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The Magical World of Butterflies and Dragonflies Seen Through a Macro Lens

Photographing bugs and insects is quite addictive! I hope you will enjoy exploring the natural world with me.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) with a May Fly held between his jaws.

Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens) with a May Fly held between his jaws.

One of those from down the river

One of those from down the river

A Banded Demoiselle

This morning, I went down to the Bure river, taking with me, my Nikon D200 camera and my Sigma 105mm macro lens. It was there that I came across a Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), a species of damselfly which belongs to the family Calopterygidae.

He was sitting alone when I first saw him, on a leaf which overhung the slow moving water. With his jet black eyes and his translucent green wings, I looked at him and he looked at me and then, without any prior warning, he flew away. He was gone for only an instant, soon returning, carrying with him a small flying insect clamped tightly between his jaws. And so it was that I watched him and he watched me, as he wound that blessed small creature right down into his open jaws. The poor mite! It too had wings that glimmered in the sunshine, but sadly, not for long, for soon the insects was no more. The Banded Demoiselle flew away and went back for another.

I stood a while, awaiting his return and sure enough, it was not long before he arrived with yet another flying insect grasped tightly between his jaws.

And, so it was that we became accustomed to one other, I to him and he to me as I stared down at him through my macro lens. He looked at me with those great big round eyes of his! How alert he was! How I marveled at his skill and his evident ability to feed himself single-handed with such skill. Not once did he return empty handed! And, so I left him, sitting alone on a leaf, only to find that a little way downstream, the mating season had begun for all the Banded Demoiselle and those who live down there.

Mating Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

Mating Banded Demoiselle (Calopteryx splendens)

The Amorous Couple!

It was there that I came across the amorous couple, two Banded Demoiselle(Calopteryx splendens) with their bodies so tightly adjoined that it seemed that they might never be parted! The male, he wore dark green and the female, well, she wore lighter green. How awkward they appeared, as they flew from one leaf to another, sometimes stopping for a rest. Several times they found themselves interrupted, by the unwelcome attentions of a male contender, whose ambition it seemed, was just to attempt to break up the party.

And so, I left them there to get on with their own private business.

Eastern Comma Butterfly – Polygonia comma Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)

Eastern Comma Butterfly – Polygonia comma Family: Nymphalidae (Brush-footed Butterflies)

It was then I saw an Eastern Comma Butterfly, just as beautiful as the day he was born. He wore his best; his wings spanned out, with such a beautiful array of reddish-brown and orange. He held his wings high and close to his sides, it seemed he mimicked a piece of bark which made it so easy for him to camouflage himself from prying eyes. He. paused to rest on a branch, perhaps because he just wanted to catch his breath a while, or was it perhaps, that he just wanted to feel the warmth of the sun beneath his wings?

I could only marvel as I watched him, fine soft hairs standing up on the back of his head. There was so much beauty contained in this the butterfly, surely something to be remembered and something to be shared! I wanted to cry out, to call to anyone who might be close, ask them to stop a while to admire this beauty! I so wanted to share this pleasure, this marvel before my eyes, but I was alone, so could do nothing but just stand and stare, and then he surprised me, for he flew up onto my arm. I stood very still, feeling his proboscis gently suck at the moisture on my skin. Perhaps it was the salt he tasted there and for one moment we became one! And, then, he was gone, having had his fill.

picture-these-different-images-of-butterflies-and-dragonflies

And so, I searched for yet another butterly, perhaps one who might be resting on the bark of a tree or on a stray piece of bark found on the ground, for if you find one butterly there is sure to be another, especially in a nice warm sheltered spot.

Side by side two Butterflies soak up the sunshine

Side by side two Butterflies soak up the sunshine

A Lone Green-Veined White Butterfly

A passing Green-veined White (Pieris napi) a butterfly of the Pieridae family, flew quickly past me. I watched him twisting and turning in the air and then, just as anticipated, he drops down, to nudge another unsuspecting butterfly who is resting on the ground. They quickly fly up into the air and are soon on their way. For you see, it takes time. to understand, that butterflies are seldom left alone before a passing butterfly will always stop in to say hi, just like my Banded Demoiselle butterfly.

The 'nudge' is not confined to butterflies - a Hover fly tries to prevent a Green Veined Butterfly from feeding off his choice meal.

The 'nudge' is not confined to butterflies - a Hover fly tries to prevent a Green Veined Butterfly from feeding off his choice meal.

Nettles

A patch of nettles is where I find my next butterfly. I stretch over some nettles to observe him and feel the sting of the nettles as they brush my bare skin. I grab a Dock Leaf Rumex obtusifolius and hurriedly rub it on, in an effort to ease my pain. How very gracious of Mother Nature to provide a remedy just before my eyes!

Horse Fly

Then, I fall victim to the sting of a Horse Fly (Haematopota pluvialis). He lands without sight or sound and thirstily partakes of my blood, without first seeking my permission! Such a crafty little blighter. I whack him hard with my spare hand and flick him far from my skin.

