On a wing and a prayer: Census highlights butterflies' plight

The latest census of British butterflies has revealed how climate change is threatening their survival. Michael McCarthy introduces the beautiful creatures that future generations may never see

A A A

SMALL TORTOISESHELL (Aglais urticae )

Perhaps the most familiar of all our butterflies, the small tortoiseshell will flock to the branches of buddleia, the "butterfly bush". Hibernates in sheds, garages and even houses, tucked away in corners. Like the brimstone, it flies for much of the year. Its caterpillars feed on nettles.

PEACOCK (Inachis io )

The most unmistakable of Britain's butterflies, with its large false eyes on each wing like those on a peacock's tail. The peacock is another butterfly that hibernates and so can be seen on the wing early in the year. Its caterpillars feed on nettles, like those of small tortoiseshell and red admiral.

GRIZZLED SKIPPER (Pyrgus malvae)

An attractive small butterfly of wildflower meadows and chalk downs in southern England, the grizzled skipper overwinters as a chrysalis and hatches in about May. There may be a second generation in years when the summer is warm, and these butterflies fly in August.

SMALL COPPER (Lycaena phlaeas)

This small jewel of a butterfly is very active and indeed aggressive for its size, investigating and chasing off any other passing insects. It is found in a wide range of habitats and lays its eggs on wild sorrel plants. Adults emerge in May; a second brood flies in September.

ADONIS BLUE (Lysandra bellargus )

The intense, vivid enamel-like blue colour of this insect has given it its name, for Adonis was the beautiful young man of Greek mythology chosen by Venus to be her lover.

A butterfly of the chalk downland, formerly declining but now on the way back. On the wing from mid-May.

PAINTED LADY (Cynthia cardui)

Every year, bands of strong-flying painted ladies migrate from southern Europe and even from North Africa to Britain, in a journey at least as ambitious as bird migrations. Some years see a huge influx of thousands, while in others they are scarce. They arrive here in late May to early June.

ORANGE TIP (Anthocharis cardamines)

One of the true signs of spring is the first exhilarating glimpse of an orange tip, which is usually the first butterfly to emerge from its overwintered chrysalis (rather than having overwintered as an adult by hibernating). Its food plant is garlic mustard. On the wing from late March onwards.

SILVER-WASHED FRITILLARY (Argynnis paphia)

One of the loveliest of all our woodland butterflies and the largest member of the fritillary family, this is an insect of the oak woods in high summer, floating magically through the trees like an orange-and-black saucer. On the wing in July and August. Still relatively common.

RED ADMIRAL (Vanessa atalanta)

Many people's favourite British butterfly because of its splendidly handsome scarlet, black and white colouring, the red admiral is mainly an immigrant to Britain in the spring, although some adults are starting to overwinter and survive. On the wing from May right through to the end of the autumn.

MARBLED WHITE (Melanargia galathea)

One of the most typical and distinctive butterflies of chalk downland and chalk slopes, the marbled white can look like a flying pocket chessboard. It lays its eggs on grasses, overwinters as a caterpillar, and flies in mid-summer, when it can be abundant. Its range is expanding from southern England.

BRIMSTONE (Gonepteryx rhamni)

The word "butterfly" was probably first used to described this striking yellow insect, before being extended to all butterfly species. It is the first and last butterfly seen each year, flying from February to November because it overwinters as an adult and flies as soon as it wakes.

HIGH BROWN FRITILLARY (Argynnis adippe)

Britain's fastest-declining butterfly, the high brown has decreased by more than 90 per cent in the last 20 years, due to habitat loss. Many woodland rides are being overgrown because of lack of management. The species is largely confined to the southern Lake District, parts of Wales, and Dartmoor.

PURPLE EMPEROR (Apatura iris)

Its majestic colours made this the most sought-after British butterfly by Victorian collectors; it is now just as eagerly pursued by butterfly watchers. Hard to see, because it frequents the tops of oak trees, but it will descend in the morning. A high summer insect, on the wing in July.

SWALLOWTAIL (Papilio machaon)

Wow. Britain's most spectacular insect, the largest butterfly to reside in this country, and one of the scarcest and most specialised in its habitat. It survives only in parts of the Norfolk Broads where there is plenty of milk parsley to eat. On the wing from late May to early July.

LARGE WHITE (Pieris brassicae)

Large whites and small whites were once lumped together as "cabbage whites". They used to cover cabbage fields and allotments in fluttering white clouds and were regarded as major pests. They still feed on brassicas, plants of the cabbage family, but there are fewer of them around these days.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

£120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

£25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee