The effect of weather on the life cycle of the speckled wood butterfly Pararge aegeria


Dr T. G. Shreeve, Department of Biology, Oxford Polytechnic, Headington, Oxford OX3 OBP.



  • 1Pararge aegeria (L.) is a very unusual butterfly of Britain, having a long period of adult activity, from April to October, without discrete flight periods. In central Britain it overwinters in two stages: pupae and third instar larvae, both being the progeny of late summer adults. Other larval stages die at the onset of cold winter weather. The overwintering stages give rise to the first adult generation in spring, split into two parts.
  • 2Different temperature regimes affect development rates in larvae and pupae differently. Late larval development is more rapid than that of pupae at low temperatures, thus in cool spring weather the overlap of the two parts of the first generation is greater than in warm spring weather.
  • 3Adults emerge continuously throughout the summer because larval development rates are variable. When summer is warm there is a partial third generation but when cool only two.
  • 4The timing of the end of the flight period is consistent with the hypothesis that both temperature and photoperiod are important in determining whether individuals enter diapause or develop directly. In warm summers larvae develop beyond a sensitive stage before critical daylength is reached and develop directly, but in cool summers individuals enter diapause because they are at the sensitive stage when critical daylength is reached.
  • 5It is suggested that variable development rates can facilitate parasite escape in autumn and increase the probability of adult success when weather is unpredictable, and this strategy is maintained because these benefits are greater than the cost of winter mortality of larvae.