Butterfly body language

Finding a mate is one of the biggest challenges facing any animal which relies on sexual reproduction. For butterflies, the process of finding, recognising and attracting a mate usually rests on a combination of sight and scent (1). The task of finding, or locating a mate is usually carried out by males, although females can…

Common but extremely beautiful: The small tortoiseshell

We are in the middle of The big butterfly count which is a nationwide survey run by Butterfly Conservation, Friday 14 July to Sunday 6 August, to assess the status of the nation’s butterflies (and moths). The Small tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) is one of the species the Great British Public is being asked to look out for, partly because sightings were significantly…

Bright iridescent patches are honest signals!

Males butterflies in the family Lycaenidae, the so-called Blues, typically have brightly coloured, iridescent colours on the upper (dorsal) surfaces of their wings. Vivid blue iridescence such as this on the Purple Sapphire (Heliophorus epicles) shown here, is usually to do with courtship and mate recognition. The brightly coloured, iridescent males rely on so-called, structural colouration (described below), which…

Red Admirals – European migrants

Migrant Red Admirals Vanessa atalanta (L.), usually arrive in the UK during May and June each year. Like the closely related butterfly, The Painted Lady, Vanessa cardui (L.), these migrations of Red admirals originate from countries around the Mediterranean – possibly as far south as the North African coast. (2) The butterflies fly north on southerly winds to feed on new…

Tigers mating

The Plain Tiger, Danaus chrysippus (Linnaeus, 1758), is a butterfly with an enormous distribution – from West Africa to New Zealand (1, 2). There are a large number of different forms or subspecies comprising what is called a ‘species complex’. This is a name given to a group of insects by taxonomists when they don’t really know,…

Bluff and deception in Blues

The Longbanded Silverline (Spindasis lohita), Family Lycaenidae, is a beautiful insect with a remarkable structure – a tail, or ‘false head’ – at the end of its hind wing. There is a bright orange tornal patch – the tornus is the posterior corner of the butterfly wing – on both sides of the wing. There is also a…

Courting Jezebels

I spent some time observing and photographing Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete indica) butterflies feeding and courting on Bougainvillea flowers in Thailand. These beautiful and very common butterflies are often seen flitting around the tops of trees, coming down to feed on flowering plants later in the day (1, 2). Their ubiquity does not detract from their beauty.…

Weaver’s Fritillary

It is rather ironic that this little butterfly, which was named by a 19th Century British entomologist, does not occur in the UK! Weaver’s fritillary (Boloria dia) occurs throughout mainland Europe, and is found just across the Channel in northern France (see distribution map, below). It is also called the Violet Fritillary, a name which…

Beautiful Cleopatra

The Cleopatra is not a butterfly we see in the UK although a few individuals have occasionally appeared in southern England, perhaps as a result of hitch-hiking on a passing ship! (1) It is not markedly different from the Brimstone until the male opens his wings during flight and reveals beautiful orange patches on the…