Predominantly Brown Butterflies

Where required, photos and information have been reproduced with the kind permission of Butterfly Conservation.

In each section, the MALE is shown as the top line photograh(s)...photos of the FEMALE are shown on the second line.


Brown Argus

 
JAN
FEB
MAR
APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Brown Argus - Photograph by Jim Asher     

Brown Argus - Photograph by Jim Asher

A small butterfly, widespread in England and Wales. Brown with row of orange spots on outer wing edges. Very similar to Northern Brown Argus which usually has no orange spots on forewing. Female Common Blues are similar but have blue dusting near body.

Resident

Range expanding.

This small butterfly is characteristic of southern chalk and limestone grassland but occurs in a variety of other open habitats as far north as north Wales and Yorkshire. It is a close relative of the Northern Brown Argus, which is restricted to Scotland and northern England.

The adults have a silvery appearance as they fly low to the ground and they stop frequently either to perch or feed on flowers. They may be confused with Common Blue females, which also have brown upperwings but usually with some blue at the base.

The butterfly spread rapidly in the mid-1990s but lost ground in the last three years of the twentieth century.


Conservation status


European/world range

Widespread and common across Europe as far north as Denmark and southern Sweden, across to the Middle East and Siberia, and also in North Africa. It has declined in a few western European countries.


Foodplants

Common Rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium) is used almost exclusively on calcare new roman;font-size:21px;color:black;">MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC Adult                          Larva                        

Large Heath  - Photograph by Jim Asher    Large Heath - Photograph by Jim Asher

Found in boggy habitats in northern Britain, Ireland, few sites in Wales and central England. Rests with wings closed. Some have row of 'eyespots' on underwings, like Ringlet, but some don't. Those without look like Small Heath.

Resident

Range declining.

The Large Heath is restricted to wet boggy habitats in northern Britain, Ireland, and a few isolated sites in Wales and central England.

The adults always sit with their wings closed and can fly even in quite dull weather provided the air temperature is higher than 14B:C. The size of the underwing spots varies across its range; a heavily spotted form (davus) is found in lowland England, a virtually spotless race (scotica) in northern Scotland, and a range of intermediate races elsewhere (referred to as polydama).

The butterfly has declined seriously in England and Wales, but is still widespread in parts of Ireland and Scotland.

Conservation status

European/world range

Occurs across Europe and Asia, and in Canada and western USA. It has declined seriously in many European countries.

Foodplants

The main foodplant is Hare's-tail Cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum) but larvae have been found occasionally on Common Cottongrass (E. angustifolium) and Jointed Rush (Juncus articulatus). Early literature references to White Beak-sedge, Rhyncospora alba, are probably erroneous.

Habitat

The butterflies breed in open, wet areas where the foodplant grows: lowland raised bogs, upland blanket bogs; and damp acidic moorland. Sites are usually below around 500m (600m in the far north) and have a base of Sphagnum moss, interspersed with dense tussocks of Hare's-tail Cottongrass and abundant Cross-leaved Heath, the main adult nectar source.

In Ireland, the butterfly can be found where manual peat extraction has lowered the surface of the bog, creating damp areas with local concentrations of foodplant.

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Meadow Brown

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Meadow Brown - Photograph by Jim Asher   Meadow Brown - Photograph by Jim Asher

Widespread and common throughout Britain and Ireland. Orange and brown, with black eyespot on forewing tip. Eyespots have single white pupils unlike Gatekeeper which has two and is smaller and more orange with row of tiny white dots on hind underwings.

Resident

Range stable.

The Meadow Brown is the most abundant butterfly species in many habitats. Hundreds may be seen together at some sites, flying low over the vegetation. Adults fly even in dull weather when most other butterflies are inactive.

Regional variations in the spotting pattern on the wings have led to it being studied extensively by geneticists over many years. Larger forms occur in Ireland and the north of Scotland.

It is one of our most widespread species, but many colonies have been lost due to agricultural intensification.

