Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina), family Riodinidae (Metalmarks), originally named 'Mr Vernon's Small Fritillary'.
|Ready for the fight: a territorial male Duke of Burgundy|
Male Duke of Burgundy are one of the bad boys of British butterflies. Put them to music and, while Orange-tips might daintily flutter along in a trail of moondust to Clair de Lune, Dukes are zipping headlong along to a death metal anthem. The sole British representative of the metalmark family, they are one of the smaller butterfly species but they punch well above their weight (ask any passing Brimstone butterfly). Put simply, they are brutes. Heavy metal metalmarks. It is apt, therefore, that these gladiatorial insects are best represented in Sussex in a colossal amphitheatre above the small village of Heyshott: the Heyshott Escarpment. Today, I was one of a group of enthusiasts who, led and compèred by Neil Hulme of Butterfly Conservation, ascended the arena to spectate as the territorial Dukes challenged all-comers.
We have parked our vehicles in the few available spaces along the roadside at Hoyle Lane and followed the bostal southwards until we reach a fork. Here we take the left path and climb a circular route up towards the eastern gallery of the escarpment, which continues through a gate around to the west, where we pick up the route back downhill to the bostal. The distance is short, but the terrain is punishingly steep in places and, beneath a hot sun and clear sky, the going is tough.
|Heyshott Down - undulating former mine workings on the east escarpment|
Neil led our group up beyond a former village landfill, which has been cleared of scrub to encourage the Dukes and Pearl-bordered Fritillaries, and into the Dukes' arena, which is an area of cowslips interspersed with low scrubby growth with a fair amount of regenerating dogwood. Within minutes the first of the territorial male Dukes is strutting around making a show of itself. Moments later we watch as two males spar in an upward spiral: a dogfight above the dogwood. During our visit we will observe male Dukes see off not only their own kind, but also Dingy and Grizzled Skippers, Green Hairstreaks, Brimstones, Whites and even Red Admirals. The small tortrix moth, the Red-fringed Conch (Falseuncaria ruficiliana), which shares the Dukes' foodplants keeps a low profile and skulks through the scrub as though to evade attack.
If the males are typically male in their behaviour, the females - the Duchesses - are also cast in the quintessential female mould. They are demure and seek not the sunlight, preferring instead the umbrella of a shading leaf. The Duke males form leks; the females visit the leks and are unceremoniously grabbed by the quickest male and Neil describes how this can occur faster than the eye can follow. Seemingly, there are two types of Duke genes: the quick and the dead.
|The bostal back to Heyshott village|
As we traverse the bostal leading back to Hoyle Lane we pass halcyon Orange-tips attending their pastoral flowers while a steady stream of Red Admirals bursts past us in a flurry of colour. Their route will take them across Heyshott Escarpment; they are in for a rough welcome when they arrive.
|Butterfly royalty: the Duke of Burgundy|
Thomas, J. and Lewington, R. 2010. The Butterflies of Britain & Ireland. British Wildlife Publishing: Gillingham, Dorset.
Species seen during the walk
Green Long-horn (Adela reaumurella) 1
Red-fringed Conch (Falseuncaria ruficiliana) 13
Purple Bar (Cosmorhoe ocellata) 1
Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages) 7
Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae) 5
Orange-tip (Anthocharis cardamines) 6
Green-veined White (Pieris napi) 2
Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni) 29
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) 23
Peacock (Aglais io) 1
Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) 3
Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina) 46
Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi) 14