Scientific name: Pyronia tithonus (LINNAEUS, 1771)
Family – NYMPHALIDAE; subfamily – SATYRINAE ;Wingspan range (male to female) – 40-47mm
Flight period: There is only one generation of this butterfly each year; adults begin to emerge in July, and populations peak in early August with only a few adults remaining by the end of the month.
Found where tall grasses grow close to hedges, trees or scrub. Typical habitats are along hedgerows and in woodland rides but the butterfly also occurs in habitats such as undercliffs and on heathland and downland where there are patches of scrub.
The Gatekeeper is also known by the name Hedge Brown, and at various stages in history has also been called the Small Meadow Brown and Hedge Eye. As suggested by its alternate name, Hedge Brown, the Gatekeeper butterfly favours the habitat of meadow margins and hedges. The butterflies frequently occurred near the open spaces around gates placed in hedges to give access to fields, and as they have the habit of flying up when disturbed it would appear that they were ‘gate-keeping’, such as men were employed to do at toll gates and at the entrances to country estates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
Orange and brown, with black eyespot on forewing tip, eyespots have two white pupils. Males are noticeably smaller than females and have a dark brown patch of scent-producing (androconal) scales on the forewing, used to attract females during courtship. The colour and patterning of the wings are variable.
The first adults emerge in July and lay their eggs singly on grasses beneath bramble, hawthorn and blackthorn bushes where the grass stems grow tall and are not grazed by animals. They hatch after about 14 days and the larvae feed at night on various species of grass, with a preference for fine grasses such as bents, fescues, and meadow-grasses. Common Couch is also used. The full range of other species used is not known. They hibernate during September while they are quite small and re-awaken in March and April feeding slowly and reach maturity by late May – early June.
This butterfly spends much of its time basking with wings open, when the sexes are easy to tell apart – only the male has the distinctive sex brands on the forewings. Males set up small territories, often based on a particular shrub or bush, and readily fly up from their perch to investigate passing butterflies regardless of their species, in the hope of finding a mate.
Adults favour Bramble, Ragwort, Scabious, Fleabane , Hemp Agrimony, Privet, Red Clover, Thistles and Thyme.
Distribution: The Gatekeeper is a common and widespread butterfly in England and Wales; found south of a line between Westmorland and South-east Yorkshire in the east. In Ireland it is confined to coastal areas of the south and south-east counties. The butterfly is also found in the Channel Islands, but is absent from Scotland and the Isle of Man.
Meadow Brown; the two species may be difficult to distinguish with closed wings as the underwing markings are similar. However, the Gatekeeper tends to rest with its wings open, whereas the Meadow Brown usually rests with its wings closed. The Gatekeeper is also smaller and more orange than the Meadow Brown and has double pupils on its eyespots.