Monday 21 July 2014

A Lover of the Dawn?

When I got up this morning (I'm on holiday this week), there was a female Gatekeeper perched on a leaf of the Buddleia bush outside the back door, her tail in the air, waiting for some passing male to take the, er, hint. She is still there as I write...
It's been another bumper year for the delightful Gatekeeper, the most cheering and approachable of our summer butterflies. Its Latin name is Pyronia Tithonus - yes, Tithonus, the mortal cursed by Zeus with the inability do die, whose wretched plight is so powerfully expressed in Tennyson's poem: 'The woods decay, the woods decay and fall...' What could he possibly have to do with the merry little Gatekeeper? I think the explanation must be that Tithonus was the (reluctant) lover of Eos, the goddess (strictly speaking, Titan) of the Dawn. Is the Gatekeeper, then, a lover of the dawn, or at least an early riser among butterflies? This would seem likely, to judge by the hopeful female on my Buddleia bush.
 I've been thinking about the Latin/Greek nomenclature of butterflies ever since reading a fascinating article on the subject in the current edition of Butterfly magazine. From this I learnt that my old friend the Dingy Skipper [see Nigeness passim], Erynnis Tages, is named after the Erynnes - the Furies - because it flies as if pursued by them, and after Tages, a miraculous boy who 'rose suddenly from the ground', just like a Dingy Skipper taking off.
 In other butterfly news, on Ashtead Common yesterday, where Silver-Washed Fritillaries were flying in glorious abundance (along with a few White Admirals), I spotted, high up in an oak, the second Purple Emperor of my life. He was only briefly in sight, but on size alone he was unmistakable, and I got a good sight of the equally unmistakable underwing. As a lepidopteral thrill, it wasn't quite up there with seeing my first - especially as that one was settled on the ground - but it was not far behind. There really is nothing like seeing the Emperor.
 Update: The Gatekeeper has flown - I hope she found her male.

1 comment:

  1. In Brittany this week. Loads of gatekeepers here, especially on mint flowers.