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Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

The old-gold gatekeeper got its name patrolling hedges, verges and woodland rides – aided, you might fancy, by the sharp black eyespots on its forewings, which have two white pupils.

Common names: gatekeeper, hedge brown, small meadow brown, hedge eye

Latin name: Pyronia tithonus

Appearance

Caterpillars: there are two colour forms of the larva - light brown and green.

Adults: gatekeepers are medium-sized orange and brown butterflies. They are easy to identify - look out for the black spot near its wing tip that usually contains two tiny white dots. Male and female gatekeepers are similar in appearance.

Wingspan: around 4cm.

Food plants

Caterpillars: feed at night on the tender young leaves of grasses.

Adults: nectar from bramble, wild marjoram, wood sage, common ragwort and other plants.

When to spot them

July to September.

Where to spot them

The trend away from too much ‘tidying up’ in the countryside has boosted gatekeeper numbers – they need long grass and the kind of scrub that thrives when old woods regenerate.

They are widespread across southern Britain and frequently found flitting around your ankles from flower to flower. If you’re really lucky, you might even encounter a colony numbering in the thousands. The males make small territories – sometimes a single shrub – then fly up to meet likely females fluttering by.

Top Woodland Trust woods for gatekeepers

Good places to keep lookout include ancient Plas Power Woods, outside Wrexham, which also boasts grass snakes, a waterfall and a stretch of Offa’s Dyke. There are gatekeepers too at grassy Warren Farm, near Ewell in Surrey; at Everdon Stubbs, south of Daventry in Northamptonshire; at Pant yr Eos in Moelfre, Powys; and Lady Mabel’s Wood, just outside Wigan in Greater Manchester.

Discover gatekeepers in other woods too. To find woods near you, type your town or postcode into our search box.

Fascinating gatekeeper facts

  • Male gatekeepers have a prominent band of dark scales running diagonally across the forewings, and are noticeably smaller than the females.
  • It has become scarcer in areas where verge mowing, hedge removal and the obsessive 'tidying up' of the countryside has occurred.
  • Caterpillars feed at night. During the day they hide head-downwards at the base of grass tussocks.
  • Caterpillars hibernate in September when they are still quite small. They become active again from March and achieve full growth by late May or early June, when they pupate to become adults.