A lamp-like butterfly species is enjoying an abundant summer in Yorkshire

A Marbled White butterfly, photographed by Nick Fletcher.
A Marbled White butterfly, photographed by Nick Fletcher.
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Marbled white butterflies always remind me of a Tiffany lamp shade.

The patches of white on their wings look like the stained glass panels while the black edging could be the lead which holds them together.

The comparison is so striking, in fact, that I wonder if Louis Comfort Tiffany drew a little inspiration from the marbled white when he created his famous Art Nouveau lamps back in the 1890s.

I have never seen this species of butterfly so often as this summer or in so many different locations across Yorkshire, from the towpath of the Driffield Canal to the edge of Grassington Moor.

Remarkably, I have even recorded the first marbled white in my garden above the Aire Valley, which is somewhat out of the way as far as the chalk and limestone soils the species tends to favour.

The marbled white is one of our most attractive butterflies, and one that has expanded its range in recent decades. It used to be confined to Southern England and the Midlands with just small pockets existing in Yorkshire and South Wales, but the latest distribution map produced by Butterfly Conservation shows them gradually spreading to new areas.

The summer has also produced population explosions for members of the Pieridae family, which includes the large white and small white known as cabbage whites.

In recent weeks there has rarely been a moment during the day when I haven’t seen almost a cloud of them in the garden, feeding on lavender and nasturtiums. No wonder some people call them summer snowflakes.

I shutter to imagine the damage they might have wreaked in vegetable gardens and allotments, where they are - as the name suggests - very partial to cabbage leaves.

This may be the reason why butterflies are so-named. Bizarre as it sounds, they were originally thought to excrete butter. In fact, the Dutch word for butterfly is “boterschijte”, which I am sure you don’t need me to translate.

It got this name, it appears because the cabbage white’s caterpillars not only destroyed cabbage leaves but in the process deposited a slimy greenish-yellow excrement on those bits they didn’t chomp.

I have recently been teaching myself butterfly identification thanks to a new smartphone app. I was surprised to learn that compared to the 350 or so regularly occurring birds in the UK there are just 60 species of butterfly, and here in Yorkshire we have a realistic chance of seeing a little over half of them.

The vast majority are found around lowland fields and hedges, woods and gardens. The chalk landscape of the Yorkshire Wolds is especially rich in butterflies despite being one of the most intensively farmed areas of England.

If I have a favourite it has to be the small blue, another species that seems to have spread its range in the north. Years ago I saw them mostly feeding on the bird’s-foot trefoil of the Yorkshire Dales, but now I sometimes catch one fluttering across my garden.