The butterflies known as “the Fritillaries” tend to have larvae that feed on the leaves of violets or other quite specific plants in woodlands or other environments such as coastal dunes or chalk grasslands, so often a slightly specialist food source that is often quite tightly dependant on the woodland or other habitat management practices such as coppicing. The adults tend to appear bright orange-brown from a distance, but with beautifully chequered patterns of colour when viewed close-up, often together with quite bright silvered patches on their wings when seen in real detail.
In fact “the Fritillaries” are a sub-family of a family of butterflies, the Nymphalidae, which also includes “the Admirals” and “the Browns”. All these butterflies share the characteristic that the front pair of legs are not used as legs, so that the butterflies only use its two rear pairs of legs to stand upon. The front pair of legs are held close to the chest and are covered in hairs that may have a sensory function.
The woodland Fritillaries in Kent include the largest, the Silver-washed Fritillary which is the only one currently found in Hadlow parish, in the woodlands in the north of the parish. In the past you might have expected to find the Pearl-bordered or the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary in clay woods such as these when they were regularly coppiced or their rides were more open. The RSPB attempted to re-introduce the Pearl-bordered Fritillary into Tudeley Woods to the south of the parish about a decade ago but in the end this proved unsustainable. All three of these Fritillary species have caterpillars which rely on Violets growing in woodland rides, glades or coppiced areas.
In the east of Kent on the poorer soils of the Blean Woods, the Heath Fritillary is found, which feeds off particular woodland plants common in those woods such as Cow-wheat or other plants such as Ribwort. This butterfly is currently only found in a few locations in the UK would not be expected to be found in the types of woodland found in West Kent.
The more open ground Fritillary found in Kent is the Dark Green Fritillary which is restricted to chalk grasslands in locations along the North Downs.
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