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"A Nature Observer′s Scrapbook"


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Marbled White

Marbled White

Melanargia galathea

The Marbled White butterfly is not native to this part of the country, being mainly confined to southern England and it is presumed to be an 'introduced' species in this location.

However, on the evidence of the many that were to be seen in this sheltered woodland meadow - and as suggested by the image, they seem to be making themselves at home in what is obviously a habitat suited to their lifestyle.

28.06.2003Little Scrubbs Meadow. Bright sunny day, many in evidence.

Green-veined White

Pieris napi

Green-veined White pupa Green-veined White  caterpillar

With up to three generations of Green-veined White butterflies per year, flying in May to June, June to August and in September they can be a very common sight in gardens and the open countryside.

The green larvae are covered in short bristly hair which helps to distinguish them from the similarly coloured Small White caterpillars. They have a wide range of foodplants to choose from, including rape, water-cress, wild garlic and indeed all of the crucifer cabbage family.

In September 2008 I was fortunate to find a caterpillar in the first stage of pupation. It had just secured itself to a dead twig in the leaf litter at the base of a hedge. It was taken into care for observation and successfully completed the pupal transformation. At first, the chrysalis was a pale green colour. This changed to white with black speckling and then, for a period, appeared quite transparent leading me to fear that it had died and dried out. But this was probably due to the caterpillar body structure disolving into DNA 'soup' prior to reforming in the butterfly form. In the Spring it's 'solid' white and black colouring returned.

Newly emerged Green-veined White

When the butterfly emerged from the chrysalis it moved a little way up the twig and allowed its wings to extend by pumping body fluids into the wing veins. With the wing extended the fluid drains back into the body and the veins stiffen permanently. It is then common for the butterfly to expel any excess body fluids to reduce body weight and make flight easier.

The right wingtip showed a slight deformity, being rounded rather than pointed. For the next seven days the weather was overcast and very blustery and the butterfly remained more or less static, making no attempt to fly.

Green-veined White on Aubretia

But when the sun did shine it flew off with little hesitation to the flowering Aubretia and its usually tightly coiled tongue can be seen probing the flowers for nectar.

With wings open wide - not a familiar sight with Green-veined Whites, the forewing markings indicated that this was a female. The markings on the upper surface of a male's wings are confined to the wingtips.

The raised tip of the abdomen is an indication that the female is giving off pheromones that signal to the male that she is ready to mate.

Green-veined White mating pair

Twenty minutes later an oddly shaped butterfly fluttered erratically around the garden and when it settled it turned out to be a pair of Green-veined Whites locked in a 'romantic embrace'. And the smaller one had a familiar 'slightly deformed' right wingtip! While coupled in flight, the female's wings remained folded.

In some butterfly species the females are usually larger than the males but there is a big variation in size within the Green-veined White species and in this case it would appear that the male is quite a bit larger than the female.

31.07.2004On Purple Loosestrife in back garden.
17.07.2005Two seen on Purple Loosestrife and Stock in back garden.
03.05.2006First of the season seen around garden Pulmonaria.
13.07.2006First of the second generation seen in hay meadow.
31.05.2007First of the season seen around purple Honesty, one of the crucifers.
19.09.2008Late generation larva found just entering pupation.
30.04.2009Adult emerged from last September's pupa.
07.05.2009Pair observed mating.

Large White f
butterfly Large White eggs
laid on Honesty leaf. Large White larva

Large White

Pieris brassicae

The top image is of a female showing the prominent black wing tip and black dots on the forewing. These dots are usually absent on the male. And since only the dots are replicated on the underside of the wing, with wings closed, as they seem to be as often as not, the male will show plain creamy white under-wings with no apparent markings.

Eggs are laid in clusters on the upper surface of the foodplant leaf with no apparent attempt at concealment.

There may be two or three generations each year, the later generations usually being more prolific - presumably because of the greater availability of their foodplants, cabbages (hence their other common name of 'Cabbage White') and other brassicas.

That said, the 41mm larva in third image was found in October on garden Honesty (Lunaria annua), which is a member of the same 'crucifer' plant family to which cabbages belong.

Despite the large numbers of caterpillars that were decimating the Lunaria I found it impossible to find a chrysalis in the vicinity. Frustration (and the threat of November frosts) drove me to gather up the last two larvae and rear them on in captivity. They duly ate their fill, went through four days of 'pre-pupa' motionless inactivity and overnight successfully pupated. For a further five days they showed signs of muscular activity by 'twitching' if disturbed. The lower left image was taken when the 'twitch' reaction had subsided.

