Tuesday 3 October 2023

Sozzled Admirals

 An American correspondent sends me a boyhood memory of thousands of 'yellow jackets' feasting on sweetly rotting plums on a golden October afternoon. 'Yellow jackets' was new to me, or seemed to be (it's getting harder to tell these days). Looking it up, I discovered – of course! – that what Americans call 'yellow jackets' (or yellowjackets) are what we on this side of the pond call simply 'wasps': predatory social wasps, insects that used to be a major nuisance of late summer in my boyhood, but which nowadays seem much less intrusive. Recently I've been seeing large numbers of them, along with honeybees, enjoying the nectar of ivy flowers. Also joining in the feast are the Red Admirals that are still gloriously abundant around here (and, in smaller numbers, Commas). Fallen fruit is very much to the Red Admirals' taste, and the more overripe the better. When autumn sun warms the wild yeasts on the skin of rotting fruit, enough alcohol is produced to create a lightly sozzled condition in the butterflies, which shed their inhibitions and become quite fearless of humans. There is a good account of Red Admirals feasting on fallen plums here...   Soon the butterfly season will be over, but it is ending in something of a blaze of glory, thanks to those Red Admirals, be they drunk or sober. 

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