Butterflies

  1. Home
  2. Butterflies

Coastal wildflowers provide an abundant nectar source for a variety of butterflies and moths, while grasses support them through their larval phase. Alongside the meadows, the steep coastal slopes are sun traps and the scrub areas provide the shelter loved by butterflies. Subsequently, nearly half of all British butterflies and moths can be encountered regularly on the coastal Durham Magnesian Limestone plateau.

Durham Argus (Aricia artaxerxes)

Durham Argus (Aricia artaxerxes)

As the name suggests, this rare sub-species of the Northern Brown Argus is not currently found on the Sunderland coastline but appears only in County Durham. It is an ongoing project of the Sunderland Coastal Ranger to link the habitats in Durham by increasing the larvae’s only food-source (Common Rockrose) along the clifftops from Hendon to Ryhope. The project is still in its early stages but has seen successful movement of the Rock-rose across the site, which is well suited to the limestone rich soils.

The biggest threat to the success of this reintroduction is anti-social behaviour, in particular the off-road motorcycles that frequent the site.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 25-31mm
  • Spot them: June to July
  • Food: Common Rockrose
  • Conservation status: High priority
Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)

Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)

This small butterfly is one of the most widespread in Britain, adding a splash of bright blue to the Hendon and Ryhope grasslands during spring to early autumn months. The upper-wings of the male are a deep blue with white fringe margins while the female’s is brown, tinged blue in the middle with dark orange spots framing the edges of the wings below their white fringe margins. The under-wings of both sexes are grey-brown with black and orange spots and a blue tinge towards the body.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 35mm
  • Spot them: May to October
  • Food: Yorkshire fog, Cock’s-foot, Bird’s-foot-trefoil
  • Conservation status: Not threatened
Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages)

Dingy Skipper (Erynnis tages)

An increasingly rare find, the Dingy Skipper is a species of high conservation priority in the UK. If you are lucky enough to spot one, this small brown-grey furry butterfly might be seen along the Hendon Local Wildlife Site from May to July, possibly basking in the sunshine on bare ground, or perched moth-like on dead flower heads when the day is dull. They require habitats with a varied sward; with food plants growing low, interspersed with patches of bare ground for basking and taller vegetation for shelter and roosting.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 30mm
  • Spot them: May to August
  • Food: Yorkshire fog and Cock’s-foot, Bird’s-foot-trefoil
  • Conservation status: High priority
Peacock (Inachis io)

Peacock (Inachis io)

One of the most distinctive and familiar visitors to the coast, the large Peacock butterfly has wonderful defence mechanisms. Their dark brown under-wings resemble dead leaves and their burnt orange upper-wings have four bold eye-markings, which evolved to startle or confuse predators. These butterflies are commonly spotted hanging off a Buddleia or basking in the sheltered Ryhope Village Dene and Ryhope Dene-mouth.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 60-70mm
  • Spot them: July to September
  • Food: Buddleia, Nettles, Thistles
  • Conservation status: Not threatened
Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

While most species of butterfly and moth are territorial and do not like to stray from their habitat, this large butterfly begins its migration over in staggered intervals from mainland Europe during spring-time to lay eggs. The resulting adults can be spotted most prominently during the July and August months, enjoying the sunshine on the wayside of grasslands or enjoying the nectar on Buddleia or flowering Ivy. The adults have large, marbled smoky-grey under-wings and black upper-wings with red bands and white spots. The larvae are black with spikey bristles; they feed on Common Nettle and live inside of a conspicuously constructed tent of stitched together leaves.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 67-72mm
  • Spot them: March to October
  • Food: Buddleia, Nettles, Thistles
  • Conservation status: Not threatened
Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

This medium sized smoky brown butterfly can be identified by the black spots on each upper-wing that are surrounded by an orange band and pin pricked with a white inner. Although this is one of the most widespread species, many have been lost due to agricultural intensification which has led to the exclusion of grasses that the caterpillar uses as a food plant.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 50-55mm
  • Spot them: June to September
  • Food: Yorkshire Fog, Cock’s-foot
  • Conservation status: Not threatened
Large White(Pieris brassicae)

Large White(Pieris brassicae)

The Large White can easily be spotted along the Sunderland coast amongst the grasslands, as it has a wingspan of 60mm. Adults have yellow tinge to their under-wings while the upper-wings are cream coloured with a black tip;. Females can be differentiated by two black spots on their forewings. The larvae are black and white and feed on plants from the cabbage family.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 60mm
  • Spot them: May – September
  • Food: Cabbage, Dock and Mignonette
  • Conservation status: Not threatened
Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

Usually found habituating woodland areas, this medium sized butterfly can be spotted basking in the sunshine of the Ryhope Deanmouth. The Dene not only offers shelter from the wind but also has the areas of damp grass and shade that the butterfly requires.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 47-50mm
  • Spot them: April to September
  • Food: Cock’s foot, Yorkshire fog, Common Couch
  • Conservation status: Not threatened
Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

This small butterfly can be found amongst the grassland of Hendon cliffs by those with a good eye; not only are they small, they are quick. The adults have a variable orange and dark brown pattern on the upper-wings; on the under-wing, the dark brown is replaced by a grey buff. Larvae are small and green and can usually be found on Sheep’s Sorrel.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 47-50mm
  • Spot them: April to September
  • Food: Cock’s foot, Yorkshire fog, Common Couch
  • Conservation status: Not threatened

Moths

Silver Y (Autographa gamma)

Silver Y (Autographa gamma)

This distinctive day and night flying moth migrates to the UK each year from France. The adults can be identified by their marbled grey-brown forewings with an unbroken silver-white ‘Y’ marking on each wing. Most noticeably however, is the ‘cow lick’ tuft of fur sticking up on the back of their head.

Key Facts

  • Wingspan: 30-40mm
  • Spot them: May to October
  • Food:
  • Conservation status: Not listed – immigrant
Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae)

Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae)

In its prime, this day-flying moth is glossy black with six distinctive deep red spots on each forewing and long thick black antennae. They can be found during the summer months, lazily collecting nectar on Thistles, Knapweeds and Field scabious, while the caterpillars feed on Bird’s-foot trefoil. The caterpillars then hibernate over one winter and emerge to pupate in a papery chrysalis that can commonly be seen on grass stems.

Introduced to Durham at Blackhall from Scarborough.

Key Facts

  • Spot them: June to August
  • Food: Thistles, Knapweeds, Field Scabious, Bird’s-foot trefoil
  • Conservation status: Not threatened
Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

Cinnabar Moth (Tyria jacobaeae)

 

These day and night flying moths differ to the Six-spot burnet in the long red border on each outer black forewing, with two red dots framing the bottom of the wing. Their inner forewings are deep red and are surrounded by a black fringe. These species are predominantly confined to coastal habitats in the North of England.

*Fun Fact: The Ragwort plant that the Cinnabar moths (and many other species) rely on is governed by the Ragwort Control Act 2003, which considers it an invasive weed.

Key Facts

  • Spot them: June to August
  • Food: Thistles, Knapweeds, Field Scabious, Bird’s-foot trefoil
  • Conservation status: Not threatened

Join the Coast Ranger at one of our Coastal Events

You can find out what’s happening on our event page.  If you have any questions, feel free to contact us.

Menu