Ant 'midwives' help the birth of the blues – silver-studded, that is

A A A

One of Britain's prettiest butterflies is helped into the world by ants who act as "midwives" – guarding the freshly emerged insect while it inflates and dries its wings, new research has shown.

The remarkable story of the silver-studded blue and its ant-guarded emergence, pictured right, is told in the new edition of Britain's best-loved butterfly book – so sought-after that copies change hands for more than £100 – which is being republished next month, nearly 20 years after it first appeared.

The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland, by Jeremy Thomas and Richard Lewington, quickly sold out after its publication in 1991 and, because it was so popular but never reprinted, soon became valued at many times its original cover price of £16.99. Butterfly lovers scoured charity shops for copies but sometimes had to bid for it on eBay.

It was widely regarded as the best book about British lepidoptera ever produced, largely because the authors were the leaders in their fields. Jeremy Thomas, now the Professor of ecology at Oxford University, is acknowledged as Britain's top butterfly expert and his text is not only scientific but full of anecdotes about the butterflies and the people who collected them in the past. Richard Lewington is Britain's most celebrated painter of butterflies and moths and his exquisite, detailed illustrations are regarded as setting the standard by which other illustrators are judged.

The new edition of the book, which comes out next month, takes in the voluminous butterfly research which has appeared in the interim. It features two species wholly new to Britain – Real's wood white, and the geranium bronze – and many new discoveries, such as the account of the silver-studded blue and its ant midwives, shown here in Richard Lewington's illustration. The caterpillar depends for much of its life on black ants, spending the day, and finally pupating, inside ants' nests, where the ants care for it constantly – probably because the caterpillar gives off sugary substances which the ants consume.

'The Butterflies of Britain and Ireland' is being published by British Wildlife Publishing (www.britishwildlife.com), price £24.95, or £22 before 31 May.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

£12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer / Full Stack Developer

£24500 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat