Native butterfly species: top 10 most common butterflies

Native butterfly species: top 10 most common butterflies

Butterflies are some of the most popular insects. We will introduce you to the ten most beautiful types of butterflies native to Europe.

Butterflies are an integral part of summer for a lot of people. Unfortunately, many butterfly species across the globe are endangered today. In the last ten years, the number of butterfly species native to Europe has decreased by ten percent and more and more types of butterflies are considered endangered. What can we do to help? For example, plant colourful and wild gardens. In the following, we will present to you ten beautiful native butterfly species that would appreciate your help.

Depending on the environmental conditions, butterfly species can develop special shapes and colours. This was researched extensively at the beginning of the 20th century. Scientists found that very high or very low temperatures and unusual food consumed during the caterpillar stage can lead to extreme deviations in shape and colour of the adult butterflies. These findings explain why some butterfly species in certain areas look differently than they are supposed to in particularly hot years. This was especially noticeable with the Camberwell beauty: it clearly showed characteristics of the large tortoiseshell in cold conditions. In this article, you will find ten of the most beautiful butterfly species that you might encounter in many gardens around Europe.

1. Marbled white (Melanargia galathea)

The marbled white stands out with its striking black and white pattern. This butterfly prefers flower meadows with low nutrients and is especially keen on purple and violet flowers such as thistles and pincushion flowers. However, for these meadows to serve as a source of food to the marbled white, they should only be mowed towards the end of July. The female butterflies drop their eggs on the ground mid-air so that the caterpillars can hatch there. You should therefore leave a few corners in your garden unmown – the marbled white and many other insects will be very grateful.

2. Common brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni)

The common brimstone is the first butterfly to flutter around in spring. Brimstones have an amazing ability to exude the majority of their body fluids in the cold winter and can survive temperatures as low as -20 °C this way. As soon as the temperatures get a little higher, the butterflies awake from their hibernation. At the height of summer, the brimstone butterfly enters a second period of rest. This ability to hibernate makes brimstones the only native to Europe butterfly species that can live up to ten months. Common brimstones can be easily recognised by their characteristic leaf-like wings. Male brimstones are of a lemony colour while female tend to be green to yellow.

3. Hummingbird hawk-moth (Macroglossum stellatarum)

The hummingbird hawk-moth is a very unusual butterfly. Its weighty body is especially noticeable. At first glance, the hummingbird hawk-moth is sometimes confused with a hummingbird, even though the birds are not native to Europe. However, this comparison is not that far-fetched. There are some similarities between the bird and its insect namesake, mainly their size and their ability to hover in front of flowers. The hummingbird hawk-moths’ proboscis is about three centimetres long and enables them to drink while flying. For that reason, they mainly choose flowers with long calyxes. In winter, the insects usually migrate to Mediterranean regions, but in recent years, more and more hummingbird hawk-moths have been observed staying in their summer habitats over winter.

4. Peacock butterfly (Aglais io)

peacock butterfly
The peacock butterfly is one of the most easily recognisable butterfly species – the eye-like spots on its wings can’t be missed [Shutterstock.com/Ruslan Galiullin]

The peacock butterfly, or European peacock, is one of the most common butterflies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. It can be recognised quite easily by its reddish-brown wings with four large eyespots. Peacock butterflies spend their winter in humid places such as basements or burrows instead of migrating. For that reason, they are among the first butterflies to return to nature when it gets warmer in spring. The peacock butterfly caterpillars are also easy to spot. They are almost exclusively found on stinging nettles and are of a deep black colour with white spots. This butterfly has a unique defence strategy: if an attacker approaches, the peacock butterfly rapidly flaps its wings to show off its eyespots and makes a hissing sound.

5. Old World swallowtail (Papilio machaon)

With a wingspan of up to eight centimetres, the Old World swallowtail, usually only referred to as swallowtail, is one of the largest native butterfly species. Its wings have a striking pattern with a blue stripe on the bottom and protruding tails. In recent years, the swallowtail’s population has recovered, and it can be seen on meadows or gardens from time to time. Swallowtails are especially fond of gardens where carrots, dill and fennel are grown. During their mating season, between May and August, the butterflies can often be seen on hilltops, where male and female swallowtails like to meet. The females lay their eggs onto umbellifers, but only a few eggs at a time, so that the swallowtail caterpillars won’t damage the plant too much.

6. Common blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus)

There are several different common blue butterfly subspecies. As the name suggests, they can be recognised by their blue colouring. The dorsal side of the wings of male common blues has an intense blue colour. Females, on the other hand, are mainly brown with a slight blue tinge. The ventral side has a light base colour with striking black and orange dots. The common blue butterfly’s wings also have a white fringe on the outer edge. Common blues lay their eggs on plants of the family Fabiodeae, for example white clover, or plants of the genus Lotus.

7. Orange tip (Anthocharis cardamines)

anthocharis cardamines
The male butterflies of this species have characteristic orange markings (hence their name) on their wings [Shutterstock.com/Gecko1968]

When the cuckoo flowers and garlic mustard are blooming, the orange tip won’t be far away. This native to Europe butterfly species lives on meadows and in forests. The male orange tip is a white butterfly with, of course, orange tips on its wings. These bright orange wingtips are what sets the males apart from the female butterflies. However, both sexes have a white and green pattern on their ventral wing sides. These insects are solitary animals and survive the winter as pupae, which then hatch in spring.

8. Red admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

The red admiral is a frequent visitor in the garden. This butterfly species does not have special requirements for its habitat. Red admiral butterflies live in open landscapes with meadows and fields, in clearings and orchards as well as in gardens. They like to feed on phloxes, summer lilacs or goldenrods. Apart from those, stinging nettles are also one of the red admiral’s favourite plant to feed on. The butterflies are of a dark brown colour with a red border. Their wingtips are black with white markings. They cannot survive cold winter temperatures in moderate climate zones and therefore migrate to southern regions of Europe to wait for summer to return.

9. Silver-washed fritillary (Argynnis paphia)

The silver-washed fritillary butterfly lives in or on the edge of forests. In recent years, it has also often been spotted in gardens and bushes. Male butterflies have an intense orange colour with a black-brown pattern on their wings. Females are browner in colour. The silver-washed fritillary’s ventral wing side is of a greenish-white with a hint of silver. The insects feed on the nectar of thistles, plants of the genus Origanum, blackberries and summer lilacs. They lay their eggs on tree trunks where the caterpillars hatch and hibernate before feeding on wild violets in spring.

10. Camberwell beauty (Nymphalis antiopa)

nymphalis antiopa
This type of butterfly is not just (in our opinion) one of the most beautiful ones, it also has one of the largest wingspans measuring up to 7.5 cm [Shutterstock.com/Marek R. Swadzba]

The Camberwell beauty is a truly unique type of butterfly. Its dorsal side of the wings is velvety-brown, framed by a border of blue dots and a cream-coloured, jagged edge. The Camberwell beauty is one of the largest butterflies with a wing span of up to 7.5 centimetres. In spring, the butterfly only feeds on willow flowers. During the rest of the year, it prefers windfalls and tree sap. Its natural habitats are open and humid forests with willows, birches and elms, but the Camberwell beauty can also occasionally be seen in orchards and gardens.



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