The butterfly spotting guide

The butterfly spotting guide


Posted 29th Jun 2017


Andrew Cooper of Butterfly Conservation fills us in on the butterflies we can expect to find in our gardens this summer

Butterflies will visit any garden, no matter how small, if you provide the right plants for them and their caterpillars.

Your patch, designed with pollinators in mind, can attract more than 20 species of butterfly.

One of the smallest, but also prettiest of butterflies likely to grace our summer gardens, is the Holly Blue, the commonest of our ‘blues’ found in our towns and cities. From the smallest butterfly, to one of the largest; the Red Admiral can often be seen on Buddleia right into the autumn. Buddleia is a favourite nectar source among UK butterflies but while it is important to provide flowers, it is equally important to supply foodplants for caterpillars.

One of the key plants for up to five species of butterfly, including the Painted Lady, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Red Admiral (as well as numerous moths) is the Common Nettle, perhaps not a garden favourite but if grown in a sunny spot it is a vital plant for butterfly caterpillars.. The Painted Lady, a migrant species from southern Europe and North Africa, is always a welcome sight in the garden, arriving in the UK every summer in their thousands but in spectacular ‘Painted Lady years’, these powerful flyers can appear in their millions.

In the coming months, one of the most easily recognised and best known species you are likely to see is the Peacock; a large and colourful insect, so-called because of the four large eyespots that adorn its wings. These impressive decorations are not only beautiful but are effective deterrents as they are used by the butterfly to startle and confuse would-be predators.

Another very familiar butterfly you’re likely to encounter this summer is the Large White, its brilliant white wings have black tips to the forewings, extending down the wing edge. Large White caterpillars are renowned for feeding on wild or cultivated species of the Cruciferae family, particularly Cabbage, giving the butterfly its more common moniker - of ‘Cabbage White’.

The Meadow Brown is also widespread and very common throughout Britain and Ireland, often the most abundant butterfly species in many habitats. By leaving an area to grow wild, preferably in full sunshine, these and other butterflies whose caterpillars feed on grass, such as the Speckled Wood, can be coaxed into our gardens.

You can tell wildlife charity Butterfly Conservation what you see in your garden this summer by taking part in the Big Butterfly Count – the world’s largest insect citizen science project. To get your free garden butterflies ID sheet and to take part in the Count visit http://www.bigbutterflycount.org/

Text and images courtesy of Andrew Cooper





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