Large White chrysalis prior to emergence Large White chrysalis

Many butterfly pupae are found 'hanging by the tail' but, the Large White caterpillar chooses to attach itself in a 'head-up' attitude. Two thirds of the way up the pupa case it is just possible to see the thin silken thread which is used to support the chrysalis in this upright manner. As metamorphosis nears completion the right hand chrysalis image shows how the abdomen develops and darkens and the white speckled wings show through the thin transparent chrysalis case.

Studies have shown that pesticides sprayed on crops seem to have little effect on the population of Whites, since the pesticides are just as effective on the larvae's natural insect predators - one such being the small ichneumon, Apanteles glomeratus.

02.08.2003Eggs found laid on garden Honesty (Lumaria).
03.09.2004After a dismal year for numbers, a local hatch has produced several in back garden.
17.07.2005A good flush graced the garden in warm sunshine. At least six seen at same time.
28.09.200535mm caterpillars found on garden Honesty.
05.10.2005Caterpillars found on garden Honesty, now 40mm - and the Honesty is disappearing fast.
11.07.2006Several adults seen around the garden
14.10.2006Another mid Autumn hatch of caterpillars feeding on Honesty (Lunaria).
29.10.2006Late caterpillars entered pupation.
10.05.2007'Reared' larva completed pupation, released onto Honesty and flew free.

Small White butterfly Small White butterfly

Small White

Pieris rapae

Stating the obvious, the Small White is the smaller version of the Large White, but it still has a forewing length of 3cm which is quite big compared with the Blues, the Skippers, etc.

Although sharing the black markings of the Large White, they ar not so prominent. The wing tip mark of the S. White is strictly confined to the tip area whereas the mark on the L. White stretches halfway down the trailing edge.

At rest, with wings closed, the black spot on the forewing can often be hidden by the rear wing.

The larvae of both the Large and the Small species are renowned for favouring plants of the cabbage family (the Crucifers). And with up to three generations a year, are generally considered to be pests by the vegetable gardeners. The first generation adults wll fly during April and May. Eggs laid in May will quickly hatch to become mature caterpillars in late June and give rise to the second generation butterflies flying in July and August. Weather permitting, the third generation fly during September and October.

Small White caterpillar and chrysalis

The Small White caterpillar is quite different to its Large White relative. It relies on its plain green camouflage, a covering of short hairs that tends to blur and soften its outline and slow movement to escape the attentions of predators.

There are stages in the chrysalis development that can make it look confusingly similar to that of the Large White chrysalis.

01.09.2004Garden. Not as common as in previous years.
17.07.2005Coming and going all day, at least four at same time.
30.06.2007A mature caterpillar found on the crucifer, garden Honesty.
19.09.2008Larva in the throes of pupation found in litter at base of hedge close by crucifer, Garden Honesty.

Orange Tip, male Orange Tip, female Orange Tip, female

Orange Tip

Anthocharis cardamines

Although the global range of the Orange Tip extends through temperate Europe and Asia as far as China, it is not as common in the UK as it used to be. But, that said, it has been a regular visitor to the garden since 2004.

The upper image on the right is that of a male showing off the characteristic orange tips of the forewings. The species is sexually dimorphic, meaning that the sexes look different to each other, and the second image of a female shows the complete lack of any orange coloration. This means that it is almost impossible to identify the female in flight. Even at rest, if the female is seen with wings flat wide open she could be mistaken for a Small White - but for the small black dot being half-moon or kidney shaped, whereas, in the Small White it is circular.

However, with wngs closed, as in the third image, the distinctive dappled grey/green markings on the underside (common to both sexes) quickly reveals it's true identity.

It is one of the earlier butterflies, the single generation usually being seen between late April and June. Individual butterflies may only survive for about three weeks. And with the larval stage maturing and entering pupation within another three weeks or so, individuals may only be 'active' for some six weeks within a three month window each year. It is thus very susceptible to 'unseasonal' weather conditions.

Orange Tip, caterpillar Orange Tip, pupation

The larvae feed on a range of crucifer (cabbage family) plants, eg Cuckoo flower, Garlic Mustard and Large Bittercress. And I have seen the adults at rest on purple flowering Honesty (which is also a crucifer) but, never on the white flowering variety! Eggs are laid around the flower head and the caterpillars feed on the developing seed pods.

