Be Nice to Nettles Week
  a CONE initiative
“Stinging nettles give us an insight into both the capacity for nature to flourish even in some of the hardest urban conditions, and how plants are essential in providing us with some of the neccessities of life.

Not only do they provide excellent food for some butterflies and moths, but we can make tea from their leaves, use them as dyes, and once stung we will never forget their power to protect - as good a piece of environmental education as any.”

Mathew Frith
Urban Advisor, English Nature



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?
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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