Monday, 29 July 2013




A friend asked me about wanting to look at all my butterfly pictures in one place, blogspot does not provide a filter on single pictures, just whole postings. So I thought it would be nice to put together a collection of my best butterfly shots . It is a bit misleading to put them all together, as butterflies are not all around at the same of year, they come in distinct broods, some are broadly Spring and some Summer. Many have two broods during the summer, so some species apparently disappear for a while. I went back to my photograph archive and I have over 700 to choose from. Fortunately, when I filtered out the blurred, distant and indistinct the number diminishes substantially. I can not give a full catalogue of all the UK butterflies as there are many I have yet to see, and many I have yet to take a good picture of. So inevitably this page focuses on the 'common' ones.

Talking of common, I'll start with the Common Blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus). Even though they might be common in meadows they don't come into my garden all that often. It is always a delight to see them. I usually see common blues at the end of May.

butterfly,common blue,Polyommatus icarus

The bright iridescent blue of the wings is quite extraordinary. It is only the males that are bright blue, the females are mainly brown with some blue. Butterflies are all about one thing - finding a mate. A bright colour is a good advertisement. Moths by contrast rely mainly on scent as they fly by night. Here is a couple of common blues in amorous embrace showing just the under-wings. The male is on top, it has a bluer tinge than the female beneath that is more brown.

butterfly,common blue,Polyommatus icarus

While you are attracting a mate with bright colours you are also laying yourself open to attack from predators (mainly birds). So a bright blue wing may seem a rather bad idea from that point of view. However once in flight against a blue sky they must be difficult to follow. My best example of this is the Holly Blue butterfly (Celastrina argiolus) almost invisible against the sky. It is the underside of the wing that you can just about see as it feeds on hawthorn flowers in May.

butterfly,holly blue,Celastrina argiolus

A local rarer variety of white is the Chalkhill Blue (Lysandra coridon) which lives up to its name - it is mainly found on chalk download. It is hard to distinguish from the Common Blue. Here is a male with wings closed.

butterfly,Chalkhill Blue,Lysandra coridons

And here is the female, hiding away in the grass.

butterfly,Chalkhill Blue,Lysandra coridons

The prize for the brightest blue butterfly is the Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus) which only thrives on short steep banks of chalk hillside. It is quite rare and a delight to find.

butterfly,Adonis Blue,Polyommatus bellargus

To complete the survey of the blues here is the smallest one, the Small Blue (Cupido minimus), a really tiny thing and quite rare too.

butterfly,Small Blue,Cupido minimus

The rarest butterfly to appear on this page is the Duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina). It is only found in only a few locations in any numbers and is declining.

butterfly,Duke of Burgundy,Hamearis lucina

Most females of blue butterflies are brown, and so are better camouflaged. A close relative of them has taken the route of dispensing with blue for males, with both genders brown and hard to distinguish. This is the Brown Argus (Aricia agestis), a somewhat rarer butterfly. The spots are orange on the upper side of the wing while the underside is similar to the common blue.

butterfly,brown argus,Aricia agestis

Continuing the camouflage theme you would think that there ought to be lots of green butterflies. There are in fact very few, perhaps it is more important to be seen by females than evade predators. The best example of a green butterfly is the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi), which has leaf-like underside of the wings. The upper side is only seen when flying and they are brown. Both sexes are similar. As they fly around relatively rarely they are hard to spot and their numbers are probably under-reported. I have problems with TV programmes promoting everyone out to do a survey. the data is bound to be skewed to the ones easy to spot.

butterfly,green hairstreak,Callophrys rubi

Next in my quick survey are the oranges and reds that most people associate with UK butterflies. The richest reds and oranges are often on comma butterflies (Polygonia c-album). You see odd ones from early Spring right through into Autumn.

butterfly,comma butterfly,Polygonia c-album

Now that is really easy to make out against green foliage from a good distance. Take a look at another comma butterfly.

butterfly,comma butterfly,Polygonia c-album

Yes, there is one, right in the middle. With wings closed the brown, mottled undersides are hard to make out. The comma's distinctive ragged edge makes it even harder to spot. Both sexes are similar. The bright, little white 'comma' mark on the underside gives it its name.