Conservation status

European/world range

Its range extends across Europe south of 62B:N, and eastwards to the Urals, Asia Minor and Iran. It is stable in most European countries.

Foodplants

A wide range of grasses is used. Those with finer leaves such as fescues (Festuca spp.), bents (Agrostis spp.), and meadow-grasses (Poa spp.) are preferred, but some coarser species such as Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata), Downy Oat-grass (Helictotrichon pubescens), and False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) are also eaten by larger larvae. Other species of grass are also believed to be used.

Habitat

Grasslands, including downland, heathland, coastal dunes and undercliffs, hay meadows, roadside verges, hedgerows, woodland rides and clearings, and waste ground. Also occurs in parks, gardens, and cemeteries.

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Ringlet

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult          ous grassland. In other habitats it uses annual foodplants, mainly Dove's-foot Crane's-bill (Geranium molle) and Common Stork's-bill (Erodium cicutarium). There are also recent reports of egg-laying on Cut-leaved Crane's-bill (G. dissectum), Meadow Crane's-bill (G. pratense), and Hedgerow Crane's-bill (G. pyrenaicum).


Habitat

The butterfly's traditional habitats are chalk and limestone grassland, but it also occurs in a range of other habitats with disturbed soils, including: coastal grassland and dunes, woodland clearings, heathland, disused railway lines, road verges, and more recently set-aside fields. Sheltered sites or slopes facing south or west are preferred.

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Brown Hairstreak

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Brown Hairstreak - Photograph by Jim Asher    

Brown Hairstreak - Photograph by Jim Asher

Rare in southern England and Wales. A small and elusive butterfly usually seen along hedgerows. Often rests with wings closed showing orange-brown underwings with two wavy white streaks and small tails. Uppersides are brown with orange mark.

  • Latin name: Thecla betulae
  • Family group: Hairstreaks
  • Size: Small - Medium

Resident

Range declining.

The Brown Hairstreak is an elusive butterfly that spends most of its life either high in the tree canopy or hidden amongst hedgerows. It is worth looking up at prominent Ash trees along wood edges to see if small clusters of adults may be flitting around a 'master' tree where they congregate to mate and feed on aphid honeydew. Alternatively, adults sometimes feed lower down on flowers such as Hemp-agrimony, Common Fleabane, and Bramble. The females are most frequently seen as they disperse widely along hedgerows where they lay conspicuous white eggs on young Blackthorn.

The butterfly is locally distributed in southern Britain and mid-west Ireland and has undergone a substantial decline due to hedgerow removal and annual flailing, which removes eggs.

Conservation status

  • UK Biodiversity Action Plan: Priority Species
  • Butterfly Conservation priority: high
  • European threat status: not threatened
  • Protected in Great Britain for sale only

European/world range

Widely distributed across central Europe from northern Spain to southern Sweden, and east through Asia to Korea. Declining in many European countries.

Foodplants

The butterfly breeds on young growth of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and occasionally other Prunus species such as Bullace (P. domestica).

Habitat

Hedges, scrub, and wood edges are used where Blackthorn is abundant and not too intensively managed. The butterfly typically breeds over wide areas of countryside with extensive networks of hedges and woodland, often on heavy clay soils in low-lying land. In contrast, most Irish colonies are on lighter soils over limestone bedrock.

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Dingy Skipper

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Dingy Skipper - Photograph by Jim Asher

Found in Britain and Ireland but becoming increasingly rare. Grey-brown wings with mottled brown markings and two rows of small white spots. A small butterfly with low, darting flight. Grizzled Skipper is similar in size but has brighter black and white markings.

  • Latin name: Erynnis tages
  • Family group: Skippers
  • Size: Small

Resident

Range declining.

In sunshine, the Dingy Skipper often basks on bare ground with wings spread wide. In dull weather, and at night, it perches on the tops of dead flowerheads in a moth-like fashion with wings curved in a position not seen in any other British butterfly. This small brown and grey butterfly is extremely well camouflaged. It may be confused with the Grizzled Skipper, the Mother Shipton moth, and Burnet Companion moth, which sometimes occur on the same sites at the same time.

