COMMON BRITISH BUTTERFLIES

 

Butterflies belong to the order “Lepidoptera” and are common visitors to gardens well stocked with nectar rich flowering plants. Below are some of the most common species you are likely to encounter - for additional help identifying butterflies and moths, please visit the Butterfly Conservation website.

 
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Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The red admiral is a large, strong flying butterfly - easily recognisable by its almost black wings and striking red stripes. Red Admirals can be seen at all times of year but large numbers are often recorded in late summer, feeding on Buddleia (Butterfly Bush) or fallen rotting fruit.

Caterpillar foodplant: Common Nettle

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Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae)

This species hibernates as an adult and is often seen in garden sheds during the winter months. On warm days in early spring, the first small tortoiseshells will begin to emerge and the first generation of caterpillars seen in May/June. One of our most common and well known butterflies.

Caterpillar foodplant: Common Nettle

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Peacock

(Aglais io)

The striking eyespots of the Peacock make it probably our most recognisable species. Whilst its bright upper wing patterns are designed to startle predators, when at rest its dark underwings offer excellent camouflage. At home in woodland clearings but a frequent visitor to garden buddleias in late summer.

Caterpillar foodplant: stinging nettles

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Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Every year, painted ladies migrate to the UK from North Africa via several generations (like a relay race). How many make it here is very variable but about once every decade we have a “Painted Lady Summer” - a spectacular phenomenon where millions of these striking butterflies reach our shores.

Caterpillar foodplants: Thistles, Mallows, Common Nettle

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Small copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

A small butterfly often found in grassland, brownfields, coastal sites and heathland. Males of this species are very territorial and will behave aggressively to other passing insects. They will usually choose a stone or patch of bare ground on which to bask and await a female.

Caterpillar foodplants: Common Sorrel, Sheep’s Sorrel

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Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

A true harbinger of spring - the Orange Tip is one of our earliest emerging butterflies. Males are unmistakable with their orange wing tips which are lacking in the female. Both however have beautiful mottled green markings on the underwing which separate them from the small white.

Caterpillar foodplants: Cuckoo Flower, Garlic Mustard

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Green-veined White (Pieris napi)

There are four white butterfly species in Scotland which may cause confusion - the Green-veined White can be separated by the prominent veins on the hindwing, which are absent in the other species. This butterfly favours lush damp habitats and is frequent along river banks, hedgerows, ponds and in damp meadows.

Caterpillar foodplants: Cuckoo Flower, garlic mustard

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Large White (Pieris brassicae)

Often referred to as the “cabbage white” butterfly due to it’s preference for laying eggs on cultivated brassicas. This large butterfly has very prominent black tips to the wings, which extend along both edges (like an “L” shape") - a useful identification aid. Females have two black spots on the forewings which are lacking in males.

Caterpillar foodplants: Brassica family

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Small White (Pieris rapae)

This butterfly has brilliant white wings and although similar to the Large White, is smaller and with less prominent black wing tips. Like the Large White, it favours gardens and allotments where it’s preferred larval food plants can be found

Caterpillar foodplants: Brassica family