Side view of a butterfly with plainish hindwings and orange forewing with a black eyespot within which is one white dot Active

Meadow Brown female. Photo: Shona Refoy

Can be found in considerable numbers where there is suitable habitat.

Where to see

Habitat: Warm open areas with tallish (0.5m) grass. Roadside verges, hedgerows, fields under suitable cultivation, woodland clearings, downland, heathland and coastal dunes.

Caterpillar foodplants: Native grasses with medium or fine leaves, including Fescues, Bents and meadow grasses, plus some broader-leaved grasses e.g. Cock's-foot, Downy Oat-grass and False Brome.

Best places: Widespread, though less common in towns where its habitat tends to be limited to the parks, cemeteries and larger gardens where the grass is not continually mown.

Distribution map

Explore the Atlas to see historical distribution trends for this species.

When to see

Main months are June and July going into August; may occasionally be seen in the months either side.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Medium

Most often confused with the Gatekeeper, but also the Ringlet.

The Meadow Brown is larger than the Gatekeeper and less orange. Its two main identifying features are the single white spot in its black eyespot (Gatekeeper has two) and the small dots on its hind underwings are black, not white, although these may be missing or up to five in number. The male spends most of its time flying to find females and so tends to have quite a few black dots which divert bird strikes away from their body, while females spend most of their time hiding in tall grass, so rarely have black dots. Females do have larger eye spots, usually concealed, but which can be flashed if attacked.

It can be quite variable, but the black eyespot is constant, though it may be reduced. The single white spot within the eyespot is fairly reliable in Dorset, though in the North of Britain it may have two, like the Gatekeeper. We do get the odd example of this in Dorset.

Male Meadow Browns tend to be plain brown on their upperwings, with maybe some limited orange around the eyespot, while females will have more, brighter orange on the forewing (but still less bright than the Gatekeeper). Underneath, the male has no orange on its hindwing, but the forewing is orange with a brown border and the same eyespot as on top; the orange may be bright enough to compare to a not-fresh Gatekeeper, so look for the other identifying marks. The male is more active than the female.

Ringlets are usually a darker brown than the Meadow Brown, and lack the single eyespot; if you can see a white fringe to the wing as it flies, it is a Ringlet. If you can see even a small amount of orange in flight your butterfly is the Meadow Brown. Ringlets have a number of prominent rings on the underwings, not found on the Meadow Brown.

Meadow Browns have a weak, fluttery flight and tend to stay at grass level.

Usually found in numbers, which can reach hundreds.

Photo gallery

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*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.

Find more Meadow Brown related content, including news and photos.