For the next three weeks, members of the public across the UK have the chance to get involved in the big butterfly count, a nationwide survey which will help to indicate not only the status of the UK’s butterfly populations, but also the health of our environment in general. As butterflies are particularly sensitive to environmental changes, butterfly declines can provide an important early warning system for other potential impacts on our wildlife.
With the UK having been subjected to unseasonably heavy rain over the last few months, conservationists are concerned that butterfly species may be struggling this year and therefore the count is more important than ever. Around 34,000 people took part in the big butterfly count 2011, and this year the organisers hope to make it even bigger.
If you would like to take part simply head over to the big butterfly count website, download an ID chart and spend 15 minutes recording the species you see in your garden, local park, woodland or field. Then all you need to do is submit your sightings online. Who knows, you might be lucky enough to spot some of these beauties…
Named after the white ‘streak’ across the fore- and hindwings, the wings of the green hairstreak are actually are dull brown on the uppersides, but bright green on the underside. The pupae of this species produce audible squeaks to attract ants, which are then thought to bury the pupae where they will hibernate until the following spring.
Six-spot burnet moth
The six-spot burnet moth feeds on the nectar of a large range of flowers, with wild thyme being a particular favourite. A brightly coloured day-flying moth, the name is somewhat of a misnomer as the number of spots can vary between individuals, and spots may be fused in some cases.
A widespread and common species, the large white is the biggest of the white butterflies found in the UK, with a wingspan of up to 7cm. Females can be distinguished from males by the two black spots and a black streak on the fore-wings. The colourful caterpillars of this species consume mustard oils in their diet, making them very distasteful to birds.
A migratory species, red admiral adults emerge after hibernation in the UK between January and March, and are joined by butterflies that have travelled from North Africa and southern Europe between May and August. Adults are often seen in gardens feeding on nectar or rotten fruit.
The common blue is the most widespread of the blue butterflies in Britain. While the males are a striking bluish-violet, the females are more brown in colour, with orange spots near the margins of the wings. Favouring sunny, sheltered areas, the common blue is typically seen in woodland clearings, coastal dunes, road verges and cemeteries.
A common woodland butterfly, the speckled wood has numerous eye-spots on its wings. The male tends to perch in patches of sunlight, intercepting intruding butterflies. Males may also patrol an area in search of females, who lay single eggs on blades of grass after mating.
While the female brimstone is a greenish-white colour, the male is bright yellow and it is widely believed that this species was the inspiration for the name ‘butterfly’. This species has a very long proboscis, and can exploit flowers with very deep nectarines, including runner bean flowers and teasels.
A beautifully patterned butterfly, the small tortoiseshell has wings comprising black patches, areas of bright yellowish-orange and a fringe of blue spots, making this species instantly recognisable. The caterpillars feed on nettles and are common in areas of human activity.
A dark brown species with an eye-spot on each wing, the female meadow brown can be distinguished from the male by the presence of an orange patch on the forewings. Although found in a range of habitats, this species has suffered as a result of the decline in the extent of hay meadows in Britain.
One of the most beautiful butterflies in the UK, the peacock butterfly earns its name from the stunning eyespots on the wings which frighten predators, or divert birds from attacking the body. Males and females are similar in appearance but the males are slightly smaller and will defend territories in sunny locations, chasing any females that pass by.
And for those of you outside of the UK, what species can you find in your local area? Do you have any favourites? Let us know!
Claire Lewis, ARKive Media Researcher