Ringlet: This is a butterfly of the wider countryside whose caterpillars depend on the tall grasses of sheltered and damper places like hedgerows, field margins and woodland rides. It is one of the British butterflies whose numbers have been increasing and whose distribution has been expanding over the last 30 years. It is suggested that global warming and the reduction of pollution are both contributory factors. Reduced grass cutting of roadside verges and in places like churchyards are likely to be beneficial. The adults begin emerging in late June and this continues throughout July. The freshly emerged butterfly is a uniform rich dark chocolate colour with conspicuous white fringes to the wings. There are rows of spots on each wing which are most conspicuous from underneath with white centres surrounded by a yellow ‘ring’ which gives the butterfly its name. There is quite a lot of variation in how many spots and the brightness and shapes of the rings. They can resemble male Meadow Browns with which they often fly but lack the yellow patches on the underneath of the front wings and are a dark chocolate colour to the Meadow Brown’s milk chocolate! Males patrol the tall damp grass habitat searching for females. After mating the females lay eggs singly perhaps being selective of the dampness and condition of the grasses before seemingly scattering their eggs. The caterpillars are slow growing and when they reach the third instar in the autumn hide themselves away, overwintering in the bottom of a grass tussock. In the following spring they start feeding again and continuing their slow growth. By the beginning of June, the 5th instar caterpillar forms a pupa hidden at the base of its grass habitat. After some two weeks the mature butterfly is ready to emerge. There is only one generation each year.
Photos Tina Westcott Peter Bright
Gatekeeper: This butterfly is found in all sorts of ‘hedgerow’ habitats using the grasses growing in the more shaded parts for their caterpillars to feed on. Brambles are a favourite nectar source. It obviously lives up to its alternative names the ‘Hedge Brown’ as well as ‘keeping gates’ in hedgerows. The butterfly is smaller than a Meadow Brown and is a much brighter orange colour. The males have a dark sex brand in the orange of the forewing which the slightly larger females do not have. The big eyespot on the forewing has two white spots to the Meadow Brown’s single one and on the underside of the hind wings the spots are white rather than black as they are in the Meadow Brown. Overall, it is a very handsome and almost unmistakeable butterfly. The first adults emerge in late June and may continue to emerge until late August.
The males are territorial chasing up any passing butterflies to check for females. After mating the female selects finer grasses growing in the shade of shrubs and inside hedgerows as egg laying sites. After hatching the caterpillar feeds and as a second instar hibernates hidden in the fold of a leafy tussock. In the spring the caterpillar continues feeding and growing and pupates in early June or later to emerge once more in late June or into July and August. There is thus only one generation each year. Look out for them now as they are just appearing.
Photos Peter Bright