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June butterflies and insects


Other June pages: Meadow and field flowersWayside flowers Downland and seaside flowersHedgerow, trees and berriesBirdsWeather

Put your cursor over any photo on this page to see its caption, or click here to see more June butterfly and insect photos. For more information on butterflies and moths see the Butterfly Conservation website.

For butterflies June marks a changing of the guard, with early spring species dying off and summer ones appearing. In the first half of the month this can mean that there are relatively few to be seen compared to earlier in the spring. But at the end of the month there is a flood of new arrivals as the offspring of overwintering butterflies appear and new summer species take to the wing.

Survivors from over-wintering butterflies that you may see in the first half of the month include the occasional peacock, probably looking rather tatty as it comes to the end of its life. Brimstones last a bit longer, and indeed may occasionally be seen quite late in the month. Look closely at any yellow butterfly you see, however, because it is just possible that it is a migrant clouded yellow.

There may also be a few white butterflies, but their population is at the lowest level it gets to in the whole spring and summer. The popular term for these butterflies is cabbage whites, but in fact there are three common species - large, small and green-veined - and it is almost impossible to tell them apart until them come to rest. Frustratingly they rarely do this, and then just for a few seconds.

If you do see them at rest, the green-veined has a distinctive underwing which looks just as its name suggests. Both it and the small white have grey tips to their upperwings, but on the small white they are smaller. On the large white the tips are black and extend across the bottom edge of the upperwing, which is also true of the green-veined white, but in its case the markings get a bit more serrated as they extend along the wing edge. The green-veined also has slightly more prominent veins on its upperwings. In both the large and small white the females have two black spots on their upperwings, while the male has only one.

Another over-wintering butterfly, the small tortoiseshell, is absent at the start of the month but a second generation appears towards the its end - you can tell these by the fact that their wing colours are bright and unfaded. They have an endearing habit of basking in the sun on tracks and footpaths so if you keep your eyes peeled they can be quite easy to see. They lay their eggs on nettles.

Look carefully at any small tortoiseshells you see, however, because at a casual glance they look quite similar to the painted lady. This lovely migrant comes all the way from Morocco, with the first wave arriving in May and breeding. The ones you see in June are probably survivors from this but later in the month may be new summer arrivals. How many of these come depends on conditions further south: in some years - eg 2009 - there are huge numbers and in others relatively few. Peak time for this butterfly is late July and August, and the south coast is a particularly good place to see them.

Another migrant you may see is the red admiral, one of the most widely recognised butterflies, which can often be seen flitting around flowering bramble bushes. As with the painted lady, the ones you see in June are probably part of the first wave of females who arrive already mated and ready to lay eggs from May onwards. But later in the month you may see new arrivals, which top up numbers over the summer months. These will include males who, like several other butterfly species, will patrol a territory: so if you are trying to photograph one and see one fly off, it is worth waiting a few minutes to see if it comes back.

The first real sign that the summer butterflies are starting, however, is the appearance of the meadow brown, the most common summer butterfly of all, which feeds on grasses but can also be found flitting around hedgerows. They can be seen from mid June and in the second half of the month seem to be absolutely everywhere. The males of this species have brown upperwings with just a hint of orange, some appearing almost completely brown, while the females have more orange colour.

In flight they are easy to confuse with the ringlet, however, and it can be frustrating waiting for an individual to land in order to make the identification definite. Ringlets also appear from mid June onwards and are most often seen in grassland near wood edges or bramble hedges. They are chocolate brown with tiny rings on their upper and lower wings, but on the males these rings are fainter and can be absent altogether. Since the orange patches on the male meadow brown can also be quite faint, and the eye in the top corner of its upperwings soon becomes faded, even at rest it is not always possible to be sure which of the two species you are looking at. Their underwings are quite distinctive, however, the ringlet being brown with tiny rings and the meadow brown being a mix of brown and orange.

