What are butterflies?
Butterflies and moths are insects that form the insect order Lepidoptera. There is no consistent way of telling butterflies and moths apart. Butterflies are all day-flying and belong to eight families of the Lepidoptera. Most moths fly at night – however there are several colourful moth species that fly by day.
Many species of moths can also be found in gardens. They too can be pollinators, and are a vital part of the food chain and garden biodiversity – although a handful can damage garden plants as larvae. The larvae are usually known as caterpillars and they feed on the foliage and flowers of their host plants. When fully fed, they crawl away to sheltered places where they pupate and later emerge as adult butterflies or moths.
There are 59 butterfly species resident in Britain, plus up to 30 others that come here as occasional or regular migrants from elsewhere in Europe.
Some species require specialised habitats, such as chalk downland or coppiced woodland and so are unlikely to be seen in gardens. The species most likely to found in gardens include Red Admiral, Peacock, Brimstone, Painted Lady, Comma, Green-veined White, Small Tortoiseshell, Small Cabbage White and Large Cabbage White.
Only the last two are potential garden problems as they have caterpillars that feed on cabbages, other brassicas and nasturtiums. The caterpillars of the Comma can sometimes be found on hops and currants. Its orange white and black spiky caterpillars resemble bird droppings and do not cause significant damage to host plants.
Less frequent garden visitors include Orange-tip, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown, Small Copper and Holly and Common Blues.