The Dingy Skipper is locally distributed throughout Britain and Ireland, but has declined seriously in recent years.

Conservation status

  • UK Biodiversity Action Plan: Priority Species
  • Butterfly Conservation priority: high
  • European threat status: not threatened
  • Protected in Northern Ireland

European/world range

Occurs widely in Europe to latitude 62B0N and eastwards through Asia to China. Declining in several European countries.

Foodplants

Common Bird's-foot-trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) is the usual foodplant in all habitats. Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepis comosa) is also used on calcareous soils, and Greater Bird's-foot-trefoil (L. pedunculatus) is used on heavier soils.

Habitat

Colonies occur in a wide range of open, sunny habitats including chalk downland, woodland rides and clearings, coastal habitats such as dunes and undercliffs, heathland, old quarries, railway lines, and waste ground. Suitable conditions occur where foodplants grow in a sparse sward, often with patches of bare ground in a sunny, sheltered situation. Taller vegetation is also required for shelter and roosting.

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Large Heath

  JAN FEB              
Larva                        

Ringlet - Photograph by Jim Asher     Ringlet - Photograph by Jim Asher

Widespread on damp grassland throughout Britain and Ireland. Dark brown butterfly. Underwing has distinctive eyespots: white centre, black inner ring and outer yellow ring. Similar to male Meadow Brown.

  • Latin name: Aphantopus hyperantus
  • Family group: Browns
  • Size:  Medium

Resident

Range expanding.

When newly emerged, the Ringlet has a velvety appearance and is almost black, with a white fringe to the wings. The small circles on the underwings, which give the butterfly its name, vary in number and size and may be enlarged and elongated or reduced to small white spots; occasionally they lack the black ring.

Bramble and Wild Privet flowers are favourite nectar sources, and adults continue to fly with a characteristic bobbing flight in dull, cloudy conditions when most other butterflies are inactive.

This widespread butterfly has extended it range in England and Scotland in recent years.

Conservation status

  • UK BAP status: not listed

  • Butterfly Conservation priority: low
  • European threat status: not threatened

European/world range

Across Europe except in central and southern Spain, Portugal, peninsular Italy, and northern Scandinavia, and extends eastwards across Asia to Japan. It is stable in most European countries, but its overall range appears to be shifting northwards.

Foodplants

Coarser grasses are used, including Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata), False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa), Common Couch (Elytrigia repens), and meadow-grasses (Poa spp.). Other species of grass may also be used.

Habitat

Tall grassland is used, mainly in damp situations in partial shade on heavy soils where grasses are lush, especially in woodland rides and glades. The butterfly also occurs on commons, verges, and riverbanks, especially on clay soils. In northern areas, it is found in more open, less shady, situations.

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Small Heath

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Small Heath - Photograph by Jim Asher

Widespread in Britain and Ireland. Small, yellow-orange, flies close to the ground. Perches with its wings closed. Underside of forewing has eyespot at tip. Hindwing banded with brown, grey and cream.

  • Latin name: Coenonympha pamphilus
  • Family group: Browns
  • Size: Small

Resident

Range stable.

The Small Heath is an inconspicuous butterfly that flies only in sunshine and rarely settles more than a metre above the ground. Its wings are always kept closed when at rest. The number of broods and the flight periods are variable and adults may be seen continuously from late April to September on some sites in southern England.

This relatively widespread butterfly can occupy a range of habitat types and, although its range has changed little, many colonies have disappeared in recent decades.

Conservation status

  • UK BAP status: Priority Species (for research only)
  • Butterfly Conservation priority: high
  • European threat status: not threatened

European/world range

Throughout Europe to 69B:N, in north Africa and eastwards to Mongolia. It is stable in most European countries.

