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Thursday, August 06, 2015

MUIRHEAD`S MYSTERIES: More notes on the Camberwell Beauty in the United Kingdom.

I decided to do some more research into the Camberwell Beauty in Great Britain except I am now extending my investigation into Ireland

There was a belief in the early 20th Century that there were two colour morphs (if that is the right word) of the Camberwell Beauty, the one found in England had white borders on the edges of its wings and the American or Scandinavian one was more yellowish. For example, W.S. Coleman in `British Butterflies` (1905) comments: “ it is strange that nine out of ten English specimens have pure white  borders to the wings. This is looked on by some authorities as certain proof of the specimen being British caught. This, I think, however, is an error, as some of the specimens best authenticated  as having been home caught, have a yellow border. On the Continent the yellow-bordered variety is predominant. (1). But in my (Richard`s) opinion this statement by Coleman doesn`t actually SAY very much. It doesn`t explain anything behind these two colour variations.

Coleman says prior to the quotation above :” No spot can be pointed out where one can expect to  meet with this fine insect; but it has appeared singly at intervals in the following localities among others: - Scotland, Ayrshire; Durham; Scarborough; York; Darlington; Sheffield; Manchester;  Lake District; Appleby;Coventry; Peterborough; Oxford; Burton-on-Trent; Norfolk; Lincolnshire; Suffolk; Bristol; Ely; Shrewsbury; Plymouth; Teignmouth; Kent; Ashford; Bromley; Tenterden; Ramsgate; various places in the neighbourhood of London;Epping; Hampshire; Isle of Wight; Lewes; Worthing. “(2)

H. Rowland-Brown was more concise a few years after Coleman in 1912  concerning the white-yellow debate about the Camberwell Beauty:

“ To the collector who finds himself in Camberwell nowadays, the district hardly suggests the presence of antiopa. Yet there is no reason to doubt that the old “ Aurelians” observed and captured this fine butterfly in the then secluded retreat of city merchants, though the story that the larvae were one year so destructive to the trees that the Vestry offered a reward for their destruction (emphasis my own)  must be regarded as apocryphal. For the “ Camberwell Beauty” is an immigrant – occasionally numerous, but of late years very seldom seen at the ripe fruit on the peach wall or in the orchard, where it loves to suck the sweet juices in September. The butterfly is uniformly deep chocolate on all four wings, with broad creamy borders, interiorly studded with bright blue spots, the under side, save the border, uniform black-brown; the little fiction of British “ Camberwells” having white borders to assist the collector to determine the origin of his capture, and incidentally to inflate prices in the sale-rooms, being based probably on the fact that the so-called “ Britishers” have hibernated, and lost their colour in the process. “ (3)

“There is some truth in the old belief, for Dr E.A. Cockayne has found that this scale abnormality is present in the great majority of the specimens caught in this country. He is inclined to think that it is particularly common in Scandanavia, which would account for its frequency here and for the tradition that a genuine British Camberwell Beauty may be recognized by the white borders of its wings.” (4)

Edward Newman, writing in An Illustrated Natural History of British Butterflies and Moths ( c. 1870) said ;” To suppose they come from the Continent is an idle conjecture; because the English specimens are easily distinguished from the others by the superior whiteness of their borders…From Ireland I have a report of one taken at Killarney in July, 1865 by W.G. Battersby. In Scotland also one was taken by the late Charles Turner, in the Ramoch district. I saw this specimen, and have no doubt of its genuineness…Mr Thomas Chapman has information of others at Paisley and Edinburgh…From the way in which Moses Harris writes of this butterfly in England we are led to suppose that in his time it was regarded as no great rarity. In his “Aurelian” he merely says that it goes through its changes and appears on the wing at the same time as the Peacock. Lewin is more explicit:- “ One of my sons found an old decoy pond of large extent, surrounded with willow and sallow trees, and a great number of these butterflies flying about and at rest on the trees; many Of Them appearing to be just out of the chrysalis, left no doubt that this was the place where they bred. In March, 1790, a number of these insects were flying and soaring about for a space of twelve or fourteen days; and then, as if with one consent, they migrated from us, and were no more seen. (5)  

A much more recent account of Irish butterflies ( The Butterflies of Ireland by Dr Norman Hicken, 1992) states regarding the Camberwell Beauty, :” Only five records of this large, handsome migrant butterfly have been recorded from Ireland, mainly along the east and south coast.” (6)
E.Newman also said, quoting a Mr Wailes,  “ Our fellow member, Mr William Backhouse, informed me that about the year 1820 he saw vast numbers of this species strewing the seashore at Seaton-Carew, both in a dead and living state. Now,” continues Mr Wailes, “it is  surely more reasonable to suppose that these specimens had been blown from the land than that they had crossed a sea at least three hundred miles; and a specimen in Mr. Backhouse`s collection confirms this opinion, as it has the pale whitish margin to the upper side of the wings so characteristic of our British specimens, which is replaced  by yellow in nearly all the continental and American specimens.” (7)


      1.   W.S. Coleman  British Butterflies  (1905)  p. 111
2.   Ibid p. 111
3.       H. Rowland-Brown  Butterflies and Moths at Home and Abroad. (1912) p. 99.
4    E.B.Ford Butterflies (1990) p. 154.
5.   E. Newman An Illustrated Natural History of British Butterflies (c. 1870) p.59
6.     N.Hicken  The Butterflies of Ireland ( 1992)  p. 190.
7. E. Newman op cit. 60.

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