Vanessa at night - no 3

Nick Greatorex-Davies ngd at
Tue Jan 29 09:46:17 EST 2002

Hi all,

A third installment - yet more on butterflies flying at night. This time thanks to Ian Rippey of Northern Ireland who dug this out for me:

D.J. Sullivan (Jan 1946). Remarkable Migration of Butterflies at Night and During a gale in Co. Donegal, Irish Naturalists Journal, Volume 8, page 397.

"A remarkable feature of the night of 10th October [presumably Wednesday 10th October 1945 - Ian Rippey] was a migratory movement of Painted Lady and Red Admiral butterflies, in company with Snipe, Redshank, Curlew and Golden Plover. This in a gale of wind and rain - force 7. It had been wet all day with heavy showers from the S.W. At nightfall, the wind went N.W. to N.E. force 7, and the sky literally opened. This continued throughout the night. When I came on watch at 10 pm one could hear the birds calling as they flew around the lighthouse. None struck. We identified them by their cries. The other keeper (D. Cahill) told me that an odd moth was striking the lantern glass. I kept an eye out for them, hoping that they would be Silver Y moths, as we had observed one of these the previous day. I only saw one moth - a large straw coloured specimen which I was unable to identify. Then at 11 pm. the butterflies commenced to arrive. On such a terrible night, I could hardly believe my eyes. They came in ones and twos, Red Admirals being the more plentiful. The following day Red Admirals were everywhere, but no Painted Ladies. On opening the oil store door, I found seven of the former fluttering about the window. Returning later there were five more. To-day, Sunday 14th, Red Admirals continue to be numerous."

D.J. SULLIVAN (Principal Keeper), Arranmore Lighthouse, Burton Port, Co. Donegal. 14-10-1945.

The following comments from Ian Rippey put the location in some geographical context and point out that 1945 was a good year for migrants:

"Aranmore lighthouse is or was probably around B6418 [Grid ref.] on Aranmore Island (20+ square kilometres, altitude c. 750 feet), West Donegal. I cannot find a lighthouse on the modern 1:50000 map but a place called "Lighthouse Lot" is shown near the western end at this Grid Reference. NE winds would be blowing to some extent from the mainland and hence could bring butterflies from the nearby coast over the island. The eastern end of the island is only about 2 miles from the mainland, though there are 3 substantial though much smaller islands in between; the area around "Lighthouse Lot" is about 4-5 miles west of the mainland.  However it is closest to the mainland due east, whereas in a NE direction the mainland is rather further away. A glance at Irish Ordnance Survey 1:50000 Discovery Series Map No. 1 (Donegal) will show this better than I can describe."

"1945 was known to be a very good year for many migrants, including several normally very rare species such as Bath Whites (650), Pale Clouded Yellows (318) Queen of Spain Fritillary (37) and Long-tailed Blue (31), the latter having its best ever year along with Convolvulus Hawk (505) and Red Admiral (24,000) in the period from 1850-1955 in Britain (or British Isles) in C.B. Williams book on Butterfly Migration. 6224 Painted Ladies were recorded, a good total but less than the 30,000 in 1948."

I hope this continues to be of interest.

Kind regards

Mr J Nick Greatorex-Davies
(Butterfly Monitoring Scheme co-ordinator)
NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology
(Formerly the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology (ITE))
Monks Wood
Abbots Ripton
Cambridgeshire PE28 2LS  UK

Tel: (+44) (0) 1487 773 381
Fax: (+44) (0) 1487 773 467
E-mail: ngd at
Web site:


   For subscription and related information about LEPS-L visit: 

More information about the Leps-l mailing list