Identify British butterflies

Small Tortoiseshell butterfly

Small Tortoiseshell ©Scott Petrek

Identify UK garden butterflies

What butterfly have I seen in my garden?

The following butterflies are some of the common species spotted in gardens. An overcast day is a particularly good time to see them up close because they won't be as active and stay still for longer.

What colour butterfly have you spotted?


Description: Deep-red with black marks and blue 'eyespots' (like a peacock’s tail feathers) on the forewings and hindwings.
When: January-December

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Red admiral

Description: Black with broad, red stripes on the hindwings and forewings, and white spots near the tips of the forewings.
When: January-December

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Small tortoiseshell

Description: Reddish-orange with black and yellow markings on the forewings and a ring of blue spots around the edge of the wings.
When: January-December
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Painted lady

Description: Orange with black tips to the forewings that are adorned with white spots, and black spots on the hindwings and forewings.
When: April-October

Small copper

Description: Bright orange forewings with dark brown spots and a thick, dark brown margin. Dark brown hindwings, banded with orange.
When: April-October

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Description: Males are white with bold orange patches on the forewings and light grey wingtips. Females are white with grey-black wingtips. Both have mottled grey-green undersides.
When: April-July

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Large white

Description: White with prominent black tips to the forewings. Females have two black spots and a dash on each forewing. Plain, creamy-yellow underside.
When: April-October

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Small white

Description: White with light grey tips to the forewings. Females have one or two black spots on each forewing. Plain, creamy-yellow underside.
When: April-October

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Green-veined white

Description: White with grey-black tips and one or two black spots on the forewings. Thick, grey-green stripes on the underside.
When: April-October

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Description: Large butterfly with a greyish body and characteristically veiny and pointed wings. Males are lemon-yellow, while females are greenish-white with orange spots in the middle of each wing. 
When: January-December

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Meadow brown

Description: Brown with washed-out orange patches on the forewings. One black eyespot with a small white ‘pupil’ on each forewing.
When: June-September

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Speckled wood

Description: Dark brown with creamy yellow spots. The best way to identify the 'brown' butterflies is by looking at the eyespots on their wings. The speckled wood is the only brown butterfly with three small, cream-ringed eyespots on each hindwing and one on each forewing.
When: March - October

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Holly blue

Description: Bright blue with black spots on its silvery underside. Females have black wing edges.
When: April-September

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Common blue

Description: Males have bright blue wings with a brown border and white fringe. Females are brown with a blue 'dusting'. Both have orange spots on their undersides.
When: May-October

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Gatekeeper ©David Longshaw

Can't find your butterfly?

Discover more butterfly species
Garden Tiger moth

Garden tiger moth ©Margaret Holland

Attract butterflies to your garden

Encourage butterflies to visit your garden by planting nectar-rich flowers and shrubs like ivy, daisies, and primroses – even a few flowers in a windowbox will do the trick!

Get started

Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

Help butterflies today

As a charity we rely on memberships. They help us look after over 2,300 nature reserves and protect the butterflies that live there.

Find out about Wildlife Trust membership