This is one of our commonest and most familiar butterflies, but it has an interesting life cycle. If you see one in August, it might well have hatched at Paxton, from an egg laid on a stinging nettle, but its parents were almost certainly immigrants. Thousands fly over the Channel every Spring from continental Europe. The numbers flying in vary widely from year to year and this determines how many you will see, as very few Red Admirals overwinter in the UK.
These small dragonflies are everywhere at this time of the year. In fact, they can be seen right up until November. One of their favourite habits is to perch on horizontal surfaces, so the fence rail on the ramp leading up from the Meadow to Hayling Pit is a good place to spot them. When disturbed, they will fly for a few seconds and then return to the same place. The male, shown in the photo, is orange-red while the female is yellow-brown. The male of a closely related species, the Ruddy Darter, is an even brighter red; these are also common at Paxton Pits but it takes practice to tell them apart.
If you don’t like spiders perhaps this one will make you change your mind. It’s large, spectacularly coloured and won’t come into your bathroom. Instead, it sits patiently in its web waiting for its insect prey. Wasp spiders are recent arrivals to the UK but are spreading rapidly and can be seen at Paxton Pits every year. In spite of their size, they are completely harmless to humans. If you spot one, it will probably be a female. The males are much smaller and live a hazardous life, as the female usually eats them after mating!
The grass snake, which is regularly spotted by visitors to the Pits, is the only snake you will see at Paxton. If you see one, don’t panic; like the wasp spider it’s non-venomous and completely harmless to humans. It mainly eats frogs and toads, swallowing them whole in classic snake fashion. Not surprisingly, given its diet, it’s a strong swimmer and you are just as likely to see it in the water as on land. In fact, if you disturb one on land, you will probably only get a brief glimpse as it slithers away. The yellow and black collar round its neck is very distinctive.