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Alners Gorse, Dorset
Whitecross Green Wood, Oxfordshire
The purple hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) is a butterfly in the family Lycaenidae distributed throughout much of Europe, North Africa, Anatolia, Caucasia, and Transcaucasia. The larva feeds on Quercus robur, Quercus petraea, Quercus cerris and Quercus ilex.
- N. quercus interjectus (Verity, 1919) Italy
- N. quercus longicaudatus (Riley, 1921) Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, West Iran
- N. quercus iberica (Staudinger, 1901) Morocco, Algeria, Iberia
Appearance, behaviour and distribution
This active little butterfly is most often seen fluttering around high up in oak trees on warm sunny July and early August days. Males have a glossy purple sheen on the upperside, females have two patches on the forewing only. The underside is light grey with a white streak, edged in black, running down the middle of both wings. The hindwings have a short tail with two orange spots at the base on the underside. It is common and widespread across southern and central England and Wales, becoming rarer and more isolated in the north as far as central Scotland. In Ireland it occurs in a few isolated colonies scattered across the country but is probably still under recorded due to its reclusive habits. Males tend to stay high up in trees, females come down to lower levels to lay eggs. Both sexes feed mainly on honeydew although females are occasionally attracted to flowers whilst taking a break from egg laying.
Life cycle and foodplants
Eggs are laid singly at the base of oak buds in late summer ready to hatch the following spring as the buds break. Both sessile oak Quercus petraea and pedunculate oak Quercus robur, Britain's two native oaks are used and also some introduced species such as Turkey oak Quercus cerris and evergreen oak Quercus ilex. In winter the eggs are easily found on close examination of bare branches. The caterpillar is fully developed inside the egg after two or three weeks but doesn't hatch until the spring whereupon it burrows into the flower buds to feed safely concealed. As it gets larger and the buds open it spins a silken retreat and feeds only at night. Pupation usually takes place in the leaf litter where it is tended by ants who bury them, but also sometimes in a crevice in the bark of the foodplant. There is one brood a year with adults on the wing in July and August.
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