Butterfly identification: what do butterflies look like?

Orange tip butterfly
Look out for butterflies like this orange tip (Photo: Richard Becker/WTML)

We’re now heading into the peak of the butterfly season. How many of these beauties can you spot fluttering by?

Red admiral butterfly

Red admiral butterfly
There's no mistaking the red admiral! (Photo: WTML)

This butterfly migrates from north Africa, and you can find it everywhere – from gardens to mountain tops. The red admiral can survive mild UK winters, so there may be a few still around at Christmas.

Did you know…? It used to be called the ‘red admirable’ because of its beauty. This gradually changed to ‘red admiral’, probably because it’s easier to say.

Peacock butterfly

Peacock butterfly
Spot the peacock's 'eyes' (Photo: WTML)

This colourful butterfly has dramatic eyespots on its wings, like the markings on peacock feathers. It loves to feast on nectar from garden flowers such as buddleia and lavender, but you can see it in shady woodlands too.

Did you know…? Butterfly eyespots evolved to make them look scary to predators.

Painted lady butterfly

Painted lady butterfly
Can you find any painted ladies? (Photo: Christine Martin/WTML)

This butterfly prefers dry and open areas, especially if there are thistles to feed on. It’s a strong flyer and can be found all over the UK, even on remote Scottish islands.

Did you know…? Lots of painted ladies migrate from north Africa in the spring, flying over 2,000 miles!

Comma butterfly

Comma butterfly
Look for the comma-shaped mark under the crinkly wings (Photo: Libby Owen/WTML)

The white, comma-shaped mark on the underside of its wings gives this butterfly its name. You’ll find it in open woodland and woodland edges.

Did you know…? The comma was once a threatened species but since the 1960s its numbers have grown – unusual when lots of species are declining.

Gatekeeper butterfly

Gatekeeper butterfly
Spot gatekeepers on brambles (Photo: Patrick Roper/WTML)

The gatekeeper is so called as you’ll often see it around clumps of flowers or long grass in gateways, or along hedges. It loves to feed on blackberry flowers.

Did you know…? It has two white pupils in its eyespots. If you can only see one, you’re probably looking at a meadow brown butterfly instead.

Small tortoiseshell

Small tortoiseshell butterfly
Spot small tortoiseshells in woods, parks and gardens (Photo: Christine Martin/WTML)

You’ll find this striking butterfly in gardens all over the UK, and it’s one of the first to appear in the spring.

Did you know…? Small tortoiseshells born later in the summer hibernate in buildings and hollow trees over the winter.

Speckled wood

Speckled wood butterfly
Male speckled woods can be aggressive! (Photo: WTML)

As its name suggests, this butterfly enjoys the dappled sunlight found in woodlands. It likes to feed on honeydew, a sugary substance produced by insects called aphids, in the tree tops.

Did you know…? The male is quite aggressive when defending his territory and will challenge any intruders to mid-air fisticuffs!

Green-veined white butterfly

Green-veined white butterfly
Look for green-veined whites in damp areas (Photo: Richard Becker/WTML)

This butterfly prefers damp areas, such a ditches and riverbanks, although you can often see in it hedgerows too. Look out for the green veins on the underside of its wings.

Did you know…? The green veins aren’t really green at all. They’re an illusion created by a combination of tiny yellow and black scales.

Attract more of these beautiful creatures to your garden by making this fab butterfly feeder, and then use our butterfly identification sheet to help you identify them. Remember: butterfly wings are very fragile so look but don’t touch!

Have you managed to get a great picture of a butterfly basking in the sun? Post it on our Facebook page, or on Instagram or Twitter using #NatureDetectives.

Woodland Trust nature identification books
Woodland Trust mini ID books (Photo: WTML)

Grown-ups! Have you seen our fantastic mini ID books? They’re bursting with amazing photos and fab facts to help your Nature Detectives brush up their ID skills. Plus, they’re the perfect size for popping in your pocket!

There’s a book for every interest: butterflies, fungi, minibeasts, leaves, flowers, – even animal poo!

You can find them for just £4.99 each on our shop. And if you can’t choose just one, you can get two or more for £4 each. Bargain!

Which butterflies did you spot?

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