I found a tiny 5mm long caterpillar on a Garlc Mustard seed pod and managed to raise it for three weeks through to maturity. The image of the 32mm long, almost mature caterpillar was taken just four days before it started to pupate. By comparison with the Large White larvae, which can grow to 45mm, the Orange Tip is slim, sedate (slow moving) and its simple coloration makes for very effective camouflage.

The act of pupation took about 36 hours. The caterpillar becomes lethargic, the body appears to contract and 'bulk up' in the thoracic region just behind the head and it finds a suitable vertical stem to attach itself to. It then secretes silk from the mouth and in a series of slow twisting turns manages to loop this silken rope around its body and attach it to the stem. There then follows a period of seemingly quiet inactivity before the skin splits and the chrysalis emerges - and I missed the moment!

Orange Tip, female emerging from pupation

Pupation lasted 10½ months, during which time the pupa became parchment coloured and almost transparent. But, ultimately, the top and bottom darkened and a pale wing with a dark spot could be seen forming within. And just as I was preparing to photograph it, the pupa split and out crawled a very scrunched up, green eyed, butterfly (lower image). It took about 2 hours to fully stretch its wings and a further 2 hours before it tested them in flight and was released out on to flowering Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata (second image from top).

24.05.2004Back garden, on the flower head of Honesty (Lunaria).
15.05.20053 seen flying through garden. None appeared to settle.
06.06.2005Several transitting the garden and settling on purple flowering Honesty.
11.05.2006First of the season passed through garden.
09.05.2007First of the season passed through garden without settling.
03.05.2009First of the season, a female, paused on grass but was not seen to visit any flowers.
08.06.2009First small creamy yellow, bristly caterpillars (only about 5mm long) seen on Garlic Mustard seed pods.
30.06.200932mm caterpillar entered pupation.
14.05.2010Female adult emerged from pupation and released.
16.05.2012First adult of the season, a male, seen in garden..

Brimstone butterfly - female


Gonepteryx rhamni

The common name, Brimstone, is taken from the vivid brimstone yellow of the upper surface of the male's wings. When seen In flight they really grab one's attention and there is nothing else they can be confused with. The female is less spectacular and the white upper surface of her wings can easily be mistaken for one of the 'White' buterflies.

At rest the under sides of the wings are a delicate pale greeny white with pale orange dots. The under wing also has a distinctive short 'tail' that helps confirm identification. Note also that the antennae curl forward at the tips.

The Brimstone is probably the longest lived of the UK butterflies. They hatch in July and will over-winter until the following spring. The fact that they are not observed as often as one might expect is down to their habit of only indulging in short periods of activity and longer periods of rest. They do not seek shelter as many over wintering insects do, but will simply settle down in leaf litter and their body fluids appear to be able to tolerate freezing temperatures.

After mating in spring, eggs are laid on twigs of Buckthorn on which the green caterpillars feed exclusively.

07.04.2007 Flew through the garden with only one short stop.
20.04.2009 Female spent some time on Aubretia flowers in mid-morning sunshine.
21.04.2009 Vivid bright yellow male flew through garden without stopping.
08.04.2010 In transit through garden without stopping.
06.04.2013 Despite a very cold spring, 2 graced the garden showing some interest in purple crocus.

Meadow Brown m Meadow Brown f Meadow Brown larva Meadow Brown larva

Meadow Brown

Maniola jurtina

The Meadow Brown must be the most common early summer butterfly in the hay meadow. From June onwards dozens of them can usually be seen flying above the grass. It is believed that they only live for about a month, so they have a busy time cramming a life's work into that time.

The male, shown on the upper right, is slightly smaller and has a more uniform and darker upper wing colouration with a pale border, than the female which has distinctly patterned wings.

The second image is of a female. The characteristic prominent 'eye' on the forewing is not always visible but the underwing pattern bands are representative of the more colourful brown and orange upperwing.

Whereas it is possible to discern three colour bands on the females rear underwing, the male has only two.

The larva is quite distinctive. Apart from being bristly from its head to the end of its abdomen, it also has two short bristly spikes protruding from the the end of its body. There is a faint darker green stripe running down the middle of its back and a faint thin white line low down along each side.

It feeds on grasses from September to May, hibernating in the grass roots through the worst winter weather and has quite a short pupation period through May and June.

Although the caterpillar normally feeds in a head-up manner, a few days before pupating, I observed one adopt a head-down posture on a grass stem as it entered a period of dormancy (diapause). The body slowly contracted and it gradually released it's grip on the stem until it was only holding on with its claspers.

