Verging on Butterfly knowledge

Morning all,
In the UK we’re currently experiencing some of the best weather (depending on your view of course) I’ve seen for a few years, so of course I’ve been out walking.
My most recent stroll took me up to Ladybower reservoir in the peak district. This is a large reservoir, surrounded mostly by pine plantations, grassland, and heather moorland. The habitat which I’m chatting about today is grassland, and more specifically, grass verges.

Grass verge
A grass verge at Ladybower reservoir

Grass verges are often relatively unmanaged (perhaps getting mowed every now and then) and this leaves them open to colonisation by various plants, many of which we would often consider “weeds”. These give many species a refuge from what is often a relatively barren landscape (whether it’s concrete in the city, or monocultures – fields entirely planted with one type of crop, in the countryside). In the spring and summer, verges give a fantastic display, and are great habitat for many insect and wild flower species.
Anyway, sticking with the aim of my blog (to teach me about some of my local ecology), I thought I’d have a little look at a few of the butterfly species which were all over the place at Ladybower. I know embarrasingly little about Britain’s butterflies, so there’s no time like the present to find out about them.
The first species is the Ringlet. Adults are out and about between June and August, so it’s no surprise I found them out on my wander at the end of July. They tend to live around sheltered and damp areas.

Ringlet butterfly with wings folded

One study by Sutcliffe and Thomas (1996) showed that Ringlets follow “habitat corridors”, and don’t like to fly through dense woodlands. This is a great example of why it’s important to keep habitats connected. Habitat corridors are just like roads for these butterflies. If they lose the corridors, they can’t easily move between habitat patches (which I guess are villages in this analogy), populations can be isolated, and then they become extremely susceptible to local extinction.

Ringlet (4)
Ringlet with wings spread out

The second species is the Gatekeeper (a good name, I think you’ll agree). These are out from mid July until the end of August. They don’t occur far north of Sheffield, so I’m quite lucky to have seen this one at all! Field and Mason (2005) found that these butterflies particularly like patches of grassland next to hedgerows, so this is one of the species which could really thrive if farmers leave a strip of non-cultivated land along the edge of their fields (a topic which has had a lot of discussion over the past few years).

Gatekeeper (2)

The third species as a Small Tortoiseshell. These are one of those bright and widely distributed species, which are actually around as adults throughout the year, though they hibernate through the colder months. You may be wondering why a butterfly would want to be really bright and vibrant, when there are terrifying monsters like Blue Tits and Great Tits about the place, who are looking for a tasty butterfly to snack on. Tortoiseshells are one of many species of insect which use bright colours to warn predators that they don’t taste very nice, or are poisonous. That being said, in a study by Hagen et al. (2003), they found that Great Tits were hesitant in attacking Tortoiseshells because of their warning colours… but it seems that the butterflies generally still got eaten in the end… maybe they need some fluorescent paint?

Small tortoiseshell maybe (2)
Small Tortoiseshell

The final species (and I realise I’ve rambled on for much longer than I intended… but the clue is in the name of the blog) is the Small Skipper… I think. This is where my “butterfly beginner” card is played, as this could be a Large Skipper. I’d say I’m 70% sure it’s a Small Skipper, but maybe you know which one it is? If so, give me a shout in the comments below. In the meantime, enjoy a slightly blurry *something* Skipper.


Small skipper maybe
Probably a Small Skipper… but possibly a Large Skipper… or something else

I hope you’ve enjoyed some pretty pictures and interesting snippets of info. That info was generally gleaned from a combination of, Collins Complete British Insects (By Michael Chinery), and the relevant cited papers. Please feel free to get in touch with any feedback you might have. I feel like this post has rambled on a bit, I was hoping to make it more snappy and to the point. Perhaps that’s something to aspire to in future posts.

2 thoughts on “Verging on Butterfly knowledge

  1. Pretty sure it is indeed a small skipper. Came across this pdf which explains the difference between the small and large skippers
    It says that the large skipper has pale blotches on both the upper and lower surfaces of its wings arranged in a checkered pattern, which despite being faint are quite clear in the photo they use to demonstrate. Your skipper is lacking these markings.

    Enjoyed your post

    Ed S

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