The Butterflies of Hampshire
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Speckled Wood - Pararge aegeria
The aptly named Speckled Wood flies in partially shaded woodland with dappled sunlight. The male usually perches in a small pool of sunlight, from where it rises rapidly to intercept any intruder. Both sexes feed on honeydew in the tree tops and are rarely seen feeding on flowers, except early and late in the year when aphid activity is low. The range of this butterfly contracted during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but has spread back since the 1920.
Gatekeeper - Pyronia tithonus
As its English names suggest, the Gatekeeper (also known as the Hedge Brown) is often encountered where clumps of flowers grow in gateways and along hedgerows and field edges. It is often seen together with the Meadow Brown and Ringlet, from which it is easily distinguished when basking or nectaring with open wings. The colour and patterning of the wings are very variable and about a dozen aberrations have been named. Favourite nectar sources include Wild Marjoram, Common Fleabane, ragworts, and Bramble. It is widespread in southern Britain and its range has extended northwards in recent years.
Ringlet - Aphantopus hyperantus
When newly emerged, the Ringlet has a velvety appearance and is almost black, with a white fringe to the wings. The small circles on the underwings, which give the butterfly its name, vary in number and size and may be enlarged and elongated or reduced to small white spots; occasionally they lack the black ring. Bramble and Wild Privet flowers are favourite nectar sources, and adults continue to fly with a characteristic bobbing flight in dull, cloudy conditions when most other butterflies are inactive.
Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary - Boloria selene
This fritillary is similar in size and habits to the Pearl-bordered Fritillary but is more widespread and occurs in damper, grassy habitats as well as woodland clearings and moorland. The adults fly close to the ground, stopping frequently to take nectar from flowers such as Bramble and thistles. It can be identified from the more numerous whitish pearls on the underside hind wings, the outer ones bordered by black chevrons, and from the larger black central dot. The butterfly has undergone a severe decline in England.
Pearl-bordered Fritillary - Boloria euphrosyne
Pearl-bordered Fritillary distribution This is one of the earliest fritillaries to emerge and can be found as early as April in woodland clearings or rough hillsides with bracken. It flies close to the ground, stopping regularly to feed on spring flowers such as Bugle. It can be distinguished from the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary by the two large silver 'pearls' and row of seven outer 'pearls' on the underside hind wing, and also the red (as opposed to black) chevrons around the outer pearls and the small central spot on the hind wing. The butterfly was once very widespread but has declined rapidly in recent decades, and is now highly threatened in England and Wales.
Silver-washed Fritillary - Argynnis paphia
The swooping flight of this large and graceful butterfly is one of the most beautiful sights to be found in woodland during high summer. It is named after the silver streaks on the underside which can be viewed as it stops to feed on flowers such as Bramble. Although the butterfly is seen mostly in sunny glades and rides, it actually breeds in the shadier parts of adjacent woodland. In southern England, a small proportion of females have wings that are bronze-green, known as the form valezina. The Silver-washed Fritillary declined during the twentieth century, especially in England and Wales, but has spread noticeably during recent decades.
White Admiral - Limenitis camilla
The White Admiral is a spectacular woodland butterfly, with white-banded black wings and a distinctive delicate flight: short periods of wing beats, followed by long glides. Adults are often found nectaring on Bramble flowers in rides and clearings. It is a fairly shade-tolerant butterfly, flying in dappled sunlight to lay eggs on Honeysuckle. Population monitoring has shown a dramatic decline in the last 20 years for reasons that are as yet unclear.
Purple Emperor - Apatura iris
This magnificent butterfly flies high in the tree-tops of well-wooded landscapes in central-southern England where it feeds on aphid honeydew and tree sap. The adults are extremely elusive and occur at low densities over large areas. The males occasionally descend to the ground, usually in mid-morning, where they probe for salts either from road surfaces or from animal dung. The Purple Emperor declined steadily during the twentieth century and is now restricted to some of the larger woods in southern England. There has been a recent slight re-expansion in some areas. There are more pages on this species with an indepth look at its behaviour and where and when to see it in Hampshire.