Foodplants

Fine grasses, especially fescues (Festuca spp.), meadow-grasses (Poa spp.), and bents (Agrostis spp.).

Habitat

This species occurs on grassland where there are fine grasses, especially in dry, well-drained situations where the sward is short and sparse. The largest colonies occur on downland, heathland, and coastal dunes. Smaller populations occur in many other locations including roadside verges, waste ground, woodland rides and glades, moorland, and parkland.


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Speckled Wood

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Speckled Wood  - Photograph by Jim Asher     Speckled Wood - Photograph by Jim Asher

Found throughout Britain and Ireland. Dark brown with creamy white patches on wings. Occurs in woodland, gardens and hedgerows. Butterflies often perch in sunny spots, spiralling into the air to chase each other.

  • Latin name: Pararge aegeria
  • Family group:Browns
  • Size:Medium

Resident

Range expanding.

The aptly named Speckled Wood flies in partially shaded woodland with dappled sunlight. The male usually perches in a small pool of sunlight, from where it rises rapidly to intercept any intruder. Both sexes feed on honeydew in the tree tops and are rarely seen feeding on flowers, except early and late in the year when aphid activity is low.

The range of this butterfly contracted during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but has spread back since the 1920s. It has continued to spread over the past two decades, recolonizing many areas in eastern and northern England and Scotland.

Conservation status

  • UK BAP status: not listed
  • Butterfly Conservation priority: low
  • European threat status: not threatened

European/world range

Widespread throughout Europe; also in North Africa and eastwards to the Urals. It has expanded in several European countries, and its range has extended northwards.

Foodplants

Various grasses are used, including False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata), Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus), and Common Couch (Elytrigia repens).

Habitat

Towards the northern and eastern margins of its range, the Speckled Wood breeds only in woodland habitats, but elsewhere it also uses lanes and tracks between tall hedgerows, parks, gardens, and scrub. It seems to prefer slightly damp areas where there is tall grass and some shade.


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White-letter Hairstreak

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

White-letter Hairstreak - Photograph by Robert Thompson

A small butterfly which lives in the tops of elm trees throughout England and Wales, but is often overlooked. Underwings brown with white W-shaped streak, an orange edge and small tails. Black Hairstreak is similar but has row of black spots on hindwing.

  • Latin name: Satyrium w-album
  • Family group: Hairstreaks
  • Size: Small

Resident

Range expanding in some areas after major decline. Recent population decline.

The White-letter Hairstreak is a small butterfly with an erratic, spiralling flight typical of the hairstreaks. It is distinguished by a strongly-defined white 'W' mark across the undersides. The dark uppersides are seen only in flight as the butterflies always settle with their wings closed. Adults are difficult to see because they spend so much time in the tree canopy, although they occasionally come to ground level to nectar on flowers near elm trees or scrub saplings.

The species declined during the 1970s when its foodplants were reduced by Dutch Elm Disease, but it seems now to be recovering in some areas.

Conservation status

  • UK BAP status: Priority Species
  • Butterfly Conservation priority: high
  • European threat status: not threatened
  • Protected in Great Britain for sale only

European/world range

Across Europe as far north as southern Scandinavia, and east to Japan. Its range is stable in much of Europe, but it has declined in several countries and is spreading in Finland.

Foodplants

The butterfly breeds on various elm species, including Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra), English Elm (U. procera), and Small-leaved Elm (U. minor). Research at one site has indicated a preference for (and a higher success rate on) Wych Elm. It breeds on mature trees or abundant sucker growth near dead trees. It has also been shown to survive on the Dutch Elm Disease-resistant variety of U. japonica, Sapporo Autumn Gold.

Habitat

It breeds where elms occur in sheltered hedgerows, mixed scrub, and the edges of woodland rides, and also on large, isolated elms. It was previously thought to have a strong preference for large, mature elm trees, but is now found frequently on younger elm growth.

