By Ella Davies
A bumper crop of spikey black caterpillars have appeared on the nation’s nettles this summer.
Clad in velvet coats peppered with white dots, the creatures have been sunning themselves and munching through the weeds in remarkable numbers prompting a flurry of enquiries and reports to the charity Butterfly Conservation.
They might not be so familiar in this form but the insects will grow up to be arguably Britain’s most colourful and recognisable butterfly – the peacock.
As they prepare for their annual Big Butterfly Count, experts at the charity are predicting a bonanza of the butterflies.
Last year, the species surged to third position in the survey which asks the public to record how many butterflies they see in 15 minutes of sunny weather.
Following on from this success, peacocks emerged in good numbers after their winter hibernation according to Butterfly Conservation’s Surveys Manager Richard Fox. The warm, dry weather since the spring has provided ideal conditions for breeding, egg-laying and the development of caterpillars.
“They need to be warm in order to feed and grow and digest their food. Everything about their lives is dependent on warmth from the surrounding world,” explains Mr Fox.
In recent weeks the caterpillars have been entering pupation so the mature butterflies could turn up just in time for the count.
“It could really be the year of the peacock,” says Mr Fox, noting that the two species at the top of the ranking in all previous surveys, the small white and large white, have been seen in relatively fewer numbers this year.
The rich burgundy wings decorated with cream, yellow, black and iridescent violet accents mark peacocks out as one of our brightest species and they are best known for the eyespots they share with their namesake birds.
But according to Dr Martin Stevens from the University of Exeter, everyone’s favourite pub fact about these markings could be wide of the mark.