Holly Blues - egg-laying on diverse plants

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Holly Blues - egg-laying on diverse plants

Postby millerd » Mon May 15, 2017 4:46 pm

Rather than fill my Personal Diary with even more photos of Holly Blues, delightful though they are, I thought I'd start a separate thread dealing specifically with the amazing diversity of plants the first brood females seem to be prepared to lay on.

In the past I have seen them use lucerne, dogwood, purple vetch and birds-foot trefoil in addition to the traditional holly, and on Sunday 14th May, I saw the even more unlikely option of buttercup being selected, and serious interest being taken in some kind of crucifer.

My first encounter on Sunday was with a female agitatedly flying around and settling on a young lucerne plant. There were no flower buds, which no doubt she was seeking, and her agitation seemed to grow.
HB3 140517.JPG
She moved to almost the next plant along the path, which turned out to be a buttercup. with little ado, she planted an egg on a flower bud.
HB lay1 140517.JPG
HB lay2 140517.JPG
HB lay3 140517.JPG
HB lay cu1 140517.JPG
HB laycu2 140517.JPG
From there she moved to a crucifer of some sort and appeared to do the same, though this time I could see no egg.
HB4 140517.JPG
(Interestingly, a nearby plant of the same species had two GVW eggs on it.) After all this, a rest was in order!
HB5 140517.JPG

Later on my walk, I encountered another female Holly Blue fluttering in and around a large dogwood. She settled on the bud clusters frequently and it was not difficult to find an egg.
HB lay4 140517.JPG
HB lay5 140517.JPG
HB lay cu3 140517.JPG
HB lay cu4 140517.JPG
I imagine there were many scattered on this one plant. The benefits to her of choosing this particular shrub were clear - she nectared lengthily on the open flowers, and basked nearby afterwards in the sunshine.
HB7 140517.JPG
HB8 140517.JPG
HB6 140517.JPG

Have others noticed the rather broad taste this species has with regard to egg-laying? There are still a lot of the first brood around, despite the early start this year, and holly buds burst into bloom a while ago. This may mean the females are forced to find something else to lay on - almost anything seems to do!


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David M
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Re: Holly Blues - egg-laying on diverse plants

Postby David M » Mon May 15, 2017 8:35 pm

Amazing piece of detective work, Dave. The camera never lies...and I must say I never suspected Holly Blues could be tempted to lay on such an array of alternative LHPs.

Perhaps the sheer abundance of them this spring has caused females to search more widely than usual?

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Re: Holly Blues - egg-laying on diverse plants

Postby peterc » Tue May 16, 2017 2:14 pm

Interesting stuff there, Dave.

Dogwood could well be the preferred foodplant for the spring brood in many places. I discovered a female HB ovipositing on a dogwood plant, in a slightly open situation, this morning on my local patch. This dogwood is only about one metre tall although there is plenty of much taller specimens nearby and some holly bushes too.

It is interesting that the egg-laying took place before 11 am but I don't know if this is a typical time of day for this behaviour or not. She might have wanted to offload her eggs as quickly as possible.

I have also taken photos of the buds but I have not found any eggs. I will return to the site in the next few days.


HollyBlue on Dogwood Shackledell 2 16May17.jpg
HollyBlue on Dogwood 1 16May17
HollyBlue on Dogwood Shackledell 1 16May17.jpg
HollyBlue on Dogwood 2 16May17

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Re: Holly Blues - egg-laying on diverse plants

Postby Pauline » Tue May 16, 2017 6:59 pm

Excellent behavioural shots there Dave - really interesting stuff and great observations (almost missed it as not in your PD). Last year when I was watching GH egg-laying I saw HB egg-laying on both Dogwood and BFT - I haven't seen them do it on anything else. I shall have to start taking more notice.

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Re: Holly Blues - egg-laying on diverse plants

Postby bugboy » Tue May 16, 2017 10:13 pm

Last year on my local patch Goats Rue (a non-native legume) was being obsessed over by females at the beginning of June, I think that makes them late first gen. The year before I watched a female lay on a Bramble bud. I've also seen them lay on Pyrocantha at work on more than one occasion.
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Re: Holly Blues - egg-laying on diverse plants

Postby Vince Massimo » Wed May 17, 2017 5:01 pm

Great observations by Dave Miller in the first instance and Bugboy with additional details :D
Buttercup is a new one on me and I am tempted to think that the female was confused by the proximity of other host plants, and a lack of available flower buds.

In my Crawley garden, they have laid eggs on Holly, Pyrocantha, Cotoneaster, Ceanothus and also used nearby Ivy and Dogwood.

Holly Blue egg on Pyrocantha 5-June-2016

I have also seen reports of the following plants also being used in the last few years.

Alder Buckthorn - "Cotswold Cockney" (Gloucestershire June 2017)
Common Laurel - Martin Kalaher (Sussex June 2016)
Portuguese Laurel - Martin Kalaher (Sussex May 2016
Hebe - Paul Harfield (Hampshire August 2015)
Heather - "Greenie" (LB Bromley July 2015)

The recently published book "The Butterflies of Sussex" also lists Spindle, Gorse, Bramble and Garden Snowberry. It also makes the point that this species has a habit of occasionally laying eggs on a wide range of unrelated and seemingly unsuitable plants. If you want to know more, then I thoroughly recommend that you buy this excellent book :D

Last edited by Vince Massimo on Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Holly Blues - egg-laying on diverse plants

Postby Pete Eeles » Tue May 23, 2017 1:58 pm

What an excellent thread - thanks for setting it up, Dave!

For what it's worth (and since I've not seen many photos of Holly Blue ova on ... er ... Holly), here's my contribution. The egg in the final shot is just a shell, but it's the first time I've ever found an egg on Holly flowerbeds (although I've not looked very hard!).



Hatched egg can just be made out


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Re: Holly Blues - egg-laying on diverse plants

Postby bugboy » Mon Jun 12, 2017 4:55 pm

Popped out for a couple of hours on my local patch this afternoon and for the second year running I came across a Holly Blue laying on Goats-rue.


The plant itself

and context shot

Wandering along I had a casual browse of other Goats-Rue along the hedgerow and very easily found several more, many having already hatched
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