Two eye-catching butterflies on stone Active

Peacocks. Photo: Brian Arnold

Family: Vanessids
Size: Large   Wingspan: 66mm

A familiar butterfly in our gardens.

Where to see

  • Habitat: Widespread in towns and countryside, including gardens.
  • Caterpillar foodplants: Stinging nettles
  • Best places: Anywhere there are flowers to provide nectar.

Distribution map

Peacock 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

Generally single brooded, emerging in July and lasting through the following spring, but there may be an occasional second brood in the south of the UK. Seen on the wing for most months of the year from March.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*

Compare flight times for all species.

This year and last*

Browse the sightings archive.

What to look for

You may encounter the adult butterfly on the wing from March through to October. Males and females are very similar.

This is a large butterfly, and there is no butterfly at all similar from above. From below, they are our darkest butterfly; the Comma is also dark, but the ragged edges to its wings make it easy to differentiate.

The Peacock has several lines of defence against predators: 1) When their wings are folded they are dark and very difficult to see. 2) When attacked, they can flash their eyespots and hiss, by rubbing their wings together. 3) If they are attacked by birds, the big ‘eyespots’ on their wings fool the predator into thinking they are eyes and attacking this part of the wing, thus only harming the wing rather than the more vulnerable body. 4) Not only can they hiss, but they can produce ultrasonic clicks, which deter bats.

You may find the adult butterfly (which is one of only six which overwinters as an adult) in your shed, hibernating over the winter. In the wild they probably hibernate in hollow trees.

This is a species where, around June, you may be aware of the black spiny caterpillars, which will be seen in large numbers on stinging nettles.

Overwinter stage: Adult

Photo gallery

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Find more Peacock 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.