butterflies and moths, mayflies, dragonflies, damselflies, grasshoppers, crickets, earwigs, lacewings, bugs, bees, wasps, ants, beetles and larvae, all with keys to ensure accurate identification.

Order your copy of British Insects today!

The immensely popular third edition of the Collins Butterfly Guide is now available in paperback.  This comprehensive guide to the butterflies of Britain, Europe and North Africa describes and illustrates all 440 species, depicting both males and females and – where there is significant variation – subspecies.  Distribution maps accompany every widespread species, and the text covers all taxonomic nomenclature, distributions, flight periods, variations, habitats, behaviour, life cycles and conservation.

Collins Butterfly Guide is on special offer until 30 June 2009 order your copy today!

Check out our new range of homes for bugs and bees in your garden, including the Bee Hut, the Bumblebee Box and the Bug Mansion.

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