Thursday, 2 July 2015

Bees and Butterflies

African Monarch butterfly by Shevaun Doherty SBA
African Monarch butterfly  © Shevaun Doherty
"Small deeds done are better than great deeds planned"
Peter Marshall

Summer is here, and as I write this, I’m sitting in my garden, bathed in sunshine, surrounded by flowers and the steady hum of bumblebees. Every now and then a butterfly flits between the blossoms, pausing briefly to sip on nectar before fluttering off to explore another garden. 
All around me nature is blissfully at work.
However this might not always be the case. A recent worrying report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), states that we are losing entire species at an alarming rate, so much so that we are in danger of losing 30-50% of all species by mid-century. Unlike previous mass extinctions, this is entirely due to man’s devastating effect on the planet.

Of course, we all read things like this and wonder just how we can help, but each of us can, in our own little way, and we can start in our own back garden with the bees and the butterflies.Their numbers are in rapid decline, and if they disappear, the effects will cascade throughout ecosystems, affecting all aspects of life on earth. 

  • Plant pollinator-friendly flowers in your garden
  • Allow a small area for wildflowers. Dandelions, daisies and clover are excellent food sources for bees. 
  • STOP using pesticides. They don't just affect insects but can harm the whole ecosystem.
  • Make a bee house 
  • Get involved in one of the many campaigns to save pollinators. Use your voice to say that you care. 

One of the things that we artists can also do is to use our art to raise awareness, to be visual storytellers. People might not read an article but they will look at a painting.

 If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it.
David Sobel (Beyond Ecophobia)

African Monarch caterpillars
As a mother, I’ve always encouraged my daughters to look at the world around them. In fact, it was their enthusiasm for collecting bugs and nature’s treasures that led me on the path to becoming a botanical artist. I remember how they came home from school one day in Egypt, thrilled to have discovered a bush covered with caterpillars. Whilst the other children had wrinkled their noses, my daughters carefully carried home a leaf with what looked like walking eyelashes. To our delight we discovered that these were the caterpillars of the African monarch butterfly, Danaus chryssipus, and the bush was a giant milkweed, Calotropis procera

It was incredible to watch the tiny caterpillars change into pupae and then transform into stunningly beautiful butterflies My daughter came into me at dawn and whispered that they had hatched, a moment of pure enchantment. The butterfly image is at the top of this post.

Peacock butterfly caterpillars feasting on nettles
Last week I found myself caterpillar watching once more. These caterpillars are small, black, spiky, and incredibly hungry, but hopefully they will transform into beautiful Peacock butterflies, Aglais io. They live on nettles, so every day I have been going out to collect fresh nettles.

It’s been such a delight to observe these little creatures closely. My daughters, now both in their teens, declared me “weird” and the caterpillars “Emo”, but I’ve noticed that they have brought all of their friends in to see the caterpillars and that everyone has been fascinated.

Although they are a common butterfly, I really haven’t seen a lot of them around. On my walks I have noticed that vast swathes of hedges in my area are being sprayed with herbicides, and I wonder how many creatures are being killed as a result.
Do we really need neat lawns? I'd rather have bees and butterflies.

 The caterpillars make great subjects to paint because they freeze whenever they sense danger, so if I tap the container, they will remain motionless for a few minutes. The plan is to fill a page with sketches from little caterpillar to pupa to butterfly. The magical part will be releasing them back into the wild.

Bombus hortorum study, Shevaun Doherty SBA
Bombus hortorum study
This little bumblebee is a Bombus hortorum, the garden bumblebee. I found a female struggling to free herself from a spider’s web in my garden, so I rescued her and managed to sketch and photograph her before feeding her some honey and sending her on her way. 

Only females collect pollen, so always look at their legs!! The wide flat part is the pollen basket or corbicula. 

At this time of year, it is quite common to find grounded bees, particularly if they have been stuck inside your house. Often they simply have run out of energy to fly. It’s estimated that a full honeystomach will give a bumblebee 40 minutes of flying, so next time you find an exhausted bee, give it a drop of honey mixed with water instead (7:3). Gratifyingly a long tongue will be extended and soon the little bee will be buzzing off happily to forage for nectar and pollinate more flowers. 
You see, it’s the little things in life that count.

Almost a third of all honeybees have disappeared in the last decade. Isn't that something to be worried about?

When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.
John Muir


  1. my privet was covered with bees and butterflies and hover flies and moths
    but not as much as it normally would be
    also then the rains came and cut short the flowering
    but we keep it so wild at my tiny acre .......... trying to make up for the rest who weed and spray

    1. It's so sad to see the decline in numbers. Keep up the good work Vi. It's not too late to reverse the decline.

  2. I love this post Shevaun, your heart and mine are in the same place. Another thing to know about the bugs and bees is if you have a water container outdoors (like a pet dish or puddle-y place) to place a rock in it so the critters can crawl out of the water, dry out and fly away. Another thing to think about in the garden is to make sure you have plants that flower in the hottest and late summer months. Hyssop is a good bush, mums and African daisies are also attractive to bees and, surprisingly, hummingbirds.

    1. Love this idea, Laura! I wish we had hummingbirds here.

  3. Great post Shevaun, With a very powerful message. Your bees are exquisite xxxx

  4. Love your bee studies and the butterfly painting is gorgeous. I am entranced by insects as well--we can't afford to take them for granted!

  5. Lovely post Shevaun, things haven't changed very much and pollinator conservation still isn't very high on the agenda. I was horrified the other day when all of the hedges, about to bloom with honeysuckle, outside my flat had been cut back and the vetch ripped out. In the graveyard next door 'Gods acre' had been cut to flat brown grass and no sign of the bees that were the last time I visited -all the wildflowers a gone just tidy pots of non native plants and plastic flowers are left. What kind of perversion is it the destroy wildlife and replace with plastic! It's education that is the key to this, to change this obsessive tidying and controlling of the natural world! You're so right about a parents role, my children always were aware and Polly commented recently on how unappreciative many of her fellow students are of the world around them..... It's terribly disappointing:( Some butterflies have recovered a little so I guess that's something, but the I always liked the idea of creating 'stepping stones' for species. It's something everybody can get involved with on any level. Glad your enjoying you caterpillars :) Buglife has some good projects too

    1. Thanks for the lovely comment and the link, Dianne. I loved the caterpillars... I can't wait to do it again!

  6. The article is really wonderful and i can get more information about the bees and butterflies. i write my essay from the help of excellent scholarship essays

    1. Thank you. I'd love to read your essay, but the link doesn't work.


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