Butterfly Identification - A Talk by Nick Bowles
Monday May 11th
Nick Bowles is a well respected
authority within the "Butterfly Conservation" organisation.
He has participated in this field for a numbr of years at a national
and regional level.
He started his talk with a brief description of "Butterfly
Conservation". It is the largest conservation group in the
world concerned with insects. It has more than 30 full time employees
at the national level but relies on volunteers to work locally collecting
data, organising field trips and working to conserve butterfly and
moth habitat. Wycombe lies within the Upper Thames area for butterfly
conservation. This comprises Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire.
Nick then proceeded to explain how to differentiate between similar
species of butterflies found within the upper Thames region. He
started with the Small Tortoiseshell and the Comma where he pointed
out two distinguishing features. The upper sides of the wings of
the Small Tortoiseshell have a border of small blue markings which
are called lunules. The Comma has no blue markings at all but has
a prominent white, comma shaped marking on the underside of the
The Peacock, Nick explained is unique in its false eye markings
and its multi coloured upper wings. The Painted Lady can be distinguished
by the colours of the underside of its wings, which match the rocks
and pebbles of the African deserts from where it originates.
The Red Admiral has a strong red band across the upperside of its
forewing with black and white markings at its wing tips. The White
Admiral has a white band running across the uppersides of both wings.
It also has a unique flying pattern of 3 or 4 strong wing beats
followed by a glide. The Purple Emperor has a white band on the
upper sides of its wings and in the case of the male a purple sheen.
It also has a black dot on the underside of its wings which may
be used to differentiate it from the White Admiral.
The talk then moved to identifying white butterflies. Nick told
us about the Marbled White which belongs to the family of brown
butterflies. It is a brown or black insect with large white patches
and lunules on its wings. The Green Veined White is best identified
by the green veins apparent on the undersides of its wings, the
Small White's underside has no markings and is a grey/green colour.
Both species have one or two black spots on the upper side of their
wings and some black markings on the tips of their wings. This black
edging continues past the black spot in the Green Veined White and
stops short of the spots in the Small White. In comparison with
these 2 species, the Large White has larger and stronger black markings
on the upper sides of its wings. These markings can be seen through
the wings from its undersides. The female Brimstone butterfly can
appear to be white but is distinguished by its pointed wing tips.
The female Orange Tip is another species which could be confused
with the other whites. This can be identified by the dappled green
markings on the underside of its wings. A further confusing species
may be the lighter coloured Clouded Yellows, but these always settle
with closed wings and have a noticeable white spot on the underside
of the wings.
During Spring there may be some confusion between the Dingy and
Grizzled Skippers. The undersides of the Dingy is completely brown,
the Grizzled has well defined speckled markings. Later in the year
there are greater problems trying to diffrentiate between Small
and Essex Skippers. The Essex Skipper has a black underside to the
tips of its antenna, the Small Skipper has brown or orange. The
Large Skipper may fly at the same time as the Essex and Small but
may be distinguished by an orange and brown pattern on the upperside
of its wings. The Silver Spotted Skipper may be identified by the
silver spotted pattern on the underside of its wings.
The Black and White-letter Hairstreaks provide another difficult
problem in butterfly identification. Bucks is one of the few counties
where Black Hairstreaks can be found so practice is required. The
underside of the White-letter has a continuous black line at the
base of the hind wing, the Black has a series of black blobs.
The Brown Hairstreak is more likely to be confused with butterflies
within the Brown family. It is distinguished by its pointed wings
and orange patches on the the uppersides of its forewings.
Othe brown butterflies in Bucks include the Ringlet which has no
orange markings but a series of rings or ocelli on the underside
of its wings. In contrast the Meadow Brown is orange/brown with
one eyespot on the underside of its wings which has a single white
dot within it. The Gatekeeper appears more orange and has a similar
mark to the Meadow Brown but with 2 white dots within the eyespot.
The Small Heath is another species with a false eye marking on the
underside of its wings. Its wings are always kept shut when it is
The Small Copper is not a member of the Brown family but it could
be confused with them because of its colour. It has an orange forewing
and a contrasting brown hindwing with an orange band across its
base. The orange forewing shines through to the undersides of its
wings. Another orange/brown butterfly is the Duke of Burgundy which
has delicate orange spots on the upper side of its wings and a series
of silver marks on the undersides which also have a broken white
There are 2 larger species of fritillary in our area, the Dark Green
and the Silver Washed Fritillaries. Both are large orange butterflies
with brown spots. The Dark Green has slightly concave wings and
on the underside of its wings has dark green patches and silver
spots. The Silver Washed has pointed wing tips and a sheen of silvery
stripes across a lighter green background on the underside of its
The Brown Argus and the female Common Blue are also orange/brown
and it is difficult to differentiate between them. On the underside
of the hind wing, the Brown Argus has 2 spots which line up to form
a colon. The female Common Blue has a more irregular pattern of
spots and often has blue diffused around the upper side of its body.
The male blue butterflies may also cause identification problems.
The Common Blue has a violet tinge to the upper sides of its wings,
the Chalkhill is a paler blue and the Adonis has a vivid colour
which when seen is unmistakeable. The Adonis also has a black and
white chequered fringe. The Holly Blue flies a lot higher than the
other blues, the female has black tips to the upper sides of its
wings and the underside is silvery blue with streaked black spots.
The Small Blue has dark upper sides to its wings with only a hint
of blue, the undersides are pale and silvery with a few small black
spots. Only the the Purple Hairstreak may be confused with the blues,
but this has an irredescent purple marking on the upper side of
its wings and pointed tail at the base of its hind wing.
Nick concluded his talk with a plea to all of us who had gardens
to think about the welfare of butterflies when gardening and in
particular to avoid using a strimmer to remove grass from near to
fences and walls which provide enough habitat for his favourite
Thanks to Nick for all his identification tips. His vast knowledge
of his subject was apparent as was his dedication to their cause.