A nasty horse fly bite

A nasty horse fly bite

Mating Season

And, so it seems that the mating season has already begun for when I reach the banks of the Bure river, my next encounter is with a pair of white veined butterflies whose bodies I find are firmly attached to one another. They can only flutter using clumsy strokes as they fly from one leaf to the other, the one in front, drags the other so I take my shot before they go on their way.

picture-these-different-images-of-butterflies-and-dragonflies
Large White Butterly Feasting on Nectar

Large White Butterly Feasting on Nectar

Two Green Veined Whites Mating

Two Green Veined Whites Mating

Green veined white butterfly clearly showing it's proboscis as it sups nectar

Green veined white butterfly clearly showing it's proboscis as it sups nectar

A few interesting facts about Butterflies

The Green-veined White (Pieris napi) is a butterfly of the Pieridae family and is the most common butterfly that I encounter on the river. Their so-called green veins are a strange quirk of nature. Their color is created with a subtle combination of yellow and black scales which can be found beneath their wings. Butterfly wings are in fact transparent! Their wings are made up of many layers of chitin, a protein which makes up the exoskeleton of an insect. These layers are so thin that one can actually see right through them. They reflect light in many different colors and this is what gives the butterflies their beautiful color. As the butterfly ages. the scales will often fall off, leaving bare spots where the layers have been exposed. This makes them look rather tattered and torn.

Predators of Butterflies

Butterflies fold their wings up in order to blend in with their surroundings. Some will wear vibrant colors to try to fool their predators. They themselves are not toxic to other insects.

An Eastern Comma Butterfly Basking in the Sunshine

An Eastern Comma Butterfly Basking in the Sunshine

Butterflies are Cold Blooded

The ideal body temperature of a Butterfly needs to be around 85ºF for them to fly. If the air temperature falls below 55ºF they will be rendered immobile. This makes them easy prey for predators. When the temperature rises beyond 100ºF they need to seek shade in order to cool down.

picture-these-different-images-of-butterflies-and-dragonflies

Butterflies Feed Only on a Liquid Diet

When butterflies first emerge from the chrysalis, the first thing they need to do, is to make sure that their mouth parts are working correctly! You can sometimes watch them as they curl and unfurl their proboscis. When you see a butterfly drinking from a muddy puddle of water, this behavior is known as ‘puddling’. It is more than likely that the butterfly will be a male as he needs to acquire minerals and salt from the muddy puddles in order to pass them onto the female when mating.The nutrients help to improve the viability of her eggs. The proboscis works very much like a drinking straw and is used to suck up nectar from flowers.

A peacock butterfly rests on a flower.

A peacock butterfly rests on a flower.

Newly Emerged Butterflies are Unable to fly!

When they first emerge from the pupal case, butterflies appear quite small and have shriveled wings. This is before they pump body fluids in to enable them to reach their full size. They will have to rest for a few hours to allow the fluids time to harden and dry before they can take their first flight.

Comma Butterfly

Comma Butterfly

The The Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) Butterfly may only live as long as two weeks

The The Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) Butterfly may only live as long as two weeks

The Life Expectancy of a Butterfly is a Short One

Having emerged from a chrysalis, the butterfly will need to focus time and energy on two basic tasks, eating and mating. Some small butterflies such as the blues only live for a few days. A few may overwinter such as the Monarch and Mourning Cloaks who can live for up to nine months but for most butterflies, life is very short, only about two to four weeks.

Butterflies can see ultraviolet colors which are invisible to humans It seems that butterflies may have ultraviolet markings on their wings to help them identify not only each other, but also the flowers which they need to feed on. The markings help them to identify a possible mate. It is thought likely that the flowers themselves have the ultraviolet markings too.

The European Peacock (Inachis io) Butterfly sucks the nectar of a wild water mint flower

The European Peacock (Inachis io) Butterfly sucks the nectar of a wild water mint flower

Butterflies are near sighted but can detect colors. From a distance of 10-12 feet, the butterfly’s eyesight is rather good. Things begin to get a little bit blurry beyond this! Butterflies need to rely on their eyesight for important tasks, such as finding a mate of the same species. They also need to find the right kind of flowers on which to feed.

Wild flowers for the butterflies

Wild flowers for the butterflies

Butterflies Taste with their feet!

Did you know that Butterflies taste with their feet? When a butterfly lands on a plant, it will drum the plant with its feet in order to release essential juices. Butterflies have spines on the back of their feet. These have chemoreceptor’s receptors in them making it possible for them to detect the right plant for themselves. When the female identifies the correct plant, she will also lay her eggs on it. A case in point is the Cabbage Patch Butterfly, which can so often be seen layings it eggs on my cabbage plants. One will see it flit from plant to plant until it finds the right one. Butterflies can also detect fermented juices in fruits and they will drink these too. That is why I sometimes put out a few bananas or wind fall apples for them to feed on.


A comma butterfly rests on a branch

A comma butterfly rests on a branch

Brown Argus Aricia agestis

Brown Argus Aricia agestis

The underside of a Peacock Butterfly

The underside of a Peacock Butterfly

The Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae L.)  (upperwing)

The Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae L.) (upperwing)

Wild Water Mint

Wild Water Mint

The flower of Wild Water Mint

The flower of Wild Water Mint

Bure River, norfolk

© 2013 Sally Gulbrandsen

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