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General Description of Butterflies

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General Description of Butterflies

Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera)

The Large Wall Brown occurs in quite different habitats. It is mainly found in warm, dry places near rocks, and poor grassland, or on rough vegetation near woodland edges. However, it can also occur on damp grassland and rough vegetation near wood margins. The butterflies need a lot of nectar, often visiting purple or pink flowers of thistles and other nectar-rich plants. The female lays her eggs on the blades of grasses that include Holcus spp., bents (Agrostis spp.), and small-reeds (Calamagrostis spp. The caterpillars hibernate when half-grown in a grass tussock, and pupate later deep down in the vegetation. The Large Wall Brown has one brood a year in the north of its distribution range, and two a year in the south.

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages)

The Dingy Skipper is a small, inconspicuous butterfly. It lays its eggs on the leaves of leguminous plants such as Coronilla varia (Crown Vetch), Horseshoe Vetch (Hippocrepiscomos) and Common Birdsfoot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus), usually choosing plants growing near bare patches. The caterpillar spins itself a small, tube-like shelter from leaves of the larval food plant, living and feeding in it until fully grown. It then builds itself a sturdier shelter in which to pass the winter. In the spring, without further feeding, it pupates, either in the shelter, or in the moss layer. The adult butterfly is often found on Bugle (Ajuga spp.) and, while visiting flowers, is easily observed. The Dingy Skipper has one brood a year in central and northern Europe and two in the southern part.
Dusky Large Blue (Maculinea nausithous)

The Dusky Large Blue occurs on damp, moderately nutrient-rich grassland and rough vegetation. The butterflies are usually found on or near the foodplant Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis). Having lived on the flowerheads of this plant for a few weeks, the small caterpillars go down to the ground, in order to be carried away by workers of the ant Myrmica rubra to an ant nest. There, they remain feeding on ant grubs, hibernating and pupating in the early summer. The newly-emerged butterflies leave the nest. The Dusky Large Blue is one of the most specialized of the “ant blues” being most adapted to one species of host ant. It is single-brooded. This species is listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats’ Directive.

Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia)

The Marsh Fritillary is a butterfly of the Nymphalidae family. It occurs in very different types of habitat, like moist, sheltered grasslands, along the edges of raised bogs and on dry, calcareous grasslands. The foodplants are Devil’s-bit Scabious (Succisa pratense), Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria), Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis), and teasels (Dipsacus spp.). The eggs are laid in large clumps under the leaves. The caterpillars spin a substantial nest between the leaves of the foodplants, feeding in it, and also hibernating communally there. However, later they are solitary, and look for places deep in the vegetation in which to pupate. The Marsh Fritillary has one brood a year. This species is listed in Annex II of the Habitats’ Directive.

Scarce Large Blue (Maculinea teleius)

The Scarce Large Blue can be found in moderately nutrient-rich meadows where its foodplant Great Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis) is growing. In northern Europe, it occurs in open, short vegetation, but in the warm, southern parts, it is also found in rough vegetation. The butterfl ies tend to keep near the foodplants. The small caterpillars only feed on the fl owerheads for two or three weeks. They then go down to the ground where they wait to be picked up by worker ants of the genus Myrmica and carried off to the ants’ nest. There they feed on ant grubs. The caterpillars also hibernate and pupate in the ants’ nest. The species of host ant varies in different parts of its range. The Scarce Large Blue is single-brooded. This species is listed in Annexes II and IV of the Habitats’ Directive.
Silver-spotted Skipper (Hesperia comma)

The Silver-spotted Skipper occurs on open, poor grasslands, heathlands, and on sparsely covered blown sand. The habitat varies from dry to moist, but is never rich in nutrients. However, in their search for nectar, the skippers do visit nutrient-rich areas where fl owers are growing, usually not so far from their breeding ground. Eggs are laid on various fi ne-leaved grasses, passing the winter in this stage. In the spring, the caterpillars emerge and spin a shelter from blades of grass in which they spend most of their time, usually coming out to feed at night. When fully-grown, the caterpillar spins a cocoon of silk and grass blades near the ground in which it pupates. The Silver-spotted Skipper has one generation a year.

Purple-edged Copper (Lycaena hippothoe)

The Purple-edged Copper occurs on wet to damp grasslands, where the male butterflies attract the attention, perched on a tall grass or other plant, watching over their territory. The populations are mostly very local, but in a meadow, the butterflies can often be very numerous. The eggs are laid on various sorrels (Rumex spp.). At first the small caterpillar only shaves off a few cell layers on the leaf surface, so making translucent “windows”, but later they feed on the whole leaf. The caterpillar hibernates when still small, and completes its growth in the spring, pupating in the litter layer. It has one brood a year. In southern part of its range the species has two generations and can be found on dry grasslands as well. The Purple-edged Copper has a few subspecies.
Alcon Blue (Maculinea alcon)

The Alcon Blue occurs in local, scattered populations. Oftentimes it is referred to as two distinct species: P. alcon on low-lying wet heathland, on moist fen meadows and bogs, and P. rebeli on dry as well as sub-alpine calcareous grasslands. Usually, only a few butterfl ies are seen. The bright, white eggs are easy to fi nd. Depending on the habitat, they are laid on the fl owers and sepals of Marsh Gentian (Gentiana pneumonanthe), Willow Gentian (G. asclepiadea), and Cross Gentian (G. cruciata). At first, the small caterpillars feed on the ovaries of the foodplant, but they pass the last instar in the nests of various Myrmica ants, which they parasitize by living like young cuckoos, being fed by the worker ants. They hibernate and pupate in the ant nests. The Alcon Blue has one generation a year.

