by Phil Staines
The number of different species of butterflies which are found in the British Isles is currently listed as 57. This number includes butterflies which regularly visit us from the continent.
How many of these species are we likely to catch a glimpse of whilst walking through, around or near our local woodlands?
Let us take stock of these, the most attractive of all our insects, as their flight periods cover different parts of our spring, summer and autumn seasons.
In early spring usually March, we notice the bright yellow of the male Brimstone, which, with its somewhat leaf shaped wings has emerged from its winter hibernation in vegetation such as ivy and like plants. Yes, this butterfly, together with the female whose upper side of its wings are white, has lived through our winter as an adult butterfly. Three other species, which have also hibernated as adults will emerge in the next month or so. These are the Comma, the Small Tortoiseshell and the Peacock. All these will mate with their own species, the result of which is new broods later in the year.
One other species, the Red Admiral, also hibernates as an adult but has in the past migrated to warmer climes to do so. Recent warmer British winters however have, it is believed, made it possible for the butterfly to survive the winter in Britain.
March also brings forth from its chrysalis the pretty little Hollyblue with its powder blue under side and its lilac blue upper side fore wings edged in black. Late March and April we see the Orange Tip and in dappled sunlight on the edge of the woodlands we can watch the Speckled Wood vigorously defending its territory against all species. Several broods of this butterfly make it possible to see them from March through to October. In these early months we may see the first of two or three broods of the Small Copper flying in the grassland areas.
In the damper woodland and meadow areas from May to September with the under side of its hind wing showing veins outlined with greenish scales we observe the Green Veined White. At first glance it is often mistaken for the Small White which together with the Large White are the only two pest butterflies found in the British Isles.
A succession of species through June, July and August can keep us on our toes with regard to identification. June heralds the emergence of the Ringlet which frequents the edges of the woodlands especially the moist areas.
In the nearby grassy areas the Large Skipper and Small Skipper can be seen darting or "skipping" as their name implies, from flower head to flower head.
The attractive Marbled White is perhaps the most striking of the family of Brown butterflies (Satyridae). The female lays her eggs in grass whilst still in flight. Against this the Meadow Brown one of the most prolific butterflies is very dull in comparison.
The Gatekeeper (also known as the Hedge Brown) appears in late June and July and new broods of the Common Blue, Peacock, Tortoiseshell and Comma, with their brilliant colours follow. The second generation of the Holly Blue differing somewhat in its markings and colour from the spring generation emerges late July and August.
Two visitors from overseas some years more prolific than others are the Clouded Yellow and the Painted Lady.
September sees the gradual disappearance for another year of most of our species but the Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell, the Comma and in particular the Red Admiral often stay with us well into October before hibernating.