Why is this butterfly sighting so special?

White-letter hairstreak spotted in Scotland for the first time in more than 130 years.

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White-letter hairstreak in Scotland

This is the first white-letter hairstreak spotted in Scotland for more than 130 years © Iain Cowe

 

A butterfly enthusiast in the Scottish Borders has reported the third ever sighting of a white-letter hairstreak in Scotland.

The insect was seen in a field edge near Paxton, Berwickshire, and has only ever been sighted in Scotland twice before, in 1859 and 1884. 

 

Watch a video of a white-letter hairstreak: 

Footage of a white-letter hairstreak © Chris Atherton

 

“It is not every day that something as special as this is found when out and about on a regular butterfly foray,” says Iain Cowe, the butterfly recorder who saw the species.

“It was a very ragged and worn individual found feeding on ragwort in the grassy edge of an arable field.”

While widespread throughout England and Wales, the white-letter hairstreak has suffered a decline of 72 per cent in the UK in the last decade.

Much of this decline is linked to Dutch Elm disease because white-letter hairstreak caterpillars feed on elm. 

 

The white-letter hairstreak has a distinctive ‘W’ marking on the underside of its wing © Iain H Leach / Butterfly Conservation

 

Butterfly Conservation Scotland will be working to discover if there is a breeding colony of white-letter hairstreaks in the local area, and if confirmed, the number of resident butterflies in Scotland will increase to 34.

“We don’t have many butterfly species in Scotland so one more is very nice to have,” says Paul Kirkland, director of Butterfly Conservation Scotland.

“Although Dutch Elm disease occurs in Scotland, we still have a good amount of Wych Elm, so hopefully it will prosper and spread, although its arrival here is almost certainly due to the warming climate”. 

 

Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine

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