Chestnut Heath (Coenonympha glycerion)

The Chestnut Heath inhabits dry to damp grasslands in woods, meadows, poor grassland, calcareous grasslands, and open marshy habitats. These grasslands are sometimes quite intensively grazed, as can happen on calcareous grassland. However, if grazing is absent, for a few years, change in the grassland does not seem to affect the butterflies. The butterflies do not fly very much, and only cover limited distances. The eggs are laid one by one in short rows on the blades of grasses, such as fescues (Festuca spp.), Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum), Purple Moor-grass (Molinea caerulea), Upright Brome (Bromus erectus), and Crested Dog’s-tail (Cynosurus cristatus). Pupation takes place deep down in the vegetation. The Chestnut Heath mostly has one or two generations a year, depending on altitude and latitude.

Mazarine Blue (Polyommatus semiargus, =Cyaniris semiargus)

The Mazarine Blue usually occurs on quite damp vegetation in flower-rich meadows and pastures and at the edges of woodland. These butterflies are fond of basking together in groups and are then easy to find and to be observed. The female deposits her eggs on the flowerheads of Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), eating the unopened buds. The first instar caterpillar only feeds on buds and flowers, later stages also feed on leaves. The colours of the caterpillars are well adapted to their surroundings, with pink in the first instar and then green in later stages. The caterpillars can hardly be seen while feeding on the foodplants. Ants of the genera Lasius and Camponotus attend the caterpillars. Depending on the altitude and position in the range, the Mazarine Blue has one to three generations a year. The hibernation takes place as a larva.

Woodland Ringlet (Erebia medusa)

The Woodland Ringlet occurs in many different biotopes. It can be found on damp, flower-rich grasslands and rough vegetation near or in woodland, in marshes, but also on calcareous grasslands. Its foodplants are various grasses, such as Purple Moor-grass (Molinea caerulea), fescues (Festuca spp.), Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum), Upright Brome (Bromus erectus), and Wood Millet (Milium effusum), and also sedges (Carex spp.). The caterpillar is active at night and mostly hibernates when half-grown, but at very high altitudes it may hibernate twice. It pupates in the litter layer. The development takes between one and two years.

Five-Spot Burnet (Zygaena trifolii)

Burnets (Zygaenidae) are a family of moths with prominent clubbed antennae; in this respect, as well as their day-flying habit, they are like butterflies. It can be seen flying during July and August. Their colouring is said to warn birds against eating them because they do not taste good! The wingspan range of the Five-spot Burnet Moth is 2.8 to 3.8cm. The larval foodplants of these moths are members of the pea family, Fabaceae. Caterpillars of Zygaena trifolii ssp. palustrella feed on Common Bird’s-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus) commonly referred to as Bacon and Eggs - a creeping or prostrate yellow-and-orange flower commonly found in dry grassland. The Five-spot Burnet Moth overwinters (sometimes through two winters) as a larva; it pupates in early summer inside a cocoon attached to a grass stem.
Amanda’s Blue (Polyommatus amandus)

The German name for this butterfly, “Prächtiger Blauling” (Magnificent Blue), is well chosen, if only for the colour of the males. They are a bright sky-blue, and they also attract attention by their territorial behaviour. The females’ are modest brown in most of their distribution area and have a greenish-blue sheen. Amanda’s Blue occurs on flower-rich grassland with damp patches, that has some shelter from bushes or a nearby woodland edge. The female lays her eggs on the leaves of vetches (Vicia spp.) and possibly also vetchlings (Lathyrus spp.). The caterpillars hibernate in the litter layer and are attended by ants of the genera Lasius, Myrmica, Formica, and Tapinoma. They also pupate in the litter layer. Amanda’s Blue is single-brooded.
Glanville Fritillary (Melitaea cinxia)

The Glanville Fritillary is found on many different types of fl ower-rich grasslands, both on calcareous and acid soils. This butterfly can survive on meadows and pastures, as well as on road verges and forgotten patches of vegetation, sometimes small habitats supporting large populations. Various plantains (Plantago spp.), speedwells (Veronica spp,), and knapweeds (Centaurea spp.) are used as foodplants. The eggs are laid in large batches on the underside of the leaves. The caterpillars live gregariously in a spun nest, also hibernating in a thicker one when half-grown. The Glanville Fritillary usually has one generation a year, partially a second one under favourable conditions.

Small Blue (Cupido minimus)

This butterfly is well named. It is very small and its modest colours make it even seem smaller than it really is. The Small Blue can only be found on calcareous soils. Open, mostly rather short vegetation and a warm microclimate typify its habitat. The butterflies may occur in large numbers. They lay their small, white eggs singly between the flowers and the sepals of Kidney-vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), where a practised eye can detect them. The creamy-white caterpillars feed on the flowers and seeds, and are seldom seen. However, workers of various ant species attend them regularly. When fully-grown, the caterpillars hibernate either between the withered petals of dead flowers, or in the litter layer and pupate on the ground. The Small Blue has one or two broods a year.


Settele J, Kudrna O, Harpke A, Kühn I, van Swaay C, Verovnik R, Warren M, Wiemers M, Hanspach J, Hickler T, Kühn E, van Halder I, Veling K, Vliegenthart A, Wynhoff I, Schweiger O (2008) Climatic Risk Atlas of European Butterflies. BioRisk 1: 1-712. doi: 1


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