Our garden butterflies do like to stick to schedule – you can pretty much set your calendar by when each species will emerge as an adult.

Take the Peacock as an example (below). In autumn, the adults go into hibernation (one of only five UK species to spend the winter as a butterfly). They emerge on warm spring days in late March or April, mate, the females lay their eggs, and that generation of adults is over by May.

Those eggs quickly hatch into caterpillars, they eat and eat (‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ is not just a story!), then pupate and ultimately emerge as the next generation of adults in late July or early August. High summer is then a time for them to sup large amounts of nectar, before those adults quickly disappear to hibernate with their stomachs full of sugary winter fuel.

Each species has its own particular schedule. In fact, climate change is shifting everything somewhat, so that our butterflies are now a week or two in advance of their former timings – yes, unlike trains, butterflies are arriving early!

The timetables of different species include a few that are spring species but lots that are late summer species, so it means there are lulls at certain times of the year when you see far fewer butterflies than you might expect. In fact, June can seem bereft of them, making some people worry what’s gone wrong!

But there then follows the summer peak, typically from mid July through August, when in a nature-friendly garden they can seem everywhere.

So, here is a colour-coded guide to the commoner species you will find in gardens at this busy summer season. A few other scarcer species might be found in some gardens, but these are your most likely visitors.

YELLOW

Brimstone (male)

Our only acid yellow butterfly - some say this is the origin of the name 'butter-coloured fly'. Never perches with its wings open. Likes to nectar at purple flowers, especially Teasel, scabiouses, knapweeds and thistles.

  • When: March-June and July – October, peak early August
  • Where: England and Wales, rare in Northern Ireland

 

WHITE

Large White, Small White, Green-veined White and Brimstone (female)

Telling these four species apart can be difficult, especially as they flap through the garden. The three species with white in their name are often known as ‘cabbage whites’.

  • The creamy-white female Brimstone always sits with her wings closed, and both the front and hind wings have a noticeable point to them (just as in the photo of the male above).
  • The Large White has thick black tips to the upper forewings. The male has no black spot on the upper forewing; the female has two large black spots
  • The Small White has smaller greyish tips to the upper forewing. The male has one small black spot on the upper forewing; the female has two small spots
  • The Green-veined White is like the Small White but has the pale veins on the under hindwing edged with a grey-green fine speckling.

Large White male (below), the only one of the three 'white' species with no black spots on the upperwings

 

Small White male (below) - the dusty grey on the tip of the forewing is limited in extent

Green-veined White female (below) - see how the smoky grey at the wingtips extends down the outer edge.

  • When: for the whites – April-October, peak late July/August
  • Where: Everywhere (except Brimstone – see male above)

 

 LARGE, BRIGHTLY COLOURED (MIX OF REDS, BLACKS, WHITES, ORANGES)

Red Admiral

Black with thick red bars across the upper wings and white dots on the tips of the upper forewings. Loves Buddleia, Iceplant, Bramble flowers.

  • When: March-November, peaking in August and September
  • Where: Everywhere

 

Small Tortoiseshell

Orangery with thick tiger stripes down the front of the forewings. Nectars at Red Valerian, Buddleia, Iceplant, lavenders

  • When: March-October, peaking in July and August
  • Where: Everywhere


 

Painted Lady

Rather salmon-pink in base colour with black spots, plus white spots on the black wingtips. Loves Buddleia, Verbena bonariensis, knapweeds, scabiouses.

  • When: A migrant from Europe, the first are usually seen from June with numbers building up after that. Numbers are very variable with few in some years but masses occasionally.
  • Where: Everywhere

Comma

Orange with leopard spots – our only butterfly with wildly jaggedy wing edges. Feeds on Ivy, Michaelmas daisies, Iceplant.

  • When: March – October, peaking in July.
  • Where: England and Wales

  

Peacock

Deep red, with four big eyespots on the upperwings; almost black underneath. Feeds on Buddleia, bramble, thistles, Iceplant, Hemp-agrimony.

  • When: March – September, peaking in early August.
  • Where: Everywhere

  

SMALL AND BLUE

Holly Blue

Sky blue above, pale silver below dotted with finest ink spatters; most likely to be seen flitting up and around hedges and bushes, especially Holly and Ivy. Rarely seen nectaring at flowers.

  • When: April – September, peaking in early August.
  • Where: England and Wales, scarce in Northern Ireland

 

Common Blue

Male is an intense blue above; female is duller but with blue at the base of the wings. Tend to flit low to the ground over meadow areas. Nectar at scabiouses, knapweeds, Marjoram.

  • When: May – September, peaking in August.
  • Where: Everywhere, but scarce in gardens unless you have a meadow area

 

DULL BROWN WITH ‘EYE SPOTS’

Speckled Wood

Chocolate brown dotted with amber dots. Most likely to be seen dancing around where the sunlight comes through the trees. Not usually seen nectaring.

  • When: April – October, peaking in August.
  • Where: Everywhere except southern and central Scotland

 

Meadow Brown

Brown, with a large black eye spot towards the tip of the upper wing above and below. Small area of orange on upper forewing of female. Loves long grass of meadow lawns.

  • When: June-August, peaking in July.
  • Where: Everywhere

This is the female (below) with the eye spot on the upper forewing in a relatively small area of orange.

  

Gatekeeper

Very like Meadow Brown, but usually smaller and with orange patches on upper forewings and hindwings. Usually flitting along hedges with long grass. Loves to feed on Marjoram.

  • When: July-August, peaking in August.
  • Where: England and Wales

See how there are orange patches in the middle of both the fore and hindwings on the upperside. This is a male, with a black smudge through the forewing orange.

  

Ringlet

Dark chocolate upperwings; hindwings with line of dark eyespots with creamy outer ring. Likes damp grassy areas.

  • When: mid-June to mid-August, peaking in July.
  • Where: Everywhere except northern Scotland

  

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