Evergreen shrubs are not only useful for festive adornments at this time of year. Ivy bushes, in particular, provide a much needed safe haven for overwintering butterflies and moths, as well as other beneficial insects.
So if you are out collecting natural decorations or gathering greenery for your Christmas wreath, be vigilant not to disturb sleeping butterflies and moths, whose survival may depend on their ability to remain dormant, sheltered and out-of-sight throughout the winter months.
Some of the adult moths that spend the winter in a dormant state are Heralds, Satellites, Tissues and Sword-grass. Look out for the seasonally named Chestnut sheltering beneath an Ivy vine and the Red-green Carpet’s Christmassy colours might give it away. Interestingly it is only Red-green Carpet females that you might find –all the males die before winter!
Several species of butterfly overwinter as adults. Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Brimstone and Comma butterflies remain dormant, usually from late summer through until early spring. The Brimstone and Comma usually find the shelter they need outdoors. The Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock, on the other hand, prefer enclosed places and often venture inside sheds, garages and other outbuildings. You may even find them in your house.
As long as the butterfly remains in a cold room it is unlikely to be at risk. But you will need to make sure it can escape come spring, so remember to return and open a window. Central heating is likely to wake a sleeping butterfly, who wrongly assumes that winter is over.
If you find a butterfly fluttering in your house, the best thing you can do is move it somewhere cold but sheltered and encourage it to return to its dormant state. Catch the butterfly carefully and place it into a cardboard box or similar, in a cool place for half an hour or so to see if it will calm down.
Once its wings have stopped beating you might be able to gently encourage the sleepy butterfly out onto the wall or ceiling of an unheated building such as a shed, porch, garage or outhouse. But don’t forget that the butterfly must be able to find its way out when it does wake up.
Let’s hope you don’t have any unexpected guests turn up in your home this Christmas. But at least you are now prepared to deal with them… as long as they have wings.