A butterfly which has a very similar underwing pattern to the meadow brown is the small heath. But these are very tiny butterflies, always found close to the ground in grassland. They have orange upperwings, which are visible when they are in flight, but always rest with their wings closed. They are found throughout June, which is one of the peak months for them.

Don't automatically assume that a tiny orange butterfly in flight is a small heath, however, because another possibility is a large, small or essex skipper, which also have orange upperwings. Appearing in the second half of June, these can be found in both grassland and on nearby bramble bushes, and have a whirring, moth-like flight and a very moth-like way of folding their wings. Telling these three skippers apart takes really close examination. The large skipper (which is still very small) has darker patches on its upperwings, while the small and essex skipper are a more pure orange, though still with dark borders. These latter two species can only be told apart by the underside of the tips of their antennae, which are brown in the small skipper and black in the essex skipper. Essentially you have to take a photograph and enlarge it to see this difference.

Another tiny and rather elusive butterfly of hedgerows, flowery hillsides and woodland rides is the small copper which has bright orangey red upper wing markings if you can get a close look at them. It is seen earlier in the month.

In shady places the most common butterfly is the speckled wood, which can be seen throughout the month. However, if you are lucky towards the end of the month you may see one of the more elusive woodland species. One is the silver-washed fritillary - a large orange butterfly with black streaks which glides gracefully through glades in certain woodlands (try Bookham Common near Leatherhead) and also favours bramble flowers as a food plant. The males fly back and forward over the females, who are a more dowdy browny-orange and lack the wing streaks.

An even more elusive woodland species (again try Bookham Common) is the white admiral, which comes out of the shade to feed briefly on bramble and then disappears back in again. It usually appears around mid June. More elusive still in woodland is the purple emperor, one of our most showy butterflies but one which lives almost entirely in tree tops. In mid to late June it can sometimes be found on the ground gathering salts from paths or dog poo. If you are lucky enough to see it, it has purple upperwing colourings.

The same is true of another treetop specialist, the purple hairstreak. This is a relatively common butterfly that starts to appear in late June, but since it spends its time around the tops of oak trees it is rarely seen. It may sometimes descend to lower perches, however (I have seen one resting on a hazel bush). The underside of its wings is grey, with one orange eye spot. Lastly in certain isolated pockets (one being East Devon) you may find the wood white, notably smaller than the commoner white species and with a rather feeble flight.

When looking out for silver-washed fritillaries make sure you are not seeing the comma butterfly, which has similar markings but distinctive crinkly edges to its wings which make them look just like a dead leaf when closed (though in hotter summers a variation is produced which makes the underwing more orange). This is another over-wintering butterfly whose second generation can just be starting to appear at the very end of the month and whose favoured habitat is hedgerows and scrub. Like the red admiral it has a tendency to patrol a territory, and so will often return to the same leaf it was on when you disturbed it.

As well as hedgerows, downland is a great habitat to see butterflies in late June - perhaps even the best. It is very popular with meadow brown butterflies and as the month comes to a close you also see marbled whites there, sometimes in large numbers (try the slope of Boxhill above Burford Bridge). This beautiful black and white butterfly particularly likes knapweed and scabious flowers and can flock around them. Females (which have a browner lower underwing) take up position on a favoured flower and the males come to pay court. Much fluttering of wings decides if mating takes place.

Downland is also a good place to see the tiny common blue (which is indeed the commonest of the blue species), though it can also be seen on other kinds of grassland. Its population is higher in the start of the month than at the end, when a changeover of generations is taking place. The same is true of the very much rarer adonis blue, which is distinguishable from the common blue mainly by tiny lines crossing the white border to its wings. It is specific to south-facing chalk downland slopes with horseshoe vetch on them, and your best chance of seeing one is early in the month. (If you see a tiny blue butterfly on birdsfoot trefoil on such slopes, it is probably a common blue, since this is one of their favourite food plants.)

