Be Nice to Nettles Week
  a CONE initiative
“Within the Buckingham Palace gardens nettles play an important role in the wildlife habitat areas providing a valuable food source for caterpillars. I hope National Be Nice to Nettles Week is a great success and congratulate CONE on this exciting initiative.”

Mark Lane
Head Gardener, Buckingham Palace



Comma - Polygonia c-album

 Comma - Polygonia c-album
 Copyright Butterfly Conservation
© Butterfly Conservation
The ragged outline to the wings is like no other butterfly found in the UK.

The comma is a prime example of changing fortunes in the world of wildlife. From the 1820s until the 1930s this butterfly was extremely scarce and could only be reliably found on the Welsh Border. Then possibly as a result of global warming and an increase in the area of nettles available the comma began a remarkable recovery. The southern half of the country was re-colonised over the next twenty years and a steady northward spread has been taking place since then. Both the adults and larvae have been found in Cramlington since 2000.

Primarily a woodland butterfly the male emerges from hibernation in March and takes a vantage point in sunny glades from which to swoop on passing females. Following a heated chase mating usually takes place in a high shrub or tree after which the female sets about finding suitable egg laying sites.

In the past the main food plant was the hop but a decline in village breweries has seen the change to nettle as the main larval food plant. The female is generally not as choosy as her cousins and will lay on nettles that are somewhat shaded - the primary requisite being a sheltered site. The eggs are laid singly on the top most leaves and the caterpillars hatch after about 15 days.

 Comma caterpillar
 Copyright Butterfly Conservation
© Butterfly Conservation

The caterpillar itself is perhaps one of the more interesting of the Nymphalid family in that it mimics a bird dropping to prevent it from becoming a bird's meal. When sitting curled up and motionless on a nettle leaf the skin patterns of dark brown, tan and a big white splash on the rear would fool most casual glances.

Another interesting feature of the comma is the ability to breed two generations in one year like its cousin the Small Tortoiseshell. Taking advantage of warm springs some of the adults will emerge quickly being destined to reproduce rather than hibernating. What is unusual is that these adults are a bright golden colour rather than the normal orange hue and are most attractive. The adults emerging from this second brood join the other single-brood adults to feed up before hibernating in leaf litter or trees in sheltered woodlands.

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Did you know?
Roman soldiers posted in Britain were reputed to have brushed their limbs with nettles so the stings would warm them in the cold climate!
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