Brilliant butterflies

By Sam Gee

Brilliant butterflies

Now is the perfect time to spot beautiful butterflies, and there are lots of different species to see! Read on to meet a few that you might find in your garden or local park.

Small Tortoiseshell ©Scott Petrek

Here all year, or just visiting?

Most of the butterflies that you see will live in the UK all year round. These are called ‘resident’ butterflies. But did you know that some butterflies are here on holiday? They visit us looking for warm weather, somewhere to lay their eggs, and lots of tasty nectar!

These ‘migrant’ butterflies can travel hundreds of miles from Africa and southern Europe to the UK. Imagine a little butterfly fluttering over cities, seas and mountains, to end up resting on a flower in your garden!

Spotting tips

  • Butterflies like sunny days with not too much wind.
  • Shadows scare butterflies, so try not to block their sunshine.
  • Use binoculars, they’re not just for birdwatchers!
  • Sneak up on a resting butterfly slowly to get a closer look. No sudden movements!
Brimstone Butterfly

Brimstone ©Jim Higham

Brimstone

If you think this butterfly looks a lot like a leaf, you’re right! Hungry predators looking for a snack think so too. Brimstones spend the winter hiding in ivy and bramble disguised as a leaf until the spring sunshine arrives.

Where to look

Brimstones love to wander and explore! You can find them almost anywhere from gardens to leafy woodland.

 

Amazing fact

The name ‘butterfly’ comes from the buttery yellow wings of the male brimstone.

Red Admiral butterfly

Red Admiral ©Guy Edwardes/2020VISION

Red admiral

Red admirals can grow to over 7cm. That’s wider than a tennis ball! Their black wings with red stripes are easy to spot. Many of the red admirals you see in spring have flown here all the way from the Mediterranean.

When summer’s over, most of their offspring (babies) fly back again. As our winters get warmer, red admirals are starting to stay with us during the colder months too.

Where to look

Because they’re such strong fliers, migrating red admirals can be found anywhere. In some years they fly as far north as Lapland. Wow!

 

Amazing fact

Red admiral caterpillars love camping! As soon as it hatches from its egg, the caterpillar makes a comfy tent using silk and a nettle leaf. It’s a safe place to feast on the nettle from the inside.

Small tortoiseshell on oregano

Small tortoiseshell ©Lizzie Wilberforce

Small tortoiseshell

This is one of our prettiest and most well-known butterflies. Small tortoiseshells’ wings are bright orange, with dashes of white, black, yellow and blue. Like brimstones, they need to hide from predators during winter. It’s easy to mistake their dull underside for a dried-up old leaf.

Where to look

Small tortoiseshells happily visit any garden or park with lots of nectar rich flowers like buddleia or dandelion. A patch of common nettle to lay their eggs on is a big bonus, too.

 

Amazing fact

Predators that disturb a small tortoiseshell are in for a big surprise. To try to scare them off, the butterfly will flash its colourful upperwings and make a hissing sound!

Painted lady

Painted lady ©Jim Higham

Painted lady

In 2009 over 11 million painted ladies came to Britain in the spring. They spent their summer holidays drinking nectar and breeding. Then more than 21 million of their offspring flew back to Africa for the winter! In years like this, you might see hundreds of painted ladies in just one field. You can’t miss their peachy orange wings with white and black spots.

Where to look

Find some thistles! Eggs are laid on the yummy thistle leaves which the caterpillars munch on when they hatch. The butterflies also like to drink from the brightly coloured flowers.

 

Amazing fact

With a strong wind to help them, painted ladies can travel at more than 31 miles per hour. That’s faster than any human being has ever run!

Peacock butterfly

Peacock ©Rachel Scopes

Peacock

The markings of the peacock butterfly are unmistakeable - big, blue 'eyes' just like those on a peacock's tail feathers. It can be seen feeding on flowers all year-round during warm spells, and spends the winter as an adult, hiding in dark crevices, tree holes and sometimes even in sheds and buildings!

Where to look

Peacocks are strong fliers and wander widely, often appearing in parks and gardens. They're particularly fond of sunny gaps in woodlands, like those created by paths and clearings.

 

Amazing fact

When alarmed, the peacock is able to make a hissing noise by rubbing its wings quickly together. Coupled with its huge eyespots, it becomes a scary prospect for would-be predators.

Holly Blue butterfly

Holly Blue ©Rachel Scopes

Identify more garden butterflies

Discover more butterflies