A Fluttering of Butterflies

A butterfly perched on a magnolia at Stoneywell, Leicestershire

As we enjoy the long hot days of summer the gardens and woodland at Stoneywell come alive with the delicate fluttering wings of a number of beautiful butterflies.

The rhododendrons and azaleas may well have finished their main flowering, but at this time of year the meadow comes into its own. With a wide range of grasses and grassland plants it attarcts lots of butterflies which visit to feed on the nectar or lay their eggs in order for the hatching caterpillars to feed upon.

The most common butterfly has to be the Large White and whilst notorious amongst gardeners for laying its eggs on brassicas, it finds little food in the walled garden at Stoneywell, but instead dashes across the meadow with its fast but jerky flight, passing from one clump of thistles to next. Its bright cream wings are in stark contrast to our other two common butterflies at this time of year – the Meadow Brown and the Ringlet. The first is a lighter brown with bright orange flashes and two dark black spots on its upper wings. The Ringlet is a much darker brown with a very fine cream line round the edge of the wings. When the wings are closed it reveals a lighter underside with several black spots with cream rings - which is how it came upon its common name!  

Path through the meadow
STWS meadow path
Path through the meadow

The later blooms of our flowering shrubs attract some of our more brightly coloured butterfly species, the Peacock with its large eye-spots on its wings to deter predators, the Red Admiral, the Tortoiseshell and the Comma, with its comma shaped marking on its underwings which also have unmistakably jagged edges. All these butterflies have fairly fast and powerful flights, largely due to thier size, but are easy to watch as they rest on blooms inbetween energetic movement.

Tortoiseshell butterfly in Stoneywell garden
STWS butterfly garden stoneywell
Tortoiseshell butterfly in Stoneywell garden

If you are looking for a more delicate flyer look no further than Stoneywell wood; the circular route around the perimeter makes for a super walk, with the canopy providing cool shade, broken by the illuminating light of the dappled sun. This is a perfect environment for the Speckled Wood butterfly, a very dainty flyer, whose brown wings are speckled with cream spots, which means it fits in perfect in the dappled light of the woodland.

Take a stroll through the SSSI woodland at Stoneywell
A path through the woodland at Stoneywell
Take a stroll through the SSSI woodland at Stoneywell

This is also a good place to look for the highlight of our summer butterfly visitors -  the purple hairstreak which is a very delicate butterfly indeed. Not much bigger than a twenty-pence piece with bright purple wings it is a butterfly with an unusual habit which makes it hard to spot. Surprisingly it feeds on honeydew, the sweet secretion from aphids, and as a consequence it spends much of the day high up in the canopy of oak trees, where high concentrations of aphids are found. They do however fly to the ground when they need to quench their thirst. So when looking for some butterflies it really is a case of looking up. 

Other butterflies to spot include the Small Skipper, Common Blue and the Small Copper - all beautiful butterflies that can be seen in the Stoneywell meadow.  

A small skipper butterfly pays a visit to the garden
Small skipper butterfly in the garden
A small skipper butterfly pays a visit to the garden

It’s not just butterflies you need to be on the look-out for; we have a number of moths which fly during the day instead of, or as well, during the night. The best one to hunt for is the 6-spot burnet - an unmistakable insect - its dark black wings are marked with six bright red spots – a striking way to deter predators but which make it very easy to spot as it rests on the stalks of grasses. Another moth highlight is the Scarlet Tiger which is not particularly common in the Midlands but at certain times can be spotted in the Stoneywell garden. It is very tropical looking with its flash of red underwings and black forewings covered in red and cream spots - so definately one to look out for.  

A Six-Spot Burnet moth enjoying a rest in the Stoneywell garden
STWS Stoneywell Burnet Moth Butterfly
A Six-Spot Burnet moth enjoying a rest in the Stoneywell garden

The garden team work hard to ensure the grounds at Stoneywell are in great condition for our insect visitors, and it’s not just the butterflies and moth either, look and listen out for a range of bumblebees, grasshoppers and crickets that all thrive within the Stoneywell meadow, on a hot day it’s hard to escape the buzzing of the bees and the cacophony of the crickets! When you next visit why not pick up a butterfly guide and see how many you can spot.

The Scarlet Tiger moth
STWS Scarlet tiger moth butterfly
The Scarlet Tiger moth