Butterflies and moths are known scientifically as Lepidoptera
(meaning scaley wings), because their wings are covered with thousands
of tiny, overlapping scales. There are about 170,000 known species of
Lepidoptera, about one tenth of these are butterflies.
In the UK we have 58 main types of butterfly.
If you would like to identify a butterfly or two I hope these pictures will help you. Here are the 14 most common butterflies found in the UK. Click on a picture for a larger view and more information.
Comma. This is a variable butterfly: the first generation is lighter and more brightly coloured than the second. Wingspan 45-60 mm
Brimstone. The sulphur-yellow uppersides of the wings of the male Brimstone make this species easy to identify in flight. There is a view that the word 'butterfly' originates from the yellow colour of male Brimstones. By contrast, the wings of the female are very pale green, almost white. When the butterflies roost among foliage, the angular shape and the strong veining of their wings closely resemble leaves. Wingspan 58 mm
The Gatekeeper butterfly has orange-brown wings. Near the edge of the forewing is a black spot containing 2 white pupils. The underside of the hindwing has white-centered spots. Wingspan 40-47mm
The Green-veined White butterfly is a white butterfly of similar size to the Small White but has prominently outlined veins. Males have a black tip to the forewing, a black spot on the upperside of the forewing and a black spot on the top edge of the hindwing. Females have additional black spot & dash on upperside of forewing. Wingspan 50mm.
Large White. Females can be recognised by the presence of two black spots and a black streak on the forewing. The undersides of the hindwings of both sexes are bright yellow with a slight black scaling. Wingspan 55-70 mm
Marbled White. Although quite variable in pattern, this is a very distinctive black and white butterfly. In some forms the ground clour is strong yellow. The sexes are alike although females tend to be larger and paler. Wingspan 45-55 mm
Meadow Brown. This extremely common species has many variations. The undersides of both sexes are similar with orange forewings and brown hindwings, but females have more clearly defined light and dark regions. Wingspan 40-55 mm
Peacock. The patterning on this exquisite butterfly is unique. In contrast to the striking upperside the underside is dark brown with purplish black lines, providing good camouflage. Wingspan 55-60 mm
Purple Hairstreak. The upperside of the male is deep purple with black borders. Females are brown with patches of purple. Wingspan 45-55 mm
The ringlet. Males are blackish on the upperside, with a variable number of indistinct eyespots, while the females are larger and paler. Wingspan 40-45 mm
Small Heath.The Small Heath is an inconspicuous butterfly that flies only in sunshine and rarely settles more than a metre above the ground. Its wings are always kept closed when at rest. Wingspan 33-40mm
The Small Skipper is a butterfly of rough grassland, field
margins, hedgerows, woodland margins, rides and glades. The
Essex Skipper butterfly is almost identical to the Small Skipper.
The difference between the Small Skipper and the Essex Skipper
butterfly is determined by the color of the underside of the tip of
Small Skipper: undersides of clubs of antennae are reddish-orange.
Essex Skipper: undersides of clubs of antennae are black. Wingspan 30mm
Wall Brown. Apart from the far north of England, high parts of the Pennines and Scotland where distribution is rare, the Wall Brown is a common butterfly throughout much of the British Isles. Wingspan 44mm
The Common Blue is the most widespread blue butterfly in Britain
and Ireland and is found in a variety of grassy habitats.
The brightly coloured males are conspicuous but females are more secretive. The colour of the upperwings of females varies from almost completely brown in southern England to predominantly blue in western Ireland and Scotland, but the colour is variable within local populations with some striking examples. Wingspan 25-40 mm
Adonis Blue. This beautiful butterfly is one of the most characteristic species of southern chalk downland, where it flies low over short-grazed turf.
The Bath White is a scarce immigrant to Britain and Ireland, although there have been some years when it was more abundant. In common with many other Whites, the species migrates northwards across Europe each year, breeding for a few generations but usually failing to survive winters in central and northern Europe. Wingspan 40-50 mm
Bergers Clouded Yellow. In recent decades the Berger's Clouded Yellow has been the rarest of the three Colias species that migrate to Britain and Ireland, and it has been recorded only from England.
The Black Hairstreak is one of our most elusive butterflies found only in thickets of Blackthorn in a small part of the East Midlands of England.
Black Veined White. Extinct in the UK since c1925
Brown Argus. Both sexes are brown with marginal, orange-red lunules. Females are larger with bigger spots. Wingspan 20-30 mm
The Brown Hairstreak is an elusive butterfly that spends most of its life either high in the tree canopy or hidden amongst hedgerows. Wingspan 34-36 mm
The male Chalkhill Blue is paler and, apart from the Large Blue, larger than other blue butterflies seen in Britain and Ireland.
