This is a large family of butterflies that contains two fairly distinctive groups, the familiar multi-coloured vanessids that in my collection includes the Red Admiral, Painted Lady, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Comma and the mainly orange and black fritillaries that are not as common and widespread and of which so far, I have only managed to add one species to my collection, the Dark Green Fritillary.
SMALL TORTOISESHELL aglais urticae
Flight period: Flight period: March to October in two to three broods, but adult butterflies can be seen throughout the year, even during December and January if the sun shines and the temperature gets high enough to wake them from hibernation. The butterfly is a familiar sight in late summer as it takes nectar to build up essential fats in preparation for hibernation.
The upperwings of the adult are marbled dark orange, creamy yellow and black and bordered with blue spots around the wing margins. The underwings are a darkish, smoky brown. The larvae are yellow and black, gregarious, and feeds on Common Nettle, hence the scientific name ‘urticae’.
Distribution: This is one of our most widespread butterflies, occurring throughout the British Isles, including Orkney and Shetland. It is found throughout temperate Europe, Asia Minor, Central Asia, Siberia, China, Mongolia, Korea and Japan.
UK Status: Small Tortoiseshell numbers have suffered a troubling decline, especially in the south, over the last few years. This butterfly has always fluctuated in numbers, but the cause of the most-recent decline is not yet known. Various theories have been proposed; one is the increasing presence of a particular parasitic fly, Sturmia bella, due to global warming – this species being common on the continent. The fly lays its eggs on leaves of the foodplant, close to where larvae are feeding. The tiny eggs are then eaten whole by the larvae and the grubs that emerge feed on the insides of their host, avoiding the vital organs. A fly grub eventually kills its host and emerges from either the fully-grown larva or pupa before itself pupating. (UK Butterflies)
RED ADMIRAL vanessa cardui
Wingspan: 5-6cm Flight period: A migrant from the south, the first of these familiar butterflies usually arrive in Northern Europe in late April or early May; then two or three broods emerge from July to October.
Very distinctive black-brown with red bands & white spots; underside of forewing similar to upperside, underside of hind wing dappled grey-brown.
Distribution: Throughout Europe except the far north, up to 2,000m; usually found in wooded countryside, open woods, parks, gardens.
Local sightings: Widespread throughout. Often sighted on the summits of Bryn Euryn, Great Orme and Little Orme
PAINTED LADY-Vanessa cardui
Flight period: April-October
A regular visitor but unable to survive the British winter; our population is renewed each year by migrants from Southern Europe. The Painted Lady is the only British butterfly that has a rosy pink/orange upperside and black wingtips marked with white.
Local sightings: In most years I have had only occasional sightings of these lovely butterflies on Little Orme and in the garden, where they seemed to be strongly attracted to valerian flowers. Then in 2019 there was a glorious ‘explosion’ of their population across much of the British Isles and there were Painted Ladies to be seen everywhere they could find nectar.
PEACOCK inachis io
Wingspan 5-5.6cm Flight period
This butterfly is so distinctive it can’t really be confused with any other.
The upperwings have a ground colour of rich velvety red and each wing then has a large multi-coloured eyespot. In complete contrast, the underside of the wings is textured and shaded a mottled dark, blackish-brown, which camouflages the butterfly perfectly when it roosts on tree bark.
Distribution: Found throughout Europe except for N Scandinavia, at altitudes up to 2,000m. Favours gardens, orchards & parks, flower-rich edges of woods, damp meadows & scrub.
Local sightings: Bryn Euryn, Bryn Pydew, gardens
COMMA Polygonia c-album
Wingspan: 4-5.5cm. Flight period: March-September
A very distinctive and attractive butterfly with a strikingly scalloped wing outline. The upperside ground colour is dark orange brown with dark brown to black spots; the underside is indistinctly dappled brown with a small white ‘c’, or comma on the hind wing.
This species has a flexible life cycle that allows it to capitalize on favourable weather conditions, so it may be seen on the wing much earlier in the year. Their shape and cryptic colouring helps to conceal hibernating adults amongst dead leaves. The larvae are also well-disguised, flecked with brown and white markings, they look remarkably like bird droppings!
On cooler days, or to take in some warmth before roosting in the evening they often bask on the ground, angling themselves to get the best of the sunshine.
Butterfly Conservation priority: Low European status: Not threatened
The Comma suffered a severe decline in the twentieth century, but has subsequently made a remarkable comeback. It is now widespread throughout southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards.
Local sightings: Bryn Euryn-Rhos-on-Sea, Little Orme, gardens
My best sightings have, not surprisingly been within my local ‘patch’ on Bryn Euryn. In recent years my first sightings have been in late March, from my kitchen window as the butterflies seem to seek the shelter in this spot where woodland edge meets building and they bask on leaves in the sunshine. That’s been my signal to look out for them further afield. I have encountered them basking in more open spots on woodland paths, but there’s one spot which is particularly reliable and which I would say is a Comma ‘territory’.
DARK GREEN FRITILLARY Argynnis aglaja
Wingspan: 5-6cm Flight period: Mid June to late August; one brood.
The females of this species are distinctly larger than the males. The uppersides of the very similar to that of the Silver-washed Fritillary, but underside of hind wing is overlaid with a greenish colour & large number of roundish silver spots that shimmer like mother-of-pearl.
Distribution: Throughout Europe, in mountains up to the tree line, sometimes above 2,000m; along the edges of woods, in clearings, on moors and in unimproved meadows.
Local sightings: Bryn Euryn, Great Orme
Posts featuring the butterfly in location: All is Bright & Beautiful at the top of the Bryn