Quick facts

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

Scientific name: Pyronia tithonus

Family: Nymphalidae

Habitat: scrubby hedgerows, woodland edges and grassland

Predators: birds, small mammals, domestic cats

Origin: native

What do gatekeeper butterflies look like?

Caterpillars: gatekeeper larvae can be either light brown or green.

Adults: medium-sized orange and brown butterflies. They are easy to identify - look out for the black spot near the wing tip that usually contains two tiny white dots. Male and female gatekeepers are similar in appearance, but male gatekeepers have a prominent band of dark scales running diagonally across the forewings. They are also noticeably smaller than the females.

Wingspan: around 4cm.

gatekeeper butterfly on leaf

Credit: Paul Sterry / WTML

What do gatekeeper butterflies eat?

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

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

Did you know?

The patterns on the gatekeeper’s wing can change subtly for a variety of reasons including temperature as they develop.

How do gatekeeper butterflies breed?

The males keep small territories – sometimes a single shrub – and fly up to meet likely mates fluttering by. There is one generation of new gatekeepers per year. Adults emerge in mid-summer, mate, and then females produce 100 eggs which they lay individually in shady spots.

Each egg takes two to three weeks to develop before the young caterpillar emerges. The larva feeds on grasses before developing into pupa, with adults emerging in late summer.

gatekeeper butterfly pupa close up

Credit: Papilio / Alamy Stock Photo

Do gatekeeper butterflies hibernate?

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. At this point, they pupate to become adults.

Did you know?

The eyespots on gatekeeper's wings are intended to deter predators like birds.

Where do gatekeeper butterflies live?

They are widespread across England and Wales, but are absent from Scotland and Northern Ireland. They need long grass and the kind of scrub that thrives when old woods regenerate.

gatekeeper butterfly basking on tree stump close-up

Credit: Philip Mugridge / Alamy Stock Photo

Signs and spotting tips

Look for gatekeepers in hedgerows and woodland edges, flitting from flower to flower in low vegetation. Spot them resting on food plants on overcast days, and pollinating flowers on bright sunny days.

Threats and conservation

The gatekeeper butterfly is currently stable in the UK, and is not a species of conservation concern.

Dedication bench at Watkins Wood

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