Natural Fuel Stations: Concourses on Flowers and Fruits



A Hundred Years Ago a naturalist449 described a lane by the coast at Ilfracombe in north Devonshire where there were 50 yd of hedgerow covered with ivy in full bloom. Here on 9 October the ivy was ‘almost hidden from sight by a countless multitude of butterflies and moths’, the former consisting of hundreds of red admirals, Vanessa atalanta, scores of painted ladies, Vanessa cardui, and a single Camberwell beauty, Nymphalis antiopa, the moths not being further identified. These three species of butterflies are all strong migrants — for example the painted lady flies over from North Africa — and without these immigrants no British populations of any of them would be found. Although the first regularly and the second occasionally breeds here in summer, there cannot be much doubt that the swarms on ivy flowers were autumn contingents from abroad that were pausing to replenish their stores of fuel. Most flying insects move much shorter distances than this, though even the ones that do not move far in a straight line may expend a great deal of energy in flight, while some undertake hard physical work when they arrive in a new bit of habitat: as in digging, or mating activities or escaping parasites and enemies. A great many of these species stop to gather nectar from flowers. A very similar habit is the eating or gathering of honey dew on the leaves of forest trees, discussed in Ch. 10. There are other sources of sugar fuel also, such as rotting fruit and the sap flow from trees; and sometimes it is evidently water alone that is sought for.


Beech Wood Deciduous Woodland Insect Visitor Rosa Canina Woodland Edge 
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© Charles S. Elton 1966

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