Dark brown butterfly with cream spots on a fern Active

Speckled Wood male. Photo: Ken Dolbear.

You may see this butterfly throughout nine months of the year, but individual butterflies only live around a week.

Where to see

Habitat: The Speckled Wood likes dappled shade. This may be in a wood, where the trees are not too dense, or along a lane with shading hedges - almost anywhere where there are a number of nearby trees throwing shade.

Caterpillar foodplants: Grasses. Known to use Cocksfoot and Couch.

Best places: Widespread, including gardens and urban areas. Very good numbers at Kinson Common, Piddles Wood, Ballard Down, Chard Junction (old gravel workings).

Distribution map

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

When to see

April to October, with odd sightings beyond.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Medium

This butterfly flies in more shade than almost any other, which is your first clue to identification. Whilst Silver-washed Fritillary also favour woodland, they tend to be in openings in the trees, and they are both a lot bigger and much more golden. The Speckled Wood’s background brown is a brown veering towards grey, not a warm brown, though the light makes a difference.

The upperside is dappled, like its habitat. There are a number of creamy yellow patches on its forewings, and three black circular eyes on the hindwings, which are surrounded by cream circles, and have a pale dot in their centres; there is a similar eye near the tip of the forewing. It has a chequered brown fringe.

The underwings are superb camouflage, helping the butterfly blend into its leafy dappled habitat. Again, the forewings are more patterned, and have one eyespot near the top. The hindwing is mottled shades of light grey and light brown, with a hint of the three eyespots.

Females have larger and more defined cream patches than males, though this is difficult to distinguish, as are the male scent brands. Second brood males and females tend to be darker than the earlier broods.

Males will monopolise an individual sunny patch, chasing away other males. If you see a Speckled Wood guarding a patch of sunlight and fighting off intruders, it is a male. In very warm weather, this ‘perching’ behaviour (i.e staying in the same place) may give way to ‘patrolling’ i.e. flying about, as the temperature is higher. Either behaviour is a way of finding a female with which to mate. Males are more likely to be seen than females, who spend more time hidden in tree tops or bushes.

The perching behaviour can be helpful – if you see a (male) Speckled Wood and it flies away, wait – it may well come back to the same place.

Although you will often see Speckled Woods at human height, you will rarely see them nectar on flowers: they mainly feed by drinking honeydew in the tree canopy.

Photo gallery

Tip: Click thumbnails to view full-size images.

*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 Speckled Wood related content, including news and photos.