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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.

Butterfly numbers can be quite low in the first half of June, with the overwintering species now largely gone, and the summer ones not starting to appear until late in the month. But this is still a great month for butterflies, with many different species on the wing. Flowering bramble bushes are a particularly good place to spot many of them.

Survivors from overwintering species 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 may occasionally be seen quite late in the month. Look closely at any yellow butterfly you see, however, because early in the month it is just possible that it is a migrant clouded yellow: these in theory arrive in the UK towards the end of May and lay eggs, but are more normally seen in late July or August. Most years they are not very numerous but sometimes there is a large incursion due to conditions on the continent.

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 usually 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, while on the green-veined they extend down the edge of the wing in a series of blobs. On the large white the tips also extend down the edge of the wing, but are black. 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 or none.

Another over-wintering butterfly, the small tortoiseshell, is absent at the start of the month but a second generation appears towards the its end (in 2017 this happened earlier, in the first three weeks of June). 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, though in recent years (2016 to 2018) numbers have been worryingly small. 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. A few may be seen right from the start of the month, but they are more common 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 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, slightly smaller than the meadow 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 they 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. The large skipper is the first to appear and may be seen right from the start of June: the other two take flight from mid month, though may not be abundant until its end. All three species are found both in grassland and on nearby bramble flowers, 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 those of 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. Even that does not quite do it, because some small skippers have black antenna ends with tiny brown tip: the essex skipper has lighter antennae which look as if they have been dipped in black ink at the tip.

All of this is hard to see with the naked eye and you often can only be sure which species you are looking at if you take a photograph and enlarge it. One slightly more visible difference in males is that small skippers have a slightly curved dark line on their wings (a "sex brand") while on the essex skipper it is dead straight.

Just to make life extra interesting, the hills around Lulworth in Dorset have their very own species, the Lulworth skipper. The differences in markings between this and other skippers do not matter so much as the fact that this butterly is very very tiny, noticeably smaller even than the (already tiny) small and Essex skippers. It can be found right from the start of June but is more abundant at its end.

It is also just possible you may see a dingy skipper or grizzled skipper in June, though May is the best time for them. Never easy to spot, these are tiny brown-patterned butterflies that are easy to mistake for day-flying moths. Your best hope of seeing one is on chalk downland, though they can occur in other habitats.

Another tiny and rather elusive butterfly of flowery hillsides, hedgerows and woodland rides is the small copper which has bright orangey red upper wing markings if you can get a close look at them. In theory these are seen more in the first half of June but they have a habit of turning up when you least expect them, so you may see them in the second half too.

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 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 or Ashtead 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. It is black and white, but has a wonderfully colourful underwing, if you get the chance to see it. More elusive still in woodland is the purple emperor, one of our largest butterflies but one which lives almost entirely in tree tops. In mid to late June one can sometimes be found on the ground gathering salts from paths or dog poo. If you are lucky enough to catch a glimpse of one, the male has iridescent purple upperwing colourings, though only if seen in certain lights: otherwise it, and the rarely seen female, are dark brown with white markings and could possibly be confused with the somewhat smaller white admiral.

Another treetop specialist is the purple hairstreak. This is a relatively common butterfly that starts to appear in late June, but since it spends most of its time around the tops of oak trees. 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 and unlike other hairstreaks may rest with its wings open, showing their wonderful purple markings.

There is also a white-letter hairstreak, which appears at the same time and which has brown upperwings (always closed when at rest) and white and orange highlights on its lighter brown underwings. Its caterpillars feed on elm leaves and so this butterfly was hard hit by Dutch Elm Disease in the 1970s. Today it is said to be recovering, living on hedgerow elms and wych elm, but is another elusive tree top species. Your best hope of seeing it is when it comes down to feed on bramble or thistle flowers.

One last woodland species is the very elusive wood white. Notably smaller than the commoner white species and with a rather feeble flight that makes it impossible to mistake, it is found only in certain pockets, one being near Sidmouth, East Devon and the other Oaken Wood, near Chiddingfold in Surrey. Its spring generation appears in May but you might catch the tail end of it in early June. Woodland rides (grassy places between trees) are its favoured habitat.

Incidentally, 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.

Downland is another 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 Box Hill 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.

June is also the month to see 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 usually 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). Be careful, though, as if there is a woodland bordering the downland, a silver-washed fritillary might just emerge from it to feed on bramble. The dark-green fritillary, by contrast, favours knapweed and thistles as food plants, the only things that seem to stop it in its otherwise very purposeful and continuous flight.