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Grayling

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Grayling - Photograph by Jim Asher

Widespread on coast of Britain and Ireland and on heathland in southern Britain. Rests with wings closed. Underwing mottled-brown. Appears larger in flight when pale yellow-orange bands can be seen.

  • Latin name: Hipparchia semele
  • Family group:Browns
  • Size: Medium - Large

Resident

Range declining in some areas.

Cryptic colouring provides the Grayling with excellent camouflage, making it difficult to see when at rest on bare ground, tree trunks, or stones. The wings are kept closed when not in flight and the fore wings are usually tucked behind the hind wings, concealing the eyespots and making the butterfly appear smaller. In flight this is a distinctive, large butterfly with a looping and gliding flight, during which the paler bands on the upperwings are visible.

The Grayling is widespread on the coast and southern heaths, but is declining in many areas, particularly inland.

Conservation status

  • UK Biodiversity Action Plan: Priority Species
  • Butterfly Conservation Priority: High
  • European threat status: not threatened

European/world range

Through Europe as far north as 63B:N, but absent from parts of south-east Europe, and extending into western and northern Asia. It is declining in many European countries.

Foodplants

The main species used include Sheep's-fescue (Festuca ovina), Red Fescue (F. rubra), Bristle Bent (Agrostis curtisii), and Early Hair-grass (Aira praecox). Coarser grasses such as Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and Marram (Ammophila arenaria) are occasionally used.

Habitat

Many colonies are coastal, on dunes, saltmarsh, undercliffs, and clifftops. Inland, colonies are found on dry heathland, calcareous grassland, old quarries, earthworks, derelict industrial sites such as old spoil heaps and, in a few areas, in open woodland on stony ground. It occurs on a wide range of soil types, but all are dry and well-drained, with sparse vegetation and plenty of bare ground in open positions.

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Grizzled Skipper

  JAN FEB MAR APR MAY JUN JUL AUG SEP OCT NOV DEC
Adult                         
Larva                        

Grizzled Skipper - Photograph by Jim Asher    Grizzled Skipper - Photograph by Jim Asher

Found throughout England and Wales but becoming increasingly rare. Wings black or dark brown with checker-board of white spots. A small, low-flying, darting butterfly. Dingy Skipper similar in size but wings much duller.

  • Latin name: Pyrgus malvae
  • Family group: Skippers
  • Size: Small

Resident

Range declining.

The Grizzled Skipper is a characteristic spring butterfly of southern chalk downland and other sparsely vegetated habitats. Its rapid, buzzing flight can make it difficult to follow, but it stops regularly either to perch on a prominent twig or to feed on flowers such as Common Bird's-foot-trefoil or Bugle. It can then be identified quite easily by the black and white checkerboard pattern on its wings.

The butterfly occurs across southern England, commonly in small colonies, and has declined in several regions, especially away from the chalk.

Conservation status

  • UKBiodiversity Action Plan: Priority Species
  • Butterfly Conservation priority: high
  • European threat status: not threatened

European/world range

Occurs widely in Europe, apart from the far north of Scandinavia, and eastwards across to China and Korea. It has declined recently in several European countries.

Foodplants

A variety of plants from the Rosaceae family is used, mainly Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria), Creeping Cinquefoil (Potentilla reptans) and Wild Strawberry (Fragaria vesca). It may also use Barren Strawberry (P. sterilis), Tormentil (P. erecta), Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor), Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Dog-rose (Rosa canina), and Wood Avens (Geum urbanum).

Habitat

Three main types are used: woodland rides, glades, and clearings; unimproved grassland, especially chalk downland but also on other calcareous soils including clays; and recently abandoned industrial sites such as disused mineral workings, spoil heaps, railway lines, and even rubbish tips. Occasionally, it breeds on heathland, damp grassland, and dunes.

In all habitats it requires plentiful spring nectar plants, at least one of the main foodplants growing in short vegetation (< 10cm) usually with patches of bare ground, and patches of taller vegetation (10-50 cm) and scrub or woodland edges.

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