How to identify your butterfly – time of year

12 July 2013

Apologies I missed a blog – have had a virus which drained me of all energy.

One of the things you don’t realise when you are new to looking at butterflies is that each species only flies for a certain length of time each year, and the months in which they fly each year are fairly consistent. A few butterflies may be seen almost throughout the year, notably the Brimstone, which is only absent in the very depths of winter. Others are very limited in the time they spend in the adult stage: each Silver-studded Blue, for example (not a butterfly which you will find in your garden) only lives for 4-5 days.

Male Silver-studded Blue. Photo by Ken Dolbear.

Male Silver-studded Blue. Photo by Ken Dolbear.

This can be a great help in identification. If you see a blue butterfly in March or April it has to be a Holly Blue – none of the other blues are on the wing at this time. If you see a white butterfly in April, it is more likely to be a Green-veined White or an Orange Tip than a Large or Small White – the latter may be on the wing, but are much less numerous, judging from my experience in my garden. With the most common butterflies in the brown family, the Meadow Brown is out before the Gatekeeper – this year, the first Meadow Brown reported to the Dorset Branch of Butterfly Conservation’s website was 19 June, but the Gatekeeper didn’t turn up until 11 July. Most identification guides will show you the flight period of the adult, so use this information when you are trying to identify a butterfly you have seen.

Don’t forget size is important too – see my article on the subject. The Silver-studded Blue above is tiny, with a wingspan of about 30mm, wheras the Meadow Brown’s wingspan is around 50mm.

I’ve just had the first Meadow Browns in the garden; I haven’t got a photo of them yet, but the shot below is one of my favourite ones from several years ago.

Two Meadow Browns on an echinacea flower

Meadow Browns on an echinacea flower

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