Be Nice to Nettles Week
  a CONE initiative
“Delicious nutritious nettles, bring to mind sunny childhood play days, excellent as an additive to compost and essential for some many caterpillars.

Thank you CONE for raising the profile and improving the reputation of this wild plant, and thanks alike to all who grow them in their garden for butterflies.”

Helen Firminger
Project Manager, London Wildlife Trust Centre for Wildlife Gardening



Peacock - Inachis io

Peacock - Inachis ioUnmistakeable eyespots on the wings render the beautiful Peacock easily identifiable.

The Peacock has a most admirable set of defenses against predation from birds and rodents. The eyespots, which resemble an owl when viewed upside down, are flashed at any inquisitive bird. Any would be attacker is giving even greater cause for concern from the loud grating noise produced by the rasping of the forewings. Although the upper wing surface is distinctive the underside, like many of its cousins, is cryptically marked and serves as excellent camouflage when at rest.

Emerging from hibernation in the spring the males follow a similar pattern to the Small Tortoiseshell securing a good vantage point near a sunny nettle patch at around midday. Their territorial instinct is so strong that they will even chase birds that dare to invade their patch. This behaviour can be used to identify the sex of the adults - throw a twig or stone above a male and it will invariably investigate. Like the Small Tortoiseshell any unmated females that pass are hounded for some hours until mating takes place.

Peacock caterpillarsThe female is particularly careful about the location for her eggs - the tip of a vigorous nettle in full sun is invariably chosen. The eggs are laid in large batches of over 200 which hatch about ten days later.

The black, spiny caterpillars then feed en masse in silken tents atop the nettles. As they get larger they emerge from the tent to feed, the writhing mass of spines no doubt frightening off any would be predators. The caterpillars do not have it all their own way, however, as many are eaten by spiders or, perhaps worse, parasitised by wasps.

Those that survive parasitism leave the nettle bed to pupate. Two colour variations can be found - those that pupate on dark substrates, such as trees, are a dusky grey while those formed under foliage are a yellow green. Each is remarkably well camouflaged in its situation. The adults emerge after 12 days or so and concentrate on feeding, joining the Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and Commas in the garden in late summer. With the onset of the colder, shorter days they seek out hollow trees in woodlands where they sit out the winter waiting for the spring to return.

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Did you know?
Nettles were often hung in bunches in larders because of their fly repellent properties.
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