Camberwell Beauty Nymphalis antiopa (Linnaeus 1758 )
Family: Nymphalidae, subgroup Nymphalinae (The Nymphalids or Vanessids)
Photos, including header photo, by Peter Eeles
The Camberwell Beauty is a strong-flying immigrant species which makes occasional rare appearances in Yorkshire.
It is a very large, apparently black, butterfly with broad white, cream or lemon-yellow bands edging the wings. A close view should show a line of blue spots inside the pale bands, and a brown-burgundy gloss to the dark areas. The species may fly high around trees with the light wing bands not especially evident and can be confused with the similarly dark but usually smaller Peacock.
It is also often known as the Mourning Cloak and in past times it was also known as the Grand Surprise. It is often the first butterfly to be seen in spring in much of its range flying while snow is still on the ground.
The Camberwell Beauty usually inhabits mountain areas and woodland , laying eggs on sallows, poplars, elms and birches. lt will also use other habitats which contain its foodplants or suitable sources of nectar, including gardens and orchards. Adults prefer tree sap bleeds, honeydew, excrement or rotting fruit but also feed on garden flowers.
This species is widespread in mainland Europe but its normal distribution stops short of the Channel. However it is a rare but regular immigrant to Britain and can turn up anywhere.
It has a single brood and generally seen singly, usually between June and September, but occasionally in spring. Immigration to Yorkshire is often assumed to be from Scandinavia, but it can also be from central or southern Europe as indicated by the consistently higher number of reports from south-eastern England than from Yorkshire. June or July sightings are more likely to be from central or southern Europe (as the southern flight period is earlier), whilst August or September records are more likely to be from Scandinavia, but this is not a golden rule and weather conditions may cause variations and overlaps. In some years though there are large invasions and these are called “antiopa years”.
Within Yorkshire it’s most common along the east coast and around the Humber Estuary, particularly the Port of Hull. It was suggested in the 1950’s that the butterfly was not a natural immigrant, but came in with timber ships from Finland. This idea became popular when specimens were also seen in Rotherham where there was a wood import company. However, there is little doubt today that most Camberwell Beauties which manage to reach Yorkshire have flown across the North Sea using their own efforts coupled with favourable winds and weather conditions.
The Camberwell Beauty is also a species which is sometimes kept in butterfly houses or which is bred by enthusiasts and therefore escapees and private releases are possible.
It has never been recorded breeding in British Isles, perhaps because it needs cold dry winters for its survival hence its affinity with mountain areas. Dampness is thought to cause heavy mortality as they have a tendancy to hiberante at ground level under trees and beneath the snow
In mainland Europe adults can emerges from hibernation quite early but females are not receptive till buds burst on their foodplant. They lay clusters of eggs on the twigs of their favoured willow species, usually in March or April. The adults may be seen nectaring on sallow blossoms; e.g. pussy willows. It is thought that butterflies fresh from hibernation do not migrate and hence the assumption is that spring sightings in the British Isles are of individuals which arrived the previous year and successfully hibernated in this country.
Larvae feed together protected by a silken web, but then disperse long distances after about 50 days. After a period on the wing adults go into hibernation using a wide range of hiding places, from tree hollows to drainage pipes and garden sheds. As with all our hibernating butterflies, disturbance or a warm spell in winter may cause an early emergence and, as a result, the butterfly can be seen in any month of the year, even in the British Isles.
Camberwell Beauty is not assessed as a UK BAP species. Its European status is not threatened.
There are variations in the colour of cream band on the wing from white to more yellowy and this led to the species being sought after by collectors in the past.
With thanks to the Butterflies of Yorkshire edited by Howard M Frost
Catherine Jones 10/11/20