Summer is an excellent time to get to know these beautiful insects and understand how important they are. Butterflies and moths are extremely ecologically important. They are highly sensitive to small environmental changes so are often known as ‘indicator species’. This means that if an area has a wide range of them it shows that the environment is healthy and biodiverse. This is partly because moths and butterflies are essential to the survival of a huge range of other species. They are a major food source for birds and they are prey for other insects and small mammals.
First find your food…
Many species have very specific habitat and environmental requirements: many butterfly and moth larvae (caterpillars) will only feed on a specific species of plant or a small group of plants and the adult butterflies often only take nectar from certain types of flowers. The Common Blue and Dingy Skipper butterfly, for example both need bird’s-foot trefoil for their caterpillars which is often shaded out as taller, ruderal plants and shrubs take over, while the caterpillar of the orange tip butterfly only eats cuckoo flower and garlic mustard. Understanding the specific foodplants and requirements of butterflies and moths and actively protecting these is therefore vital to ensure their populations are sustainable.
Night and day
Butterflies and moths are both insects in the order Lepidoptera, which means scalewings. In the UK there are only 59 species of butterfly whilst there are around 3000
species of moths. There is no definitive way of telling a moth from a butterfly as all the general rules are broken by some species from either group. On our nature reserves we actively manage habitat for specific butterflies and moths. We can all help butterflies in our own gardens by similarly leaving areas of uncut grass and encouraging the larval food plants to grow.
Top three species to spot
Found in a variety of habitats including heathland, woodland rides, grassy meadows, parks and even large gardens, look for a small blue butterfly flying throughout the summer between April and October.
Look for these on grassy field edges where the habitat changes from taller to shorter vegetation. The male can often be found on large leaves in sunny spots, awaiting passing females.
Common in gardens especially if you have buddleia. They migrate into the UK in spring and lay eggs which emerge as fresh butterflies in the summer. They can still be seen flying in November if the weather is mild.
SEE THEM THIS SUMMER
If you are able to get out and about, following government guidelines, you can see a range of beautiful butterflies at many of our nature reserves;
- Centenary Riverside – Providing bare stony areas and bird’s-foot trefoil encourages dingy skipper and common blue butterflies.
- Carr House Meadows – These traditionally managed meadows are perfect for grass feeding butterflies such as Meadow Brown, Large Skipper and Ringlet.
- Agden Bog – Is a rare natural wet bog habitat which provides food for many butterfly species including green veined white, brimstone, and gatekeeper.
(c) Peacock Butterfly – Lois Bailey
(c) Orange Tip – Clive-Nichols
(c) Common Blue – Amy Lewis
(c)Large skipper – Paul Lane
(c) Red Admiral – Richard Burkmar