The Marbled White

June 25, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Daneway Banks here in Gloucestershire is an absolute gem of a nature reserve. Run by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, and home of the very rare Large Blue butterfly, I'm extremely lucky to live just a short drive away. As a result, I've spent most of my spare time wandering around the area for the last few weeks taking in the sights and along the way noticing how the environment is in a continual state of change. I've had so many brilliant moments and close encounters with the local wildlife. Foxes, deer, green woodpeckers, jays, a hobby, buzzards, common lizards and of course the main attraction, the butterflies. Work has meant I've made most of my visits in the early evening and whilst this means seeing the many species of butterfly active is not so easy, it does mean the site feels like my own little piece of paradise with the masses having departed.

The main crowd puller is the aforementioned Large Blue which has been successfully reintroduced to this site and it's been great seeing numbers build over the last few weeks. Initially, only one was being found per evening visit but that has risen to five over the last couple of days. Clearly there are many more than that but finding them is not easy given the number of areas to explore and their impressive ability to blend in with their surroundings unless seen from a certain angle. These aside, I have been drawn to another summer butterfly, the Marbled White (Melanargia Galathea). I recall Daneway Banks being a great place for these butterflies last year though during that time I was still getting to grips with my macro lens and decided to start again this year and am enjoying the process.

If you've visited my butterfly gallery you'll probably notice that the vast majority of my images feature butterflies at rest with their wings closed. I find the underwing detail fascinating and therefore love early morning or evening visits as these are the times when butterflies roost. This makes photography much easier as more often than not it is possible to find and approach subjects without them taking flight and disappearing into the distance. The roosting position also demonstrates the underwing so for me it's a win-win situation. What's more, it's sometimes easier to find butterflies during these times, particularly if they're roosting higher up on longer grass.

In terms of this year, I've been amazed at how many Marbled Whites are present. I've encountered a few gatherings of up to 10 butterflies on one plant - a really impressive sight. Their flight is what I'd describe as lazy, with their wings beating relatively slowly making them look almost puppet-like as they move low over the ground seeking meal or mate. When not active they can found at roost on almost any plant, though they tend to really favour Valerian, roosting on the flower heads. Over these past few weeks though I've found them on a huge variety of flowers and grasses.

In terms of identification, it's hard to mistake the Marbled White for any other UK species and the name is surely one of the most apt, given the white wings covered with a marble-like pattern with a number of 'eyes' containing a blue centre, with the blue varying in intensity. The sexes are also easy to distinguish, even more so when they are at rest. The male is, in simple terms, black and white, though the extent and shading of the black can vary from one butterfly to another, as can the size. I have found a few males that are almost half the size of others, though haven't yet got a shot to show this marked difference in size. The following selection of images are of a few different males:

Marbled WhiteMarbled White

The female of the species shows the same patterning however they exhibit a brown, almost orange, tinge as opposed to the black of their male counterparts. One thing I have noticed this year is that some of the females found are significantly more orange with this really standing out even from a distance. Below are some shots of a pair of relatively 'normal' females though the orangeness is there to be seen:

Marbled WhiteMarbled White

As well as the striking underwing, these butterflies have an impressive 'top-side' too and when viewed from above the sexes are slightly less obvious. I've managed one early morning visit to Daneway Banks so far this summer and was fortunate enough to find a female perched at a very convenient height and warming up in the warmth of the rising sun. It's often very difficult to get the whole butterfly in focus, with one or both wing-tips not in the focus plane. Shooting at an open aperture to create a nice clean background makes this even more of an issue but thankfully I was able to get everything I wanted in focus for a change, showing the stunning markings that define this common but beautiful British butterfly.  Marbled WhiteMarbled White

As always, thank you for reading!


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