Thursday, October 6, 2016

Butterfly alcoholics

Thursday's Guardian Country Diary is all about intoxicated butterflies.

We had our best ever plum crop this year - too many to eat, store in various forms or give away all of them. Branches broke under their weight.

The beneficiaries from those that fell on the ground were red admiral butterflies. I piled some plums on the bird tables, where the natural yeast on their skins fermented the juice to produce an alcoholic liquor that stupified the butterflies that fed on it. The whole area under the tree smelled of vinegary alcohol after a few days in the sun.

Sometimes there were a dozen or more red amirals on the bird table, where they usually tolerated each other as long as their wings or antennae didn't touch. If they did they flicked there wings, clearly irritated.

If  other butterfly species tried to join them - and peacocks and speckled woods sometimes did - the red admirals became more aggressive and chased them away.

The red admirals were clearing drunk and had lost their inhibitions. If I put the fermented plum pulp on my fingers they extended their proboscis and drank from my skin.

And if I deliberately chased them off they just flew around my head, landing in my hair or on my clothes and hands.

Some days they were so drunk that I could poke them on the nose and they wouldn't take flight.

The last of the plums has now rotted and the red admirals have returned to their favourite nectar source in the garden - Buddleia x weyeriana, which flowers right up until the frost. But all the time the plums were available they completely ignored it, confirming my suspicion that they had fallen under the influence of the demon alcohol.