British Butterfly Identification Guide

How to identify the commoner british butterflies

Please collect your facts

Note as many of the following as possible:

  1. month/date
  2. size
  3. colour
  4. markings
  5. location/county
  6. habitat
  7. plant

1. Month

Which month did you see your butterfly?

Number of species

The butterfly season runs from March until November. The above table shows the number of species that I've seen each month in my garden; August is the peak time.

The Butterfly year:

March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November

A summary of the butterflies in flight each month is given on my Calendar page.

2. Size

Is your butterfly bigger/same size/smaller than the Small White?
See a list of british butterflies in order of size to find out more about the relative sizes.

3. Colour

What is the predominant colour?

(Whites & Yellows)
colour of Small Tortoiseshell st
colour of Peacock p
colour of Painted Lady pl
colour of Red Admiral ra
colour of Comma c
colour of Small White sw
colour of Large White lw
colour of Green-veined White gvw
colour of Brimstone b
colour of Clouded Yellow cy
colour of Orange Tip ot
colour of Gatekeeper g
colour of Meadow Brown mb
colour of Speckled Wood spw
colour of Ringlet r
colour of Marbled White mw
colour of Holly Blue hb
colour of Common Blue cb
colour of Brown Argus ba
colour of Small Copper sc
colour of Large Skipper ls
colour of Essex Skipper es

Size & Colour together

Can you compare the size of your butterfly to the size of the common garden Small "cabbage" Whites?

Is it bigger and brownish - a member of the Nymphalidae?
Is it about the same size and brown - a member of the Satyridae?
Is it smaller and brown?
Is it white or yellow - a member of the Pieridae?
Is it blue - a member of the Lycaenidae?

4. Markings

Look for distinguishing markings on

the upperside of the tips of the forewings Image of Small White (e.g. Small White),
the underside of the hindwings Image of Common Blue (e.g. Common Blue),
an eyespot on the forewings Image of Gatekeeper (e.g. Gatekeeper),

and the shape of the wings Image of Comma butterfly (e.g. Comma).


5. Location

Which county was the butterfly seen in?

6. Habitat

About one-third of british butterflies will visit gardens. The other species have preferred habitats:

marshy fenland
high moorland
sand dunes around the coastline

Where did you see your butterfly?

7. Plant

If the butterfly was feeding on a flower, can you identify the plant?

See my A-Z list of butterfly-attracting garden plants for another route to identifying your butterfly; compare with the list of butterflies that I have found on specific plants.


Butterfly or Moth?

There are 58 resident British Butterflies: details of all of them are on this website. Sometimes other butterflies arrive as rare migrants from Europe or even America. Sometimes exotic butterflies escape from Butterfly farms.

Quite often I find that a moth has been mistaken for a butterfly. Some moths fly during the day; some can be quite colourful. There are over 2000 British Moths.

A clue to the question of moth or butterfly is the shape of the antennae. Butterflies have a knob at the end of the antennae; Moths have fat-clubs, feather-like antennae or just plain stalks. My Moths page has some photographs of common garden visitors.

This page last updated December 13, 2005