British Butterflies

Information about the 58 resident butterfly species in the UK

Quick Links:

British Butterfly Identification Guide
A-Z list of British Butterflies

List of British Butterflies in order of size
List of British Butterflies by Family Group

Garden butterflies

You will not see 58 species of butterfly in your garden. I have had 23 species visit my garden in Cirencester over 5 summers; a friend in Yorkshire has seen 20 species.

Most people know the Small White and Large White butterflies; these two species are regarded as pests by vegetable gardeners for they lay their eggs on cabbages and other garden plants. The other 56 resident species lay their eggs on nettles, grasses and wildflowers and consequently are not a problem for gardeners.

I have used the Small White butterfly as a benchmark to the size of the other butterflies. I've made a List of British Butterflies in order of size. I found the relative sizes very helpful myself when I began to identify butterflies. An A-Z list of British Butterflies contains the names of all 58 resident species and links to my butterfly pages, if you want to look up a known butterfly. I've also produced a List of British Butterflies by Family Group.

Other white butterflies that visit my garden are the Green-veined White butterfly and in the Spring, the Orange Tip butterfly.

Probably the most noticable butterflies in the garden - after the White ones - are the members of the Nymphalidae family that are found feeding on Buddleia bushes :- Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Painted Lady, Red Admiral and Comma.

Conspicuous by their colour are the yellow butterflies: the Brimstone butterfly and the Clouded Yellow butterfly. Also readily noticed are the little blue butterflies: the Common Blue butterfly and the Holly Blue butterfly.

Every year I expect to see Gatekeeper butterflies, Meadow Brown and Speckled Wood which are primarily brown in colour. I also have a reasonable chance of seeing Large Skipper, Essex Skipper and Small Skipper.

Here in Cirencester, I have been fortunate to also get visits from Brown Argus, Small Copper, Marbled White, Ringlet and White-letter Hairstreak butterflies. In my previous garden 12 miles south of here, I saw Chalkhill Blue and Dark Green Fritillary butterflies.

Butterflies in the Countryside

Some butterflies do not travel far from their local colony and require a particular habitat in which to live. Some are woodland species, some like chalk grassland, some live in marshy fenland, some belong to high moorland and some can be found in the sand dunes around the coastline. The Chalkhill Blue butterfly (like many of the blue butterflies) is one of the species found on chalk grassland for example.

Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Dorset - the 3 counties in which I have lived since my interest in butterflies began - have some excellent butterfly habitat. Chalk and limestone hills run through these counties. Gloucestershire has recorded 45 of the 58 resident british butterfly species.

The butterflies that I have photographed in the countryside are the Silver-washed Fritillary, the Marsh Fritillary, the Wall butterfly, the Small Heath, the Small Blue, the Dingy Skipper and the Adonis Blue. I've also seen a Silver-spotted Skipper but didn't get a photograph.

If you live very close to a local colony of a particular butterfly, then clearly you have a chance of seeing that species in your garden. Some species will never be seen in your garden because it isn't their habitat.

Rare butterflies

The Pearl-bordered Fritillary, Marsh Fritillary, High Brown Fritillary, Adonis Blue and Silver-studded Blue, Northern Brown Argus, Chequered Skipper, Silver-spotted Skipper and Large Blue are rare butterflies. When you are trying to identify a butterfly, these ones are not likely candidates. It's not impossible that these would visit your garden but you do need to live in the right place!

Other resident british butterflies, like the Swallowtail and the Lulworth Skipper, may not be regarded as rare but are concentrated at specific locations.

Migrant butterflies

Some butterfly species are occasionally seen in the british isles but are not resident here: Pale Clouded Yellow, Berger's Clouded Yellow, Bath White, Long-tailed Blue, Short-tailed Blue, Camberwell Beauty, Large Tortoiseshell, Map, Queen of Spain Fritillary and Monarch.

Exotic butterflies

Butterfly farms around the UK hold some exotic butterfly species. Sometimes a butterfly escapes, so watch out if you are in the neighbourhood of one of these places.

Day-flying moths

Some of the day-flying Moths are often mistaken for butterflies too.


This page last updated December 13, 2005