My next specimen is another eye catching butterfly, the Silver Washed Fritillary (Argynnis paphia) . The 'silver washed' name comes from markings on the underside. These are quite large butterflies and they glide as much as flutter. The males stake out a territory and patrol it regularly. This makes them easier to catch on camera as they often will eventually return, when disturbed to the same place. You see them in July and August. The caterpillars feed on violets.

butterfly,silver-washed fritillary,Argynnis paphia

We think of butterflies as the most fleeting of insects. Here today and gone tomorrow, this is inaccurate. There are species that over-winter and some that migrate thousands of miles to mate and lay their eggs here. So it is not right to think of them as short-lived and static. You can come to believe this when you see older specimens. This one was had a couple of close escapes from birds that have bitten off pieces of wing. The fresh bright colour looks washed out.

butterfly,silver-washed fritillary,Argynnis paphia

The next larger sized butterfly I am including is a little bit less common. It is a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and it was one I saw on my first posted long walk. It is a summer migrant, flying all the way from North Africa in Spring.

butterfly,Painted Lady,Vanessa cardui

To my eye, the underside of the wings are just as attractive. It is feeding on blackberries (brambles), from my limited experiences patches of blackberries on woodland fringes are one of the very best places to see butterflies.

butterfly,Painted Lady,Vanessa cardui

The largest plain butterfly is the brimstone (Gonepteryx rhammi). It is typically one of the earliest butterflies, emerging from hibernation as early in February. In bright sunlight the 'yellow' looks a lot paler and can be confused with the Large white. It can be distinguished by the spots on the wings rather than a black edge.

butterfly,brimstone,Gonepteryx rhammi

But if you want a genuine yellow butterfly you need to look out for the Clouded Yellow butterfly (Colias croceus), this one and its close relatives are occasionally blown over the Channel in large numbers in the hot summer. It very much depends on the weather and the wind as to how many make the one way trip to UK.

butterfly,Clouded Yellow,Colias croceus

The next in my set of bright and colourful is the ever popular Peacock (Inachis io). Here is a young individual. It has the distinctive blue eyes that may confuse a predator on both fore and hind wings. It also makes a hissing noise if really threatened.

butterfly,peacock butterfly,Inachis io

Some peacocks survive over-winter, and in the Spring you quite often see more bedraggled specimens showing a lot of wear and tear.

butterfly,peacock butterfly,Inachis io

With the beauty of all these butterflies it is hard to think that they come from caterpillars. After weeks of munching on stinging nettles these peacock caterpillars may eventually pupate and then emerge as flying adults. Some caterpillars are pretty to look at, with coloured markings, not these ones though!

caterpillar,peacock,Inachis io

Another popular and well-loved butterfly is the Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae). This one took up residence for a few days in my garden this month feeding on hebe and lavender nectar. If you look carefully you can see its long 'tongue' or proboscis curled up in a spiral. The caterpillars feed on stinging nettles.

butterfly,Small Tortoiseshell,Aglais urticae

The family of admiral butterflies are also most attractive, the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) is the most common. This one is on ivy flowers - an important food source in late summer.

butterfly,Red Admiral,Vanessa atalanta

And another Red Admiral on Hemp Agrimony. Once again, the caterpillars feed on stinging nettles, so that is why leaving a few nettles is so important for them..

butterfly,Red Admiral,Vanessa atalanta

The last of the reds is a much smaller one, and I have yet to get a good picture of one. It is the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas).

butterfly,Small Copper,Lycaena phlaeas

Now for some 'brown' butterflies, they are smaller and more numerous. Some are quite hard to tell apart. Here is a Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus), you see them from July onwards. The gatekeeper caterpillars feeds on grasses.

butterfly,gatekeeper,Pyronia tithonus

The underside of the brown butterflies offer clever camouflage almost as good as the Comma. I think it is a Gatekeeper but it is hard to be 100% sure (Pyronia tithonus)

butterfly,gatekeeper,Pyronia tithonus

This Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) is the most 'brown' it could be. Often they show some orange when flying so they could be gatekeepers at a distance. In July and August they are often the most common butterfly, around in large numbers. On walks I sometimes end up cursing them as when I pause to identify a butterfly at a distance it turns out to be 'just' another Meadow Brown.

