Thursday, 17 July 2014

How well do you know your butterflies?

David Fieldhouse, Seasonal Education Officer

Butterflies are some of the most beautiful and well-loved invertebrates in the UK. Many can reminisce fondly of the sight of peacock butterflies flocking to a lilac or buddleia on a hot day, the vibrant flash of blue as a male blue flies by in search of a female to woo, or the lazy flapping of a dark green fritillary’s wings. Butterflies seem to embody the best of the British summer, as many species will only take wing on hot, windless days with full sun where they will be free to flit from flower to flower in search of nectar.

July is by far the best month of the year to see butterflies. The wonderful thing about these beguiling creatures is that you’re never far away from them. Visit your local woodland and you’ll have a good chance of seeing the ragged outline of a comma or the distinctive spots of a speckled wood. NWT Foxley Wood is a particularly good site to see the white admiral whose elegance of flight is equalled only by the purple emperor. 

If you’re closer to the coast then keep an eye out for the small heath weakly fluttering close to the ground or the large skipper. NWT Holme Dunes is a great site for these butterflies. Why not stop for a cup of tea at our newly refurbished cafĂ© and visitor centre while you’re there?

Brown argus, photo by Bob Carpenter
We are lucky enough to have a truly diverse network of habitats in Norfolk including chalky heathlands such as those found at NWT Roydon Common. More than thirty different species of butterfly have been seen at this site including the green hairstreak, which is the only UK butterfly with truly green colouration and the neat and smartly coloured brown argus.

No blog about butterflies would be complete without a mention of the jewel in the crown for butterfly enthusiasts and the public alike; the swallowtail butterfly. With a wingspan of 9cm the swallowtail is the largest UK butterfly. To see one flying powerfully over Broadland vegetation is a truly magnificent sight. They seem to be one of the few butterflies which fly with true purpose. If you go down to NWT Hickling Broad there is a high chance of seeing swallowtail caterpillars on milk parsley plants at this time of the year, their bright green colour and rubbery skin lend them an almost alien appearance. Whilst you’re at Hickling it’s also worth taking a trip on one of our boats to climb the tree tower to get a glimpse of the elusive purple hairstreak amongst the tops of the oak trees. 

How good do you think you are at identifying these delicate creatures?
Below are eight pictures, each portraying a small part of the wing of a particular species of butterfly found in the UK, how many can you identify?

Photographs courtesy of; Richard Porter, Bob Carpenter, Davis Rose, Annabelle Tipper, Paul Treloar & Elizabeth Dack.


  1. Gatekeeper, white Admiral, Swallowtail,Holly blue,Brimstone, Peacock, Comma, Small Tortoiseshell

  2. Gatekeeper, Speckled Wood, Swallowtail, Silver-Studded Blue, Brimstone, Peacock, Comma, Small Copper.