Butterflies for Beginners and the Big Butterfly Count

Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) at Roundshaw Downs

Last Saturday Sutton Biodiversity Team ran a course on butterflies, aimed at beginners to try and help people get to grips with identifying butterflies. During the training day, the group were led through butterfly life history, anatomy, some identification tips and a background to butterfly conservation. Some of the common species that are encountered in Sutton were covered, and even some of the rarer species like the scarce Small Blue butterfly (found at two of Sutton’s chalk grassland sites).

After covering several groups of butterflies, the group soon learnt that several species of butterflies can look remarkably similar to each other! Including the Small and Essex Skipper, and Small and Large White. The names of these species can be fairly misleading, as size is not actually a good way of telling these species apart from each other. The best way of telling the Skippers apart is to get up close and take a look at the colour of the clubs at the end of their antennae. The Essex Skipper has black clubs, whereas the Small Skipper has orange clubs. As for the Whites, the best way of telling them apart is to take a look at the wing tips. Large Whites tend to have extensive black markings at the wing tip, continuing along the outer edge of the wing. The Small White has less extensive grey or black markings, that extend only slightly along the outer edge.

Large White (Pieris brassicae) has extensive black markings on the tip of their wings. Photo: © Vince Massimo

The Small White (Pieris rapae) has less extensive grey markings on the wing tip. Photo © Vince Massimo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After a classroom session, the best way to consolidate this information was to get out and start identifying some butterflies! The group headed off the Roundshaw Downs to put their identification skills to use, and managed to find and identify Ringlets, Meadow Browns, Marbled Whites and Green Veined Whites – to name a few.

If you want to get involved with identifying and monitoring butterflies, Butterfly Conservation is running a Big Butterfly Count from 19th July to 10th August. This is a nationwide survey to help assess the state of the nation’s butterflies and our environment. Butterflies respond really quickly to environmental changes, which make them good “indicator species” (i.e. they can tell us how changes in the environment are likely to affect other species). This is why counting butterflies can be described as “taking the pulse of nature.” Getting involved couldn’t be easier, details can be found on this website! The count takes 15 minutes in a location of your choice on a sunny day, all you need to do is download the ID chart and get counting.

Eleanor Kirby-Green

SNCV Biodiversity Assistant

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