Browns (Family Nymphalidae)

Descriptions & images of the 8 species of Browns resident in Hampshire.

The 'Browns' also belong to the family Nymphalidae (but a different sub-family to the Vanessids and Fritillaries) having followed similar evolutionary paths resulting in the front pair of legs becoming dysfunctional, brush-like appendages. The common name of 'Browns' indicates the predominant colour of these butterflies with some exceptions, such as the Marbled White!  Despite the predominantly brown colouring, the group not only contains some interesting species but includes representatives which are widespread and common to one which is now very scarce in Hampshire.

Occurrence (distribution based on 1km squares) and abundance (total population) trend data, extracted from the report "The State Of The UK's Butterflies 2015" published by Butterfly Conservation, is shown for each species and indicates the change in distribution and population during the last four decades (1976 - 2014) at UK national level. 

Wingspan: ~37-47mm

 1976 - 2014 Distribution change: +57%, 1976 - 2014 Population change: +150%


The Gatekeeper's former name of Hedge Brown indicates correctly that the butterfly is likely to be encountered along hedgerows, but it is also common in other areas where there are plenty of shrubs, including many woodland rides. Whilst it has been able to extend its range northwards, its overall UK abundance has decreased markedly in the last decades and continues to do so. Nevertheless it is still widespread and quite common in Hampshire in the appropriate habitats. As shown in the photos above, the female lacks the dark patch of scent scales on the forewing. The larvae feed on various grasses.

When to see: The flight period starts in early July through until late August.

Where to see: The butterfly is likely to be encountered anywhere which meets its habitat requirements, from country lanes with hedgerows to woodland (e.g. New Forest, Bentley Wood, Noar Hill).

Wingspan: ~50-62mm

Distribution change 1976 - 2014: -62%, Population change 1976 - 2014: -58% 

The Grayling always settles with wings closed.


The Grayling is a species mainly associated with dry coastal heaths and dunes and has declined from many of its former inland heath sites and in its overall abundance. In Hampshire, it is found on dry heaths in the New Forest, several heathland areas in the north of the county, as well as on a few coastal heaths. One would be forgiven for thinking that one of the main needs of the adult butterflies is to remain invisible. They often fly only when disturbed, seeming to fly a few yards, settle again with closed wings, and disappear, the underside colouring providing almost perfect camouflage. The only time the adults display open wings (except in flight) is during courtship when the female will settle with splayed wings - a rare sight indeed. 

When to see: The flight period is from early/mid-July and lasts until early September, with the coastal colonies generally being the first to emerge.

Where to see: In the New Forest, heathland sites such as Beaulieu Heath are normally reliable. In North Hampshire Hazeley Heath is one of several locations for the species. A good coastal site is Browndown (South and North) with Browndown (South) often recording the earliest Graylings to emerge in Hampshire.

Marbled White - Melanargia galathea

Wingspan: ~52-58mm 

Distribution change 1976 - 2014: +29%, Population change 1976 - 2014: +50% 


The Marbled White, despite its name, is a member of the Browns and is widespread in Southern England. It is found on rough grassland, hillsides and meadows where it can be abundant, and can also be encountered in woodland clearings. It has a slow, flapping flight close to the ground. The females are slightly larger than the males and the marbling on their undersides is brownish in colour. The larvae feed on various grasses.

When to see: The flight period is usually from mid-June through until mid-August.

Where to see: The butterfly will usually be found in greater or lesser numbers in suitable habitat. Good sites include Magdalen Hill Down, Yew Hill and Pitt Down.

Meadow Brown - Maniola jurtina

Wingspan: ~ 40-60mm

Distribution change 1976 - 2014: -3%, Population change 1976 - 2014: +1% 


The Meadow Brown is one of our most successful species and, not surprisingly, also one of the commonest and most widespread. It is essentially a butterfly of open grasslands and meadows, but can also thrive in scrub, woodland rides, parks and even cemeteries. It is also well adapted to our climate, and can be seen on the wing in cloudy conditions and even light rain. The female butterfly has light brown splashes on the forewings, whereas the male is a more uniform chocolate brown but retains the dark eye spot in the forewing. The larvae feed on various grasses including annual meadow grass.

When to see: There is only one generation per year, but the flight period is long from early June until early September.

Where to see: The species is so widespread that it will be found anywhere meeting its loose habitat requirements. Noar Hill and Bentley Wood provide good examples of grassland/scrub and woodland locations respectively for this species.

Ringlet - Aphantopus hyperantus

Wingspan: ~42-52mm

Distribution change 1976 - 2014: +63%, Population change 1976 - 2014:+381%