Incidentally, 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, though they are in fact orange with dark brown markings). Not particularly common, these can nevertheless sometimes be seen near the south coast - for example on the clifftops near Dover, Swyre Head near Kimmeridge in Dorset and on Portland Bill, flying in May and June. Late May to late June is also when the glanville fritillary can be found on downland and crumbling cliffs on the south coast of the Isle of Wight: some were also illegally introduced to Hutchinson's Bank near Addiscombe on the southern edge of London in 2011, where a few still survived in 2018.

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 very much rarer adonis blue is also a possibility early in the month. It is distinguishable from the common blue mainly by tiny lines crossing the white border to its wings, and from its darker brown underwing. Its upperwings are also lighter blue, though the common blue looks a fairly bright blue in flight too. The underwing of the adonis is a darker brown, like that of a female common blue, and it is specific to south-facing chalk downland with horseshoe vetch on it (try the southern slopes of Ranmore Common, near Dorking). But if you see a tiny blue butterfly on birdsfoot trefoil in such places, 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 (try Pewley Down near Guildford or Hutchinson's Bank near Addiscombe). Another very localised blue species is the tiny silver-studded blue, which is found on heather. The Surrey heathlands (try Whitmoor and Fairmile Commons) are one of the strongholds of these butterflies in the UK: mid June to early July is the best time to see them.

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. Less common and smaller are 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 with bands of red rather than spots. They are mainly night flying, though sometimes seen by day, laying their eggs on young ragwort plants. Here their black and orange-striped (but surprisingly well camouflaged) caterpillars are quite commonly seen.

Other day flying moths I have spotted in June include the speckled yellow, which looks very like a butterfly, the burnet companion (found in meadows, on embankments and in woodland rides), the mother shipton (found in grassland and with markings supposed to resemble a witch's face), the brown silver-line (which lives among bracken), the yellow shell and the silver Y (a migrant from North Africa which can fly 800km in a single night by catching high altitude winds). Also very occasionally the tiny black chimney sweeper, which favours ancient meadows with pignut in.

There are a also number of white moths that one often disturbs as one walks, such as the common carpet, the silver-ground carpet, the grass rivulet and the delicate white lace border (a night flying moth sometimes disturbed by day, found only on the Kent and Surrey North Downs). Note also micro moths such as the very tiny small yellow underwing.

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 are common - honeybees, worker bumble bees (the queens now being ensconced in the nest, producing young) and solitary bees, of which there are more than 250 species in the UK. Bramble flowers are a good place to see all of these. June is also probably the best month for hoverflies, of which there are many different types, many of which have evolved to mimic the appearance of bees for protection from predators.

If you look close at other plants, all sorts of tiny wonders may be seen, such as shield bugs of various types (most likely earlier in the month, since they breed in late May and then die) or the aptly named swollen-thighed beetle. Towards the very end of the month you may see the common red soldier beetle, known as the "hogweed bonking beetle" because it likes to mate on the flowers of that plant. Grassland is full of crane flies, grasshoppers and crickets.

You can also see various types of ladybird - all too many of them, sadly, turning out to be the invasive harlequin ladybird, which has many guises. It breed all summer, giving it an advantage, while the native ladybirds, such as the common seven-spot ladybird, breed only once a year in May (or sometimes in June), then produce young which become adults at the end of the summer.

June is also the month when house flies start to become irritating - flying into your house and buzzing around your kitchen. Especially at dusk, but also at other times, the air can be full of midges and swarming insects that get in one's mouth and eyes. In general there is a whole world of tiny flying creatures that we are generally barely aware of, except when they bite our arms and legs.

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

Also by water you can see the amazing banded demoiselle with its double-spotted black wings which create a hypnotic effect in flight. In favoured places by streams and rivers there can be quite large concentrations of these, with the metallic blue males (the females are green tinged with bronze) 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 the male and female grasping each other by the tail, a rather painful-looking circle). The most common species here is the common blue damselfly (the male is blue, while the female can be green, blue, black and white, or straw-coloured: sometimes newly emerged males with black and beige markings can also be seen). Note also the blue-tailed damselfly, the emerald damselfly (which is green) and the striking large red damselfly.

Dragonflies - some of them very large - also hunt for smaller insects near ponds and further afield, and include the magnificent blue and green emperor and the black-tailed skimmer which is found near gravel pits.

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

More June pages:


© Peter Conway 2006-2018 • All Rights Reserved

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