Browns

A guide to butterfly species commonly found in Dorset

Gatekeeper

Pyronia tithonus

Gatekeeper upper wingsMale Gatekeeper

Gatekeeper underwing

Photos clockwise from top left: Andrew Cooper; Rex Bale; Andrew Cooper

Comments:

Looking at the two photos showing the upper side of the wings, the one on the right is a male; this is shown by the brown streaks across the forewings: scent brands which release pheromones to attract female Gatekeepers.

Note the two small white spots within the black spot on each forewing: Meadow Browns only have on white spot here, though in either species the spots may not be very visible. Also note the small white spots on the underwing - the Meadow Brown has black spots.

Look out for them on patches of bramble.

When to see:

Early July to Early September.
Peak: Mid July and August

Habitat:

Lanes, hedgerows, long grass

Where to see:

Anywhere

Foodplants:

Grass, Meadows, Couch, Fescues

Behaviour:

Perch

Atlas: Distribution map & population trends

 

Grayling

Hipparchia semele

Grayling very well camouflaged against backgroundGrayling underwing just showing eye spto

Grayling underwing

Photos clockwise from top right: Rex Bale; Ken Dolbear; Mark Pike; Chris Becker, Mark Pike,

Comments:

This butterfly will often be seen on the path ahead of you, and when you disturb it, it will fly a bit further and land again, and keep doing so. You will only see the underwing, as it always lands with wings closed - Chris' photo above is a very rare view, only obtained because the butterfly was newly hatched and could not immediately fly away..

Some of these photos show how well camouflaged this butterfly can be in its favourite habitat.

The male Grayling goes through a courtship ritual with the female. He stands in front of her, flicking his forewings, he then executes a deep bow, and moves his forewings together, gently catching her antennae and drawing them across his scent glands. Thoroughly seduced, the female then allows him to mate with her. This is the only British butterfly which does this.

When to see:

July to End September.
Peak: July and August

Habitat:

Heathland, some downland

Where to see:

Hethfelton Wood, Higher Hyde, Studland, Portland Tout, Ham Common, Upton Heath North, Upton Heath South, Kinson Common

Foodplants:

Grasses: Fescues, Bristle Bent and Early Hair-grass.

Behaviour:

Patrol

Atlas: Distribution map & population trends

 

Marbled White

Melanargia galathea

Marbled White view of top wingsMarbled White underwing

Photos: Mark Pike

When to see:

Mid June to End August.
Peak: July to End August

Habitat:

Flowery grassland, downland and rough ground.

Where to see:

Widespread. Durlston Country Park. Ballard Down. Bindon Hill. Badbury Rings. Fontmell Down. Hod Hill. Broadcroft Butterfly Reserve (Portland), Giant Hill Cerne Abbas.

Foodplants:

Grass, Fescues, Cocksfoot

Behaviour:

Perch/Patrol

Atlas: Distribution map & population trends

 

Meadow Brown

Maniola jurtina

Meadow Brown view of top of wingsMeadow Brown view of upper wings

Meadow Brown underwingsMeadow Brown underwings

Photos clockwise from top left: Lyn Pullen, Penny Hawes,Ken Dolbear & Elaine Conlon

Comments: The Meadow Brown can be confused with the Gatekeeper, but is a little larger, generally duller - brown, not orange - and there is only one white spot within the black eye-spot, while the Gatekeeper has two white spots. It also has a few small black dots on the underwing - the Gatekeeper has small white dots.
When to see:

Early June to Mid September.
Peak: Mid July to End August

Habitat:

Lanes, rides, long grass

Where to see:

Anywhere

Foodplants:

Grass, any, not fussy

Behaviour:

Perch/Patrol

Atlas: Distribution map & population trends

 

Ringlet

Aphantopus hyperantus

Ringlet with open wings from aboveRinglet with open wings from above

Ringlet view of upper wingsRinglet with open wings from above

Ringlet showing underwingsRinglet view of underwings

Photos clockwise from top left: Mark Pike, Mark Pike, Ken Dolbear & Mark Pike.

Comments: Ringlets are very plain on their upper wings, the 'rings' being seen mainly on the underside of the wing. This is a very variable butterfly, so the rings may only be spots or sometimes almost non-existent. There are five rings on the underside of the hind wing. Males and females are difficult to tell apart. The white edging to the wings can be helpful in identification, even on the wing.
When to see:

June to End August.
Peak: Mid June to Early August

Habitat:

Damp long grass, Bracken

Where to see:

Cashmoor, Clubmens Down, Deadmoor Common, Duncliffe Wood, Fifehead Wood, Fontmell Down, Hod Hill, Lydlinch Common, Melbury Down, Piddles Wood, Sovell Down, Stubhampton Bottom, Ballard Down, Corfe Castle Mound, Higher Hyde, Brackett's Coppice, Cerne Abbas, Kingcombe Stones, Lorton Meadows, Portland Broadcroft, Powerstock Railway, Badbury Rings, Garston Wood, Upton Heath North

Foodplants:

Grasses, Tufted Hair, Couch, Meadow

Behaviour:

Perch/Patrol

Atlas: Distribution map & population trends

 

Small Heath

Coenonympha pamphilus

Small Heath underwingSmall Heath underwing

Photos: Left Ken Dolbear, Right Mel Bray.

Comments: Photos can make this butterfly look rather like the Meadow Brown, but it is a lot smaller. It also has a white 'flash' on the underwing which neither the Meadow Brown nor the Gatekeeper have. When landing, it tends to lay on one side. In flight, the male looks orangey.
When to see:

Early May to Late July.
Early August to Early October.
Peak: June to Mid July, and Mid August to Mid September

Habitat:

Downland and drier grasslands

Where to see:

Cashmoor, Clubmens Down, Fontmell Down, Hod Hill, Melbury Down, Ballard Down, Durlston CP East, Durlston CP West, Tadnoll, Cerne Abbas, Lorton Meadows, Portland Broadcroft, Powerstock North, Powerstock Railway, Avon Heath CP North, Avon Heath CP South, Badbury Rings, Upton Heath North, Upton Heath South

Foodplants:

Generally finer grasses including fescues, bents and Dogs Tail.

Behaviour:

Patrol

Atlas: Distribution map & population trends

 

Speckled Wood

Pararge aegeria

Speckled Wood upper wingsSpeckled Wood upper wings

Speckled Wood under wingsSpeckled Wood underwings

Photos clockwise from top left: Lawrie de Whalley; Penny Hawes; Lawrie de Whalley; Mel Bray

Comments: Look for this butterfly in deciduous woodland, especially along the edges, as it favours dappled sunlight.. It will often be seen in gardens as long as there are trees nearby.
When to see:

Late March to Early October.
Peak: Early to Mid May, June to Early July, August and September.

Habitat:

Lanes, hedgerows, shady glades

Where to see:

Anywhere

Foodplants:

Grass, Cocksfoot, Couch

Behaviour:

Perch/Aggressive

Atlas: Distribution map & population trends

 

Wall Brown

Lasiommata megera

Wall Brown with outspread wingsWall Brown showing some of the underwing and top wing
When to see:

May and June.
Early July to Mid September.
Late September to Mid October.
Peak: August to Early September, and Early October.

Habitat:

Downland and coasts.

Where to see:

Ballard Down, Durlston CP East, Durlston CP West, Portland Broadcroft, Portland Tout, Bindon Hill, Southfield Hogcliffe

Foodplants:

Grass, Tor, Cocksfoot, Yorkshire Fog.

Behaviour:

Perch/Patrol/Aggressive

Atlas: Distribution map & population trends