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 hind wing.
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 at rest.
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 fringe.
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 wings.
The Brown Argus and the female Common Blue are also orange/brown butterflies
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 insects.
Thanks to Nick for all his identification tips. His vast knowledge of his subject was apparent as was his dedication to their cause.