Rare Swallowtail butterfly making a return to Sussex

One of the rarest and most spectacular British butterflies has taken up residence on a Sussex nature reserve.

Thursday, 20th August 2020, 1:33 pm
Swallowtail by Roger Wilmshurst SUS-200820-125359001

The Swallowtail is an extremely rare native butterfly and is only occasionally seen in Sussex. So Barry Yates, Rye Harbour Nature Reserve Manager, was delighted to hear that an adult Swallowtail had been seen on a Buddleia bush and even more excited when he discovered the butterfly had laid eggs.

The Swallowtail butterfly is a very rare native of Britain and only found in a few wetland sites in Norfolk where it feeds on Milk Parsley.

In some years the continental sub-species does cross the channel and there is a good summary of the last good year for them in 2013.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA SUS-200820-125410001

With recent hot weather and winds from the south there have been a few records this year along the south coast, but the Rye Harbour one was the first recorded for the nature reserve.

An adult was seen feeding on Hemlock at Dungeness, Kent, in June and another was on Fennel in a garden near Hastings Country Park on the 30th July 30 and on August 16 a caterpillar was seen on the same plant.

Barry said: “A Swallowtail butterfly was seen briefly by our warden Chris Bentley on a Buddleia bush in my garden next to the nature reserve. Despite a couple of hours of searching we could not relocate it. However, my neighbour, Tina photographed it with her phone in the afternoon. On close examination of the photo that evening, it looked like she may have been egg laying.

“Early the next day Tina and I searched the Fennel and found seven eggs. These small Fennel plants were due to be weeded, so we carefully saved the plants and put them in pots in an airy container in a light, but not sunny windowsill. The yellow eggs were just 1mm diameter. I doubted whether they would hatch, because it would need the butterfly to have successfully mated in France before it launched out across the sea; but by August 9, nine caterpillars had hatched.”