Meadow Brown pupa pre-emergence Meadow Brown recent pupation

Overnight, ( I have never actually seen this happen) the body 'skin' split and shriveled up to allow the pupa case to emerge in its very non-caterpillar shape but, still holding on by a group of fine hooks (the cremaster) at the end of the pupa case. At this stage it was pale green and transparent enough to see that the case contained clear fluid.

After 21 days, during which time, outwardly, little seemed to happen, the pupa became increasingly opaque and took on a pale ochre colour. Then, with 48 hours to go, it turned dark brown and in the last 24 hours became almost black as the colour of the wings and abdomen showed through the thin casing.

On emerging, it was plump and the wings were still tightly crumpled up. Slowly the wings were extended as fluid was pumped through the veins and when fully extended, excess fluid was discharged to allow the abdomen to take on its slim shape. After a period of about an hour to give time for the wings to stiffen, the wings were slowly flapped to test the wing muscles and then ....... off it flew.

22.06.2003Hay meadow.
23.06.2004Hay meadow - dozens of them.
15.08.2004A second generation of crisp new specimens seems to be emerging.
22.06.2005First of the year seen in Hay meadow.
21.06.2006 to
A quite dramatic abundance seen in hay meadow.
12.05.2007 Larva found while pulling grass at base of fence.
01.06.2007 Larva entered pupation.
28.06.2007 Adult emerged from pupation and was released.

Brown Argus - male

Brown Argus

Aricia agetis

In the UK, the Brown Argus is confined to an area south of a line from Lancaster to Middlesborough and it can be confused with the similar looking and wider ranging Scotch Argus and the female Chalk-hill Blue. More confusion may exist in Europe, where three other Argus species are to be found.

It flies in two generations, from May to June and again from late July to August. Eggs are laid on three foodplants, Cranesbill, Storksbill and Rock-rose. Larvae from eggs laid in May mature very quickly and will pupate and emerge as adults in July. But, larvae emerging in September from eggs laid in July will overwinter in the larval state.

While the Brown Argus enjoys a wide distribution, breeding colonies tend to be quite selective in their choice of territory. I know of two popular breeding sites, 3 and 9 miles from my home yet, although there is no shortage of Cranebill and Storksbill in my area, I have never seen the species around my home.

25.07.2009 Many seen flying on the Little Scrubbs nature reserve.

Common Blue at rest
on Salad Burnet Common Blue m
on Birdsfoot Trefoil. Common Blue f.

Common Blue

Polyommatus icarus

This is, as the name suggests, the most common blue butterfly and is found throughout lowland UK and can be found from Shetland all the way south to the Mediterranean islands.

Both male and female share the same very colourful underwing patterns.

The males (middle image) have a pale silver blue upper wing with a thin black line and outer white fringe.

The females usually have brown upper wings with a fringe of orange and black markings - but some females can also occur with blue upper wings and the characteristic orange and black marking. The one shown (lower image) being an intermediary with part brown and part blue upper wings.

Two, maybe three generations occur during the year and each butterfly may only survive for about 3 to 4 weeks.

The caterpillars feed on various members of the pea family, eg, clover, vetch, birdsfoot trefoil, black medick, etc. and the wide range of these plants accounts for the wide range of the butterfly.

01.08.1999Willingham Woods.
28.05.2004Three males seen on the Protected Roadside Verge favouring Bird's Foot Trefoil.
29.05.2005Several seen on the Tetford Hill Protected Roadside Verge.

 Female Holly Blue Holly Blue

Holly Blue

Celastrina argiolus

The upper sides of the wings are a uniform blue, shading in the female, to an ill defined sooty dark broad leading edge (as seen in the upper image). In the male this dark edge is confined to a well defined narrow dark edge round the wing tip and the outer edge of the wing.

Freshly hatched from pupation, the undersides of the wings are a paler greyish blue with numerous small black markings but, with age, tend to fade to pale grey with a blue blush at the basal section.

There are normally two generations of larvae each year. In April and May the first generation will feed on the flowers of Holly and Dogwood. While the second generation in July and August will feed on Ivy flowers. Second generation adults will usually hibernate through the winter months in nooks and crannies to avoid the worst of the winter weather but may be seen flying during spells of very mild weather.

15.08.2004Found nectar sipping on Purple Loosestrife in garden.
01.05.2005On laurel flowers by pond in garden.
16.08.2005On Purple Loosestrife in garden.
11.05.2006First of season seen on garden Mahonia.
26.07.2006Second generation, paler, on Purple Loosestrife.
18.04.2007First of 2007 season seen on garden Berberis (Barberry).
06.05.2008First of 2008 season seen.
29.04.2009First of 2009 season seen.
19.05.2010First of 2010 season seen.
26.08.2015Found on bodywork of car.

