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British butterflies

April 27th, 2024
2 minute read

Of all insects, none has quite the same aesthetic appeal as a butterfly. Take, for example, the red admiral, one of Britain’s commonest and most widespread butterflies. It is principally a deep, velvety black but its wings are striped with scarlet and touched with white, with just the merest hint of turquoise. It would be difficult to design a more beautiful creature.

The red admiral is one of just 60 or so butterfly species to occur in Britain and one of more than a dozen to occur commonly in gardens. For many species, such as the small tortoiseshell, peacock and comma, gardens are one of their favourite habitats, providing both food plants for their caterpillars (nettles) and nectaring plants, such as buddleia, for the adult insects to feed on.

Many other butterflies are not typically garden species but their wanderings often taken them into gardens. A classic example is the orange tip, one of the harbingers of spring. On a bright April day, an orange tip patrolling through the garden is one of the most cheering of sights. The brimstone is another spring butterfly that often passes through gardens, the males searching for females and the latter seeking buckthorn on which to lay their eggs.

orange tip butterfly in spring

There are nine species of blue butterflies in Britain, ranging from the rare and localised large blue to the widespread common blue. The latter can often be found in rural gardens, but there is one species above all other that is a garden specialist: the holly blue. There are two broods of holly blues each year. The first can be seen on the wing from early April to late May while the second brood appears in mid-July and continues flying until early September. What is intriguingly different between the two broods is that the first lays its eggs on holly (hence the butterfly’s name) and the second on ivy. Why? No one really knows.

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