The Clouded Yellow butterfly is a migrant species. If the winds are favourable, then we may get more of these butterflies than usual in a particular year. Wingspan 57-62 mm
Dark Green Fritillary. This large and powerful butterfly is one of our most widespread fritillaries and can be seen flying rapidly in a range of open sunny habitats. The males look similar to the High Brown Fritillary, which is far rarer but sometimes flies with them on bracken-covered hillsides. The two can be distinguished from the underwing markings, visible when they are feeding on flowers such as thistles. 63-69 mm
Dingy Skipper. The Dingy Skipper is dull coloured, but is nethertheless a distinctive species with delicate white patterning on a greyish brown background. Wingspan 25-30 mm
Duke of Burgundy. This small butterfly frequents scrubby grassland and sunny woodland clearings, typically in very low numbers. The adults rarely visit flowers and most sightings are of the territorial males as they perch on a prominent leaf at the edge of scrub. The females are elusive and spend much of their time resting or flying low to the ground looking for suitable egg-laying sites.
Essex Skipper. The difference between the Small Skipper and the
Essex Skipper butterfly is determined by the color of the underside
of the tip of the antennae.
Small Skipper: undersides of clubs of antennae are reddish-orange.
Essex Skipper: undersides of clubs of antennae are black.
The Glanville Fritillary is virtually restricted to coastal
landslips on the southern half of the Isle of Wight and on the
It was named after Lady Eleanor Glanville who was the first to capture British specimens in Lincolnshire during the 1690s.
Grayling. Habitat: sand dunes and other coastal areas of British
Larval Food Plants: Grasses Wingspan 56-61mm
Green Hairstreak. The upperside of this common hairstreak is a dull brown. Males can be distinguished by the small oval patch of scent scales on the forewing. Both sexes have a beautiful,green underside. Wingspan 25-30 mm
The grizzled skipper can be distinguished from other skippers by the white markings on its hindwings Wingspan 20-25 mm
Heath Fritillary. A very rare species in the UK, just a few colonies in the SE and SW of England. Wingspan 34-46 mm
The High brown fritillary is fast declining in the UK and is now quite rare. Wingspan 50-62 mm
Holly Blue. Males are pale lilac-blue with narrow, black borders, whlie females have broad, blackish brown borders. Wingspan 20-30 mm
Large Heath. This is a very variable species with many sub species. The ground clour and the spots can vary. Males are usually brighter Wingspan 30-40 mm
The large skipper is easily distinguished from other species by its large size and lack of strong patterning on its wings, 25-30mm
Long-tailed Blue. Very rarely seen. Males are violet-blue with narrow blackish brown borders. Females have dark forewing margins, while the hindwings are dark brown. Wingspan 25-40 mm
Lulworth Skipper. Habitat: grassy slopes on Dorset coast around Lulworth cove. Wingspan 25-27 mm
Marsh Fritillary. The upperside of both sexes is orange, cream and brown. The underside is paler with fewer black markings. Females are larger than males. Wingspan 30-45 mm
Orange Tip. Females have black or dark grey wingtips. Span 40-50 mm
Painted Lady. Very distinctive and easy to recognise. Wingspan 50-60 mm
The Pale Clouded Yellow is a rare visitor to Britain and Ireland.
It is probably very rare or absent in most years, but occasionally
arrives in some numbers and breeds here, although it is unlikely to
survive our winters. Close similarities with the Berger's Clouded
Yellow and females of the helice form of the Clouded Yellow make
identification of this migrant extremely difficult in the field.
The Pale Clouded Yellow is a rare visitor to Britain and Ireland. It is probably very rare or absent in most years, but occasionally arrives in some numbers and breeds here, although it is unlikely to survive our winters. Close similarities with the Berger's Clouded Yellow and females of the helice form of the Clouded Yellow make identification of this migrant extremely difficult in the field.
Purple Emporer. These butterflies fly around the treetops. Wingspan 60-75 mm
Red Admiral. Well known strong flying butterfly, wingspan 55-60 mm
The Scotch Argus occurs, not surprisingly in Scotland, but also in a couple of places near the Lake District in England.
Silver Spotted Skipper. Dark brown large skipper with orange markings on the forewings. 45-60 mm
Silver Studded Blue. Males are a deep purplish blue with white wing margins while females are brown with marginal orange spots. Wingspan 20-30 mm
Silver Washed Fritillary. The swooping flight of this large and graceful butterfly is one of the most beautiful sights to be found in woodland during high summer.
Small Blue. Our smallest resident butterfly is easily overlooked, partly because of its size and dusky colouring, but partly because it is often confined to small patches of sheltered grassland where its sole foodplant, Kidney Vetch, is found.
Small Copper. Common species 25-30 mm
Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary. Distinctive upperside pattern of black spots on orange. 30-50 mm
Small Tortoise Shell. One of the most common butterflies from spring to autumn. 45-50 mm
Small White. Females are more yewllow in colour with two black spots on the forewing. Wingspan 45-55 mm
Speckled Wood. Often feed from bramble blossoms. 40-45 mm
Swallowtail. Very distinctive pattern. Found in fen and meadowland. Large 70-100 mm
White Admiral. Upperside black & white, underside reddish brown and white. 20-25 mm
White Letter Hairstreak. White letter W on underside of wing. 30-40 mm
Wood White. Long slender abdomen.Males have distinctive grey spot at tip of forewing. 40-50 mm