Large Skipper m Large Skipper f

Large Skipper

Ochlodes venatum

The Skipper family of butterflies can be identified by several characteristics. Perhaps the most obvious is the tendancy not to fold the forewings flat when at rest. This could be a device to maximise the heat energy absorbtion in the wing veins.

The body is roughly the same length as the wings - other butterflies tend to have wings longer than their bodies - and, the Skippers' head, eyes and body seem bulkier than other butterflies. This makes the Skippers look 'chunkier' and more mothlike.

The upper image is of a male Large Skipper. The males are identified by the dark stripe on the forewings which indicates the position of the 'scent scales' on the wing.

The lower image is of a female taken on a cold windy day. I cautiously stretched out my hand to steady the waving grass stem that she was on and she casually walked on to my finger, allowing me to take three photographs before I persuaded her to return to nature. Probably because of the low temperature, she made no attempt to fully open her wings. The distinctive 'hook tips' of the antennae are a common feature in the Skippers.

The Large Skipper is to be found throughout lowland England and Wales but, is absent from Scotland and Ireland. The caterpillars main food sources are the Cocks-foot and False Brome grasses, which are generally in no short supply.

15.06.2003Protected Roadside Verge.
15.06.2004(!)Protected Roadside Verge.
22.06.2006Protected Roadside Verge.
13.07.2006First one recorded in garden on Phlox.

Small Skipper

Small Skipper

Thymelicus flavus

The Small Skipper is reckoned to be one of the commonest of the Skippers but in my area it seems to be outnumbered by the Large Skipper.

With a forewing length of 15mm, it is only marginally smaller than the Large Skipper (FW 17mm) but identification is aided by the reduced wing markings. The upper wings are a warm brown ochre with darker edges and the male sports a thin dark 'scent' line. The under wings are a soft brown ochre with virtually no markings at all.

It is a single generation species, flying between June and August.

The larvae feed on grasses and are rarely seen. They spin loose protective cocoons within folded grass stems to which they retreat when not feeding.

28.07.2006 Seen on Purple Loosestrife in garden
25.07.2009 Seen in Little Scrubb's Meadow nature reserve

Red Admiral Red Admiral underwing Red Admiral caterpillar Red Admiral pupa tent

Red Admiral

Vanessa atalanta

The Red Admiral must be one of the best known of UK butterflies. Its dramatic colouring is unlikely to be mistaken for anything else and it is to be found almost everywhere in the UK from May through to October. However the population is largely dependant upon foreign migrants.

The early arrivals produce broods which will hatch from July onwards. These newly emerged butterflies have vivid velvet black coloured wings with sharply contrasting red and white markings. They feed on the nectar of a wide range of garden plants, including Purple Loosestrife, Buddleia, Scabious, Michaelmas Daisies and Sedum Spectabile (as seen in the upper picture) - and also on the juices of fallen fruit.

I was surprised by the colouring of the pictured caterpillar, found in mid-August. I had always assumed them to be black and spiky. But, it seems, the main body colour can range all the way from black, through brown to muddy green as it matures. And prior to pupation the spikiness appears to intensify. The pale back stripe and side markings are always constant. The larva shown was 26mm long, but at full stretch, they can attain 35mm.

The food source of the caterpillars is the stinging nettle, Urtica dioica. When not feeding, the caterpillars sew the edges of a nettle leaf together to form a refuge tent, which may account for them not being seen all that often. This specimen had nibbled through the main leaf vein where it joined the leaf stalk (as seen in the third image) which quickly caused the leaf to wilt. Within a few hours the limp leaf was sewn up with sticky thread to shield the larva from predators (lower image). The same technique is used for pupation, the pupa being encapsulated within a folded leaf.

A few butterflies from this second generation may hibernate in the UK over winter but the majority will migrate south to continental Europe in late September and October.

02.08.2003Back garden.
31.08.2004Back garden.
08.07.2005Window sill.
15.08.2005Larva found in the process of constructing a nettle leaf tent.
18.09.2005Four seen together in garden.
17.06.2006First of the season seen in garden.
28.06.2007First of the season seen in paddock.
13.08.2008First of the season seen on white Buddleia.

