In praise of Peacocks!

There has been no shortage of Peacock butterflies this summer! People have been commenting on social media about the large numbers of this species in many parts of the country. Given that it is, in my opinion, the most beautiful butterfly that we have in the UK, that is great news.  I actually think that the Peacock is one of the most beautiful butterflies in the world.

Peacocks (Aglais io) Fermyn Woods, Northants, 22 July 2020

My first sighting this year was during lockdown. This individual was enjoying the sun on a warm afternoon on 23 April 2020.

Peacock butterfly (Aglais io) Scarborough, 23 Apr 2020

Despite having, no doubt, spent the winter hibernating somewhere, the beautiful violet scales on the hindwing eyespots (below) were still dazzling!

Peacock (Aglais io) right hindwing eyespot

I started seeing caterpillars in July in chilly Scarborough (North Yorkshire), but they appeared much earlier in southern England. Images of Peacock caterpillars were being posted on Twitter by mid June from some places.

Peacock (Aglais io) caterpillar Scarborough 12 July 20

The next generation usually emerges around the end of July, or in August, but I can’t help thinking that this has been brought forward a good few weeks this year (2020), at least in southern England. I came across this gorgeous individual in Fermyn woods,  on 22 July (below).  There were hundreds, probably thousands of Peacocks at this site in Northamptonshire in late July.

Peacock (Aglais io) Fermyn Woods 22 July 2020

Here is another, not quite so pristine individual from Fermyn woods on 22 July. It has suffered the indignity of a small tear, or peck, on the left hindwing!

Peacock (Aglais io) Fermyn Woods 22 July 2020

But those eyespots are there for a reason: to intimidate and/or deflect. A peck from a bird in the wrong place can kill you (if you are a butterfly!). A peck deflected, is a life saved. Here is one individual with a very large chunk missing (below). It looks to me like the eyespot did its job in this case?

Peacock (Aglais io) Fermyn Woods 22 July 2020

The following butterfly looks as though it has also received a small peck, right on the same left hindwing eyespot! A bullseye.

Peacock (Aglais io) Fermyn Woods 22 July 2020

When temperatures drop, butterflies often hunker down in the vegetation, like this peacock I came across on a cool afternoon in a grassy field on Felmersham gravel pits SSSI, on 22 July 2020 (below).

Peacock (Aglais  io) sheltering in the grasss on 22 July 2020

We are blessed to have these butterflies in such abundance. They did not evolve for us to admire, but it sure is a miracle of sorts that their adaptive appearance, and colourful attire, spark a moment of joy when we come across one.

2 Comments

  1. Lovely article and pictures. The Peacock has another defence – it can make a loud hissing noise full of ultrasonic frequencies. The sudden display of the eyespots together with the hiss as the wings open is a very effective scare tactic…certainly worked with me! I suspect other hibernating butterflies maybe able to create noises like that of the Peacock but I haven’t found anything in the literature to confirm that. Peacocks not doing so well this year in SW France….the cold and wet period following on from some warmth that brought them out from hibernation seems to have badly effected their numbers.

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