In this section we look at the butterflies and the commoner day-flying moths seen in our area, giving photographs of adults and caterpillars, brief descriptions of points to note in confirming the identification of the trickier species, a summary of their life-histories and distribution maps.
We list the butterflies first, each name leading to a page with images and maps. Following from them, we have a link to the day-flying moth page.
Distribution information will not be included for the rare species but Members may request it from the County Butterfly and County Moth recorders if it is required for conservation research reasons. Further and more detailed information on all Somerset’s moths is held by the Somerset Moth Group.
The great majority of the photographs in this section were kindly provided by John Bebbington FRPS.
The Skippers – Hesperiidae
Five Skipper species occur in Somerset, all of them small – about an inch wing-span - and with a quick erratic flight usually around grass-top height. Three of them – Small, Essex and Large Skipper - perch with the forewings held at an angle to the hind wings which gives them a distinctive appearance. Two of them – Grizzled Skipper and Dingy Skipper (image below) – are quite different from the first three and might be taken for moths; both of them are very easy to overlook.
The Whites - Pieridae
Six white butterfly species occur in our area. Five species are resident in the county and the sixth species, Clouded Yellow, is a migrant that occurs most years. Except male Brimstones and Orange-Tips, the resident species can present identification challenges and Large White, Small White and Green-veined White (image above) are particularly easy to confuse. Note that Wood White is extinct in Somerset and has not been recorded in our region for a number of years.
The Hairstreaks - Lycaenidae
Characterised by a white line on the underwings, reduced to dots in the Green Hairstreak, the four species found in Somerset all are elusive and not often seen by chance, presenting an interesting and, at times, frustrating challenge to find and still more to photograph even where they are known to be present.
The Blues - Lycaenidae
The Blues are a somewhat misleadingly named group as many of them are brown and consequently not always easy to identify. There are seven species present in Somerset. Common Blue (female above) and Holly Blue are reasonably widespread and visit gardens. The Large Blue and Adonis Blue are the rarest and both Small Blue and Chalkill Blue have very restricted distributions. The Small Copper is also a member of the Lycenidae, as are Hairstreaks but because the lifestyles of the latter four species are rather different we have dealt with them separately.
The Metalmarks - Riodinidae
A family of butterflies mostly found in tropical America. The Duke of Burgundy is the only representative of the family that occurs in the UK. Unfortunately it is now considered extinct in Somerset.
The Vanessids - Nymphalidae
These include most of the brightly-coloured and familiar garden species such as Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell both of which, together with the Comma (image above), ovewinter as hibernating adults. Red Admiral and Painted Lady vary much in abundance from year to year as they are annual summer migrants to Britain. White admirals are the scarcest of the group, confined to a few native woodlands and passing the winter as caterpillars.
The Fritillaries - Nymphalidae
Although part of the same family as the Vanessids and the Browns, the Fritillaries are all relatively scarce or rare. We have five species. The Silver-washed Fritillary is a woodland butterfly and the most widely distributed. Heath Fritillary is a moorland species and Somerset is its national stronghold. The other three species occur in unimproved grasslands of differering types.
The Browns - Nymphalidae
Formerly known as the Satyridae, the Browns are now judged to be part of the same family as Frits and Vanessids because the species in all three groups have only four functional legs. The Browns include some of the commonest butterfly species, still contriving to survive on field margins and roadside verges as well as rough grasslands. The Speckled Wood (image above) is a shade-loving woodland and shady garden species.However, a few of them are rather more restricted in distribution, Grayling and Wall being found mostly near the coast.
There are over 2400 species of moths in the UK. Of these around 800 are called "macro-moths" because they are bigger than the 1600 or so "micro-moths". Macros and micros include some spectacularly beautiful species and quite a few that fly by day so anyone looking at butterflies, whether in the countryside or in a garden, will encounter some of them. In the linked page we have set out a selection of images and a little information about them. Much more information is given on the Somerset Moth Group website.