Butterfly with brown edges to its wings, and orange inside areas with dark slashes and eyespots on the forewwings.

Gatekeeper male. Photo: Shona Refoy

Family: Browns
Size: Medium   Wingspan: 44mm

Also called the Hedge Brown, this is a very common butterfly, and a lovely sign of summer’s arrival

Where to see

  • Habitat: Although the caterpillars need grass to eat, the adults are found around bushes/hedges and field edges, so both are needed.
  • Caterpillar foodplants: Fine and medium-leaved grasses: Bents, Fescues, Meadow Grasses and Couch. They are fussy about the situation, prefering medium to tall plants in warm spots on the sunny side of a shrub.
  • Best places: Widespread. More in the countryside, but will be seen in gardens with suitable habitat nearby.

Distribution map

Gatekeeper was recorded from these 1km squares in Dorset (2015-19).

  •     1 record
  •     2-9 records
  •     10+ records
Explore the Atlas to see historical distribution trends for this species.

When to see

July is the peak time, going into August. Small numbers are seen in the months either side.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*

Compare flight times for all species.

This year and last*

Browse the sightings archive.

What to look for

The adults will be found nectaring on open flowers: their proboscis is short, so deeper flower shapes do not suit them; Bramble is a favourite, but also Marjoram, Common Fleabane and Ragwort.

Only really capable of being confused with the female Meadow Brown, which is bigger and less bright (though brighter than the male Meadow Brown).

With open wings, Gatekeepers are best identified by looking in the black eyespot at the tip of the forewing: within it are two small white dots, whilst the Meadow Brown only has one white spot there. It may also show small white dots on the upper hindwing.

Looking at the underwings, you can again see the eyespot with its two white dots, but there are also small white spots on the hindwing; these are black on the Meadow Brown.

It is smaller and usually more orange and therefore brighter than the Meadow Brown, with the males especially bright. The Meadow Brown appears more brown.

The markings on this butterfly can be quite variable.

Overwinter stage: Caterpillar

Photo gallery

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Find more Gatekeeper related content, including news and photos.
*Note: The charts shown on this page are drawn only from casual sightings submitted to this website. Records from this website will be added to a lot more data collected throughout the year and used to compile the five-yearly Butterfly Atlases for Dorset and the UK.