The female of both these species is brown, and with orange scallops on the edge of the upperwings. Just to make life confusing, this is also the description of the brown argus (both males and females), another grassland species found mainly earlier in June. Telling these butterflies apart is tricky. The male brown argus is smaller than a female common blue and the upperwings of the latter can sometimes be flushed with blue, while a brown argus never is. But the female brown argus is a bit larger and so almost identical in size to a female common blue. Taking a photograph so one can see the finer details is often the only way to tell them apart.

If you see a very very tiny brown butterfly in June but with a grey underside, then it could be the small blue, which peaks in population early in the month. But this is a very rare butterfly only found in a few locations. And make sure you are not seeing a day-flying moth (see below).

Rarer, but easier to identify, is the dark green fritillary, another magnificent orange butterfly with black markings (the dark green part refers to the underside of its lower wings, which are green with silver patches), which also appears around the middle of the month. You would need to study it carefully to spot the difference between it and the silver-washed fritillary mentioned above, but fortunately it is not necessary as it lives in a quite different habitat - on downland (for example on the southern slopes of Beachy Head or on the South Downs). There it favours knapweed and thistles as a food plant, which are often the best places to see (and photograph) it.

Lastly if you see a fritillary-like butterfly with an eye in its wing corners, then it is a wall (also known as a wall brown). Not particularly common these can nevertheless sometimes be seen near the south coast.

Day-flying moths

There are nearly 2500 species of moth in the UK (as opposed to just 59 different butterflies), 900 of which are of a size large enough to be noticed by the casual walker. Most of them fly at night, but there are quite a few which fly by day, and some you might confuse at a casual glance for a small butterfly.

Examples include the grass veneers, tiny white moths which snap shut to an almost invisible line when they land on blades of downland grass. Larger and more colourful ones include the six-spot burnet, which is black with red spots, yet another insect that adores knapweed and which can be found feeding on it in large quantities. There are also five-spot burnets (one spot on the bottom end of their wings, rather than two).

In flight the burnets appear as a whirring mass of red, and so do cinnabar moths, which have similar colourings to the six spot burnet but larger patches of red. They lays their eggs on young ragwort plants, on which their black and orange striped caterpillars can be very prominent in July.

Other day flying moths I have spotted in June include the speckled yellow, which looks very like a butterfly, and the burnet companion, brown silver-line, yellow shell, silver Y and lace border. Also the tiny black chimney sweeper, which favours ancient meadows with pignut in.

To identify other day flying moths see the Butterfly Conservation website.

Insects

June is a month that is full of weird and wonderful insects, too many to enumerate here. Bees of all kinds and hoverflies are very common on bramble flowers (this is in fact the best month for hoverflies, though they also last throughout the summer), and on hogweed flowers and you can see common red soldier beetles, otherwise known as 'hogweed bonking beetles' because they often seem to be seen mating. If you look closely at all sorts of plants you can see many such tiny wonders, such as the strange hawthorn shield bug.

June is also the month when flies start to become irritating - flying into your house and buzzing around in your kitchen and bedroom. Especially at dusk, but also at other times, the air can also be full of midges or swarming insects that get in one's mouth and eyes.

June is also another month when you may see dancing clouds of mayflies at dusk near a river: they live just one night, mating and dying in that time, a dating ritual that dates back to before the age of the dinosaurs (see May butterflies and insects for a longer description): the three long tassles of their tail, and stripes on their bodies is a good clue to identification.

Also near water, you can see the amazing banded demoiselle with its double black-spotted wings that create a hypnotic effect in flight. In favoured places by streams and rivers there can be quite large concentrations of these, with the males jockeying for position on leaves overlooking the water.

Other damselflies can be found much further away from water (and sometimes mating on nearby bushes, a procedure that involves both male and female grasping each other by the tail, making a rather painful looking circle). There are several species in blue, green and red hues, but the often seen common blue damselfly has blue males and green females. Dragonflies - some of them very large - also hunt for smaller insects near ponds and further afield.

Early in the month cuckoo spit - actually a foam produced by the froghopper insect - is common on plants.

More June pages:


© Peter Conway 2006-2016 • All Rights Reserved

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