Duke of Burgundy - Hamearis lucina
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. The Duke of Burgundy is found in scattered colonies across southern England. It has declined substantially in recent decades, especially in woodlands. There are more pages on this species especially on the Chalk Downland where this butterfly is more common in Hampshire.
White-letter Hairstreak - Satyrium w-album
The White-letter Hairstreak is a small butterfly with an erratic, spiralling flight typical of the hairstreaks. It is distinguished by a strongly-defined white 'W' mark across the undersides. The dark upper sides are seen only in flight as the butterflies always settle with their wings closed. Adults are difficult to see because they spend so much time in the tree canopy, although they occasionally come to ground level to nectar on flowers near elm trees or scrub saplings. The species declined during the 1970s when its foodplants were reduced by Dutch Elm Disease, but it seems now to be recovering in some areas.
Purple Hairstreak - Favonius quercus
This handsome butterfly is widely distributed throughout southern areas wherever there are oak trees; even a solitary tree may support a colony. It is frequently overlooked as adults remain largely in the canopy where the main adult food source is honeydew; they fly more commonly in the evening of a warm summer's day. They are only driven down to seek fluid and nectar during prolonged drought, as occurred in 1995-6.
Brown Hairstreak - Thecla betulae
The Brown Hairstreak is an elusive butterfly that spends most of its life either high in the tree canopy or hidden amongst hedgerows. It is worth looking up at prominent Ash trees along wood edges to see if small clusters of adults may be flitting around a 'master' tree where they congregate to mate and feed on aphid honeydew. Alternatively, adults sometimes feed lower down on flowers such as Hemp-agrimony, Common Fleabane, and Bramble. The females are most frequently seen as they disperse widely along hedgerows where they lay conspicuous white eggs on young Blackthorn. The butterfly is locally distributed in southern Britain and has undergone a substantial decline due to hedgerow removal and annual flailing, which removes eggs. Over the last few years the Brown Hairstreaks range has expanded due to more monitoring of Blackthorn thickets, it is certainly under-recorded, and it is worth looking for in the Autumn as the female lays her eggs on Blackthorn, or in the winter looking for the eggs, and this has proved to be fruitful as many 'new' areas have been discovered, in Hampshire.
Chalk & Limestone Downland Butterflies
Marbled White - Melanargia galathea
The Marbled White is a distinctive and attractive black and white butterfly, unlikely to be mistaken for any other species. In July it flies in areas of unimproved grassland and can occur in large numbers on southern downland. It shows a marked preference for purple flowers such as Wild Marjoram, Field Scabious, thistles, and knapweeds. Adults may be found roosting halfway down tall grass stems.
Small Heath - Coenonympha pamphilus
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. The number of broods and the flight periods are variable and adults may be seen continuously from late April to September on some sites in our area. This relatively widespread butterfly can occupy a range of habitat types and, although its range has changed little, many colonies have disappeared in recent decades.
Dark Green Fritillary - Argynnis aglaja
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. In some parts of Hampshire it can be found in woodland areas such as Bentley Wood, Creech Wood and West Wood. Mainly found on the chalk and limestone it has a very powerful flight and when it stops to feed it can be approached quite readily, and it mainly feeds on Thistles and Knapweed plants. The female is larger and has a more darker tinge to its patterning on top of the wings, and usually is seen deep in the grass at rest, after laying her eggs on Hairy Violets.
Green Hairstreak - Callophrys rubi
The Green Hairstreak holds its wings closed, except in flight, showing only the green underside with its faint white streak. The extent of this white marking is very variable; it is frequently reduced to a few white dots and may be almost absent. Males and females look similar and are most readily told apart by their behaviour: rival males may be seen in a spiralling flight close to shrubs, while the less conspicuous females are more often encountered while laying eggs.
Small Copper - Lycaena phlaeas
The Small Copper is usually seen in ones and twos, but in some years large numbers may be found at good sites. Males are territorial, often choosing a piece of bare ground or a stone on which to bask and await passing females. They behave aggressively towards any passing insects, returning to the same spot when the chase is over. Though it remains a common and widespread species, the Small Copper declined throughout its range during the twentieth century.