Small Tortoiseshell Small Tortoiseshell larva Small Tortoiseshell 

Small Tortoiseshell

Aglais urticae

The Small Tortoiseshell is one of the most common butterflies to be found throughout the length and breadth of the UK - with the exception of the very highest ground. It is often found in gardens where some of its favourite nectar plants are Purple Loosestrife, Buddleia, and Sedum spectabile (Ice plant).

The bright contrasting colours of the wing pattern show very little variation throughout the species and there should be little difficulty in recognising it from the similarly coloured orange and black Painted Lady.

It is a true resident, hibernating through the winter as an adult butterfly in sheltered places, often in sheds, garages or under eaves. Therefore it is one of the first to appear in early Spring, when it ventures forth, depending on the weather, to mate and lay its eggs on the common stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) - from which it derives its Latin name.

The young larvae hatch out 'en masse' into a loose, straggling nest of spun silk which forms a protective nursery for dozens of small black caterpillars. As they grow they develop creamy side stripes and pale grey speckles on each body segment. As the growing family consumes the surrounding foliage, individuals are soon driven to 'leave home' in search of food.

The first generation will produce mature adults in June, giving rise to a second generation whose adults will emerge in August / September. The resident population can be re-inforced by migrants from the continent in mid-summer.

Many butterfly chrysalis and moth pupae are very difficult, if not impossible to identify but, the Small Tortoiseshell chrysalis is distinctive and one of the more easily recognised. The one illustrated was found in July and so would hatch into a second generation adult.

09.08.2003Back garden.
09.04.2004First butterfly sighting of the year, in the hay meadow. Probably a winter hibernated adult.
08.09.2004Seven spent most of the afternoon on Sedum spectabile.
17.07.2005First one of the season seen in garden.
01.09.2005One seen on Hameringham Hill PRV.
18.09.2005Four seen together in garden.
11.07.2006Chrysalis found hanging from garage door.
14.07.2006First of the second generation seen flying in the meadow.
04.08.2006Big colony of larvae found on nettles in NE corner of N paddock.
19.08.2006Despite not having seen many adults this year, there appear to be many colonies of caterpillars on nettles in the locality.
14.08.2008After a generally poor butterfly year, 13 second generation adults graced the Sedum spectabile.
08.04.2010 First sighting of the year. Probably an overwintered adult but in very good condition.

Comma caterpillar Comma caterpillar


Polygonia c-album

Finding the caterpillar was quite a surprise. Although we see the butterfly in the garden most years, I had never seen anything quite as exotic looking as this.

There can be two generations a year and the caterpillars feed on Stinging Nettle, Elm, Hop and currant bushes.

As with many butterfly species, pupation takes place hanging head down, usually from the underside of a leaf or stem of the food plant. And while chrysalis identification can often be rather difficult, in the case of the Comma, small refective patches (either gold or silver depending upon the light) make the pupa quite distinctive.

Comma Comma

Second generation adult butterflies will overwinter and produce first generation caterpillars in May and June and butterflies in late June and July. The second generation caterpillars appear in July and August, resulting in the butterflies flying in September which will overwinter.

The butterfly's wing shape is quite irregular and distinctive, the rear wing sporting quite prominent spurs or tails on the trailing edge.

The lower image shows the mottled brown marking of the underwing, very similar to tree bark - and the striking white comma mark, from which it gets it's common name.

22.08.2004 Caterpillar found when grubbing out nettles from the roadside hedge.
15.09.2004Two butterflies seen on Sedum spectabile in back garden.
20.09.2005First of the season seen on Sedum spectabile in back garden.
27.07.2006Two very threadbare specimens - last of the first generation?.
31.07.2006One in pristine condition - first of the second generation?
19.08.2006Caterpillar found on Stinging Nettle, Urtica dioica.
24.08.2006Caterpillar found on 19.08.2006 pupated.
25.03.2007First adult of season seen at Benniworth conservation area.
17.09.2007Second generation specimen seen on Buddleia.
17.09.2008Second generation specimen seen on Sedum spectabile.

Wall Brown Wall Brown
underside of wings

Wall Brown

Lasiommata megera

Previous attempts to photograph the Wall Brown had been frustrated by its skittish behaviour and the closest I had got to one was 6 feet. But patience is a virtue. The image on the right was taken from a range of only 4 inches.

The upper image is that of a female. The males tend to be rather more heavily marked and have a broad 'scent mark' running midway across the forewing. The rear underwing (lower image) is patterned with delicate tracery and false eyes on a silver/grey background.

