Butterflies in autumn

Speckled Wood. Photo: Tim Melling
Speckled Wood. Photo: Tim Melling

It’s possible to see up to 10 butterfly species in October here in Dorset and with few wildflowers in bloom at this time of year, butterflies are more likely to visit gardens for that vital drink of nectar.

Some, such as the Comma are focused solely on building up their fat reserves in preparation for the long hibernation through to next spring. Red Admirals are much in evidence too and can often be seen on the same flowers, hurriedly feeding up either for their southerly migration or for the dark days of a British winter. In contrast, the Peacock, a garden favourite, has already entered hibernation and the majority won’t be seen again until next March.

Comma. Photo: Andrew Cooper

Comma. Photo: Andrew Cooper

The Speckled Wood and Wall Brown butterfly are still flying and although they don’t generally visit flowers, gardens can provide the perfect habitat, resembling the warm woodland glades that are their natural haunts. If you have a patch of long grass, then you may even have September Speckled Woods breeding in your garden this autumn, as their caterpillars feed on common grasses such as Cock’s-foot and Yorkshire-fog.

Out in the countryside, Common Blue, Holly Blue and Small Copper are still on the wing (in the south at least) with common migrants such as Painted Lady and Clouded Yellow still being recorded in small numbers.

Red Admiral on Ivy by James O'Neill

Red Admiral on Ivy by James O’Neill

Many of these late flying butterflies will be looking for rich sources of nectar and energy that are quickly becoming few and far between at this time of year. Ivy is a must-have for those hoping to attract butterflies to the garden and is a favourite top-up stop for Red Admirals and Commas but will also be visited by other species including the Holly Blue which uses Ivy as a host plant for its caterpillars.

As the days shorten, another fantastic way of attracting butterflies to your garden this Autumn is by leaving out or simply not collecting fruit such as Apples and Pears, that if left in the sunshine will ferment and become irresistible to passing insects. See the video below, sent to us by Elaine Conlon showing the feast at her butterfly feeding station in her Dorset garden:

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