Human beings were not the only victims of last month’s violent storms. A friend opened her garage door one morning to be confronted by a large toad, bigger than her fist, she told us. Presumably it had been washed out of its hole by the overnight downpour, though how it got into the grange is a mystery. Not wanting to accidentally run it over, she carried it into the back garden and put it into a secluded damp corner. She was worried that it might be in danger from neighbouring cats; however, since toads have an effective defence system – exuding an obnoxious fluid when threatened – it would be a very stupid or inexperienced cat that would have dared to tackle
this venerable female (to judge by its size)
Some creatures are more vulnerable. We found sad evidence of this while examining a clump of nettles for signs of caterpillars. From a nearby tall grass stalk dangled two little corpses like scraps of brown matted felt. We could detect traces of slender antennae, smooth not feathered, so these had been butterflies, too damaged to identify the species. Probably they had emerged from the chrysalis stage during the warm spell and clambered up the stalk into the sunshine to wait for their crumpled wings to expand and harden, before they could fly away. This is a very dangerous period for butterflies: they are a sitting target. These two had been overtaken by a sudden rainstorm; they still clung on tenaciously and couldn’t easily be detached.
This summer has not been a good time for butterflies. However, some of our less common species seem to have done rather well. There have been several reports of White-letter Hairstreak around Ilkley and of Dark-green Fritillary up the Dale. And some of the common ones may recover if the warm weather of early September returns. When we visited a local garden centre last week with a splendid display of Hebes, white, mauve and pink, concentrated on the pink ones were lots of bees, hover flies – and butterflies: five Peacocks, five Painted ladies and one Small Tortoise-shell at the last count. Needless to say we now have a new pink Hebe in our own garden!