This is a butterfly which favours open, dry places and it is often found by roadsides, dry sandy fields and gravel pits. It is not a strong flier and spends much of its time sunning itself at ground level.

There are normally two generations each year. The first flying between May and June, and the second from late July to October.

It is common throughout lowland England and Wales. The caterpillars feed on grasses and hibernate through the winter.

13.08.2003Hay meadow.
07.06.2004Hay meadow. Two of them vying for the sunniest basking places.
29.05.2005Female seen on Bluestone Heath PRV.
02.06.2005Male seen on Hameringham Hill PRV.
05.06.2006Newly emerged, crisp and clean, adult found in long grass.

Small Copper

Small Copper

Lycaena phlaeas

This is a true resident species. The larvae are to be found on the leaves of Rumex (Sorrel, Dock, etc,) and will hibernate through the winter in a silk web on the underside of the leaves.

On awakening, they will feed up and then pupate for about a month before the butterflies emerge in May/June.

Two or three generations may be produced within a year.

28.05.2004In warm sunshine on the Protected Roadside Verge.
23.09.2006A very smart crisp (presumably third generation) specimen supping nectar from Sedum spectabile in garden.

Painted Lady Painted Lady

Painted Lady

Cynthia cardui

Apart from the southern coast of England, the Painted Lady is not a regular sight every year. But, the year 2003, saw quite an invasion of Painted Lady butterflies arriving from as far afield as south-west Europe and North Africa, in April and May.

Obviously they must be strong fliers and it is almost possible to identify them in flight. Compared with the average 'fluttering' habit of most common British butterflies, the Painted Lady appears to have a very 'positive, purposeful' flight pattern.

An early influx can give rise to a 'locally' produced second generation and, depending on the weather, these will be on the wing from late July. The upper image, showing a specimen in pristine condition in late July, was one of a large second generation population seen at the Chambers Farm Wood nature reserve in 2009.

The species is often seen basking in warm sunshine with their wings spread wide open. This makes measurement of the wing a relatively simple task from photographs of the resting site. Although textbooks tend to quote a forewing length of 30mm, I have estimated several specimens with a forewing of 36mm which implies a wingspan of 75mm or, 3 inches. They certainly give the impression of being large butterflies.

It is not thought that they attempt to emigrate back to their original homeland. Nor have they yet adapted to the cold wet winters and many will succumb to British winters. A few may survive in sheltered areas of southern UK but, there is no substantial resident population and most of the early specimens seen will have covered great distances to get here.

28.07.2003Back garden.
28.07.2006A pair seen on Purple Loosestrife in back garden.
28.05.2009A single 'worn' first generation immigrant specimen seen on Purple Loosestrife in back garden.
25.07.2009Many of the second generation seen at Chambers Farm Wood nature reserve.



Inachis io

The Peacock is another well known and common butterfly throughout most of the UK, although its northern limit does not extend beyond lowland Scotland, except in very warm summers. It is a widespread and common species on the continent.

It is a resident species, hibernating over winter in sheltered places such as sheds, garages and barns. But, although it flies early in the year, in the UK it only mates once. However, global warming may encourage it to breed twice as it does in Europe. The eggs are laid on stinging nettles and large numbers of the black spiky haired caterpillars are often seen together.

The butterfly may live for a year which is long by butterfly standards, They seem to favour Buddleia but before the Buddleia blooms it can be found on a wide range of nectar sources. It is also fond of sunning itself in sheltered spots.

30.07.2003Back garden.
17.04.2004Hay Meadow, eastern roadside ditch.
26.08.2004Back garden.
17.08.2005At last! After a very sparse year, 4 in Back garden.
27.10.2005And two very smart looking specimens sunning themselves in back garden.
31.07.2006One, very smart looking specimen flew through the garden.
09.04.2010 First sighting of the year. probably an overwintered adult.
07.04.2013 First sighting of the year found sunning itself on bare earth.
Speckled Wood Speckled Wood Speckled Wood pupa

Speckled Wood

Pararge aegeria tircis

Reputedly common in the south and west of England, Wales and Ireland. Prior to 2004, I think I had only seen one in this area. But, I get the impression that it is becoming much more common.

There appear to be two distinct sub species documented. In Eastern Europe and Asia, P. aegeria appears as a much lighter, almost orange form, whereas in Western Europe and the UK, P aegeria tircis has a decidedly darker brown coloration - until it comes to rest in full sunlight, when it looks considerably lighter. All very confusing. However it seems safe to say that any seen in the UK are more than likely to be the latter sub species.

