Short-lived and exquisitely beautiful, our butterflies are a sensitive indicator of the environment’s health. Some fly for a few days, others a few weeks, but they all pack a lot into their short lives. Finding food, mating and locating a good place to lay their eggs. And basking in the sun.
Scotland has thirty butterfly species to look for. Some of the best places to see them are in and around your woodlands.
Where do they live?
The best butterfly woods have a range of different trees, and sunny clearings filled with shrubs and wildflowers. The speckled wood butterfly (Pararge aegeria) flies in partially shaded forests, but most of them prefer open broadleaf or mixed woods near grassy areas. We encourage colonies by planting a mix of trees and creating sunlit glades wherever possible.
You can find out more about these beautiful insects, and about work to help them at Butterfly Conservation Scotland.
What do they eat?
Butterfly diets vary. The small, fast-flying chequered skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon) collects nectar from bluebells in woodland clearings. The handsome purple hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus) feeds on honeydew it ‘milks’ from aphids in the canopy of Scotland's oakwoods.
Caterpillars eat different things, so butterflies lay their eggs on or near to good sources of caterpillar food. The pearl-bordered fritillary (Boloria euphrosyne) looks for abundant dog-violet leaves and somewhere warm because its caterpillars can't digest food if they're cold. To help this very rare butterfly we cut back young trees on sunny south-facing slopes and leave dead bracken for the caterpillar to sunbathe on.
When is the best time to see them?
Warm, sunny days when they're on the wing. Most butterflies fly for only a few weeks between April and September.
Use this handy butterfly identification guide to help you decide which butterfly you’ve seen.
Where might you see them?
Go to the Butterfly Conservation Scotland reserve at Allt Mhuic on Loch Arkaig near Spean Bridge from mid-May to the end of June.
Other superb butterfly sites in summer are Kinloch Forest on Skye, Mabie Forest Nature Reserve near Dumfries, and Glasdrum Wood National Nature Reserve and Glen Creran near Oban.