butterfly,gatekeeper,Meadow Brown,Maniola jurtina

A smaller and rarer butterfly, the Small Heath (Coenonympha pamphilus), is often hard to tell apart from Meadow Brown and Gatekeeper unless you get a good close view.

butterfly,gatekeeper,Small Heath,Coenonympha pamphilus

Another rarer butterfly confined to heathland areas in late Summer is the Grayling (Hipparchia semele). It rarely opens out its wings and can be very well camouflaged.

butterfly,gatekeeper,Grayling,Hipparchia semele

Woodland butterflies tend to be brown and you can see why. This pair of Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria) butterflies conveniently show off both the upper and lower wings at the same time. They can be seen from March through to September.

butterfly,speckled wood,Pararge aegeria

The false 'eye' markings must confuse birds temporarily. The eye marking are even more conspicuous on another brown butterfly, the Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus).

butterfly,ringlet,Aphantopus hyperantus

The underside is more interesting than the upper-side that is plain dark brown. Like the other brown butterflies the caterpillars feed on grasses.

butterfly,ringlet,Aphantopus hyperantus

So far I have not mentioned the most conspicuous and most common of butterflies: the whites. I find them difficult to catch well on camera. A bright white butterfly can defeat the camera, they tend to just bright white blobs with all structure lost. One of the Cabbage white butterflies that is a problem for gardeners growing vegetables is the Large white (Pieris brassicae), its caterpillar has quite attractive markings. This one was feeding on my garden nasturtiums.

butterfly,large white caterpillar

Up close the underside is not plain white, it has a peppering of tiny dots.

butterfly,large white caterpillar

I have had better luck with other members of the family. The Marbled White butterfly (Melanargia galathea) is an attractive one despite the lack of colour.

butterfly,marbled white

Here is another showing the similar markings on the underside. It flies in June through to August, a sure sign of summer.

butterfly,marbled white,Melanargia galathea

A butterfly that heralds the coming summer in April and May is the Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines). Only the males have the vivid orange tip, here are both the male and female.

butterfly,orange tip,Anthocharis cardamines

The bottom underside has a strange green mottled pattern. This male is feeding on garlic mustard.

butterfly,orange tip,(Anthocharis cardamines

The final family I'll include are the Skippers. These butterflies have a different arrangement of the wings and tend to dart rapidly at low level between plants. If you get up close you can see they have large 'eyes' which make them kind of cute. They are quite small, this one although a Large Skipper (Ochlodes faunus) is actually less than an inch in length. They are another butterfly of Summer.

butterfly,large skipper,Ochlodes faunus

You can see the 'big eye' a little better on this Small Skipper (Thymelicus sylvestris).

butterfly,small skipper,Thymelicus sylvestris

There are other rarer varieties of skipper. The first is the rather attractive Grizzled Skipper (Pyrgus malvae), which I always have to stop calling 'Drizzled' by mistake.

butterfly,Grizzled Skipper,Pyrgus malvaes

Another is the Dingy Skipper (Eryninnis tages) which is indeed fairly drab.

butterfly,Dingy Skipper,Eryninnis tages

With limited space I've include 18 species of butterfly. I have myself seen another 14 species including Grayling; Pearl Bordered Fritillary; Small Blue; Clouded Yellow and White Admiral. In the UK you can hope to find something like 60 species in all, including some that are localised, rare or occasional migrants. For more on butterflies there are many good sites to look at, including Clawford Nature Reserve; Butterfly Conservation and most comprehensive of all: British Butterflies.

Compared to moths where there are 1,000+ species butterflies offer a manageable number to get to recognise. I'll end on a moth, just to make the point that not all the beautiful flying insects are butterflies. It is Pyrausta aurata, one of the few day flying moths. It was sunning itself in my garden one morning earlier this month.

moth,Pyrausta aurata