My impression is that they are most approachable on hot sunny days as they bask in the sun. On cooler, breezy days they seem to be much more nervous.

There are usually two generations per year, flying in May/June and July/August. The larvae are grass eaters but, as the name suggests, the adults favour open spaces close to the margins of woods.

The pupa in the image is in the early stages of pupation. As the metamorphosis progresses the speckling of the adult wings shows through and the case becomes much darker. This larva, despite being a grass eater, had chosen to pupate on the underside of a nettle leaf where it would remain better hidden than if it had chosen to pupate on an exposed grass stem.

10.06.2004Midday, western side North paddock. TF 305 662
04.07.2004Midday, by sheep shed, Burton's paddock. TF 305 662
01.08.2004Midday, North paddock. TF 305 662
01.09.2005Many about all day in the garden. Four max at any one time.
14.06.2006First two of the season, one in the garden, one in the cupressus hedge.
11.07.2006A rather tattered specimen found in the garden.
19.08.2006Pupa found on underside of nettle leaf under an Ash tree.
01.06.2007First of the season, visited hawthorn hedge.

Ringlet Ringlet


Aphantopus hyperantus

One generation per year, usually flying between June and August.

Caterpillars hatching in September hibernate through the winter until the grasses on which they feed start into new growth.

The subject in the upper image is showing some wear and tear, but this gives the impression of the universally dark wings with a thin white border.

The lower image shows the underside of the wings carrying a chain of prominent ring like (ocelli) markings.

01.07.2004Five on the PRV, two in the hay meadow.
05.07.2004Quite suddenly there now seem to be more Ringlets than Meadow Browns about.
01.07.2005One on the north paddock, one in the hay meadow.
08.06.2006 Many seen in the hay meadow. Best early show in years.

Gatekeeper Gatekeeper


Pyronia tithonus

The single generation flies in July and August. Individual butterflies survive about three weeks and favour sheltered spots in the corners of fields - where gates may be located!

Main nectar sources for the adults are blackberry and bramble flowers. The larvae, hatching in September, feed on grasses eg, Annual Meadow grass and Couch, and hibernate over winter, sheltering low down on grass stems. Pupation occurs around June.

With wings folded there could be some danger of confusing the Gatekeeper with the Meadow Brown. But the underwing patterning of the Gatekeeper is rather more well defined and the black 'eye' on the forewing has two discrete white dots whereas the Meadow Brown has but one.

Pictured upper right, resting on bracken in a large wild flower meadow, -
and lower right, on garden Purple-loosestrife, Lythrum salicaria,
...............and there was a gate nearby!

19.07.2004Garden visitor.
17.07.20054 seen in the garden favouring Chrysanthemum maximum (Shasta Daisy) rather than the potentilla they used last year.
17.07.2006First of season seen in the garden favouring Chrysanthemum maximum (Shasta Daisy) again.
25.07.2009Many seen in the wild flower rich Little Scrubb's Meadow nature reserve.

Small Heath

Small Heath

Coenonympha pamphilus

This small butterfly, it's forewing being only some 15mm long, can be quite difficult to see. It invariably rests with it's wings folded as in the image and the greyish hind underwing is the best identifier. If the wings are seen open, the upper surfaces tend to be of dull, faded orange colour.

It is a butterfly of open heath and grassland and is usually seen flying no more than a metre above the ground. Up to three generations can be on the wing from May to October in southern UK. But, the north of Scotland may only see one generation. Although it has a widespread distribution, I have only seen it once in a local nature reserve.

The larvae, no more than 20mm full grown, have apple green heads with a paler, two tone streaked green abdomen that terminates in two small spine like projections. They feed on fine leaved fescue type grasses.

03.06.2011 In early evening sunshine.

Marsh Fritillary

Marsh Fritillary

Eurodryas aurinia

The Marsh Fritillary, once considered common throughout the Uk is now becoming localised in western parts and concern is being expressed about its future. Although I have never seen it in my local area a healthy population exists on a Nature Reserve only 8 miles away.

It is a single generation species with the adults flying from May to July. Although the name implies that it favours wet marshy habitats it is found in chalky and calcareous open grassland areas that will support Devil's-bit Scabious on which the larvae feed.

The caterpillars are black, speckled with tiny white dots and have spiky tufts of short black bristles. They feed communally in silken web 'tents' for protection and overwinter as larvae before pupating in an attractive white chrysalis marked with black and yellow.

21.05.2008 Many individuals flying and mating in a local Nature Reserve.

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