Large dark brown butterfly with white markings

White Admiral. Photo: Mark Pike

The White Admiral is a woodland butterfly. Dorset is not a heavily wooded area, so the species is not common, and is seen more in the north and east of the county.

Where to see

Habitat: Mainly broad-leaved woodland, but also coniferous plantations before the shade becomes too dense. It tends to be found in sunny rides. Its eggs are laid on non-flowering spikes of honeysuckle, so look for stalks which dangle, clamber or weave in and out of tree branches in half shade.

Caterpillar foodplants: Honeysuckle

Best places: Piddles Wood, Stubhampton Bottom, Alners Gorse Butterfly Reserve, Studland (low numbers), Garston Wood (low numbers)

Distribution map

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

When to see

Single brood, mainly June and July

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Large

An easy butterfly to identify, partly because its habitat – shady woodland – is different to the majority of Dorset Butterflies. Its flight is also different to a lot of species: it flaps its wings, then glides gracefully, hugging the contours of the trees. It spends a lot of time in the tree tops, but may come down to nectar, particularly on bramble flowers.

The male and female are very similar, the male being just slightly smaller and darker. The upperside is dark brown, sometimes looking nearly black, The colouring of the underside can appear variable, depending on the light.

The only butterfly with which you might confuse it at a distance is the Purple Emperor, but this is a very rare butterfly in Dorset. It is a lot larger than the White Admiral, with more pointed wings, and the male looks an iridescent purple when they catch the light. Close up the differences are clear.

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.

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