Butterflies to look out for on the Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight is the ideal location to go butterfly hunting - we have a wide range and at least one butterfly that is almost exclusively an Island resident. I spoke to Barry Angell, former butterfly recorder for the Isle of Wight, about the rarer species you can find here.


The Island is particularly well known for its Glanville Fritillaries as this butterfly is rarely found anywhere else in Great Britain. It is named after Lady Eleanor Glanville who was the first to capture British specimens in Lincolnshire during the 1690s.

“Glanvilles are moving north on the Island,” said Barry. “They need a specific habitat and like the plantain that grows on cliffs where they have tumbled away, and used to just be along the south coast from Culver to Freshwater, but now they’re at Newtown and Gurnard.

“I suppose it’s because of global warming. There’s also a colony on Mottistone Down and they’ve been seen on the marsh too, which puzzles me because it’s not the right habitat for them,” he pondered. “Lady Glanville was considered an eccentric in her time and her family contested her will, saying she was mad because she collected butterflies,” laughed Barry.

“The Brown Hairstreak comes out in August and is our rarest butterfly on the Island, along with the White Letter Hairstreak. The latter breeds on Elm and you find them where you get young Elm. The Brown will lay its eggs on short bits of Blackthorn, but the last actual record of a Brown Hairstreak was in the mid 50s although we know they are here,” said Barry. “The Glanville Fritillary is nowhere near as rare as the Brown Hairstreak on the Island,” he added.

“The Wood Brown is out at the moment; a meadow and hedge land butterfly,” said Barry. “They look a bit like a Tortoiseshell but without the colour. Wood whites are now extinct on the Island – I think I saw one of the last ones in Locks Copse in the 1960s. We do get the odd large Tortoiseshell but mostly you see the Small Tortoiseshells.”

Another less common butterfly found here on the Island is the White Admiral, which is similar to the Red Admiral but with white markings and slightly smaller. It especially likes ancient woodland and will pick an area where the honeysuckle trails down from the trees to lay its eggs. On the Island you can find them in Walters Copse at Newtown and in Parkhurst Forest amongst other sites.

“The caterpillar will hibernate in a hibernacula and come out in early April. It feeds itself up and becomes a great big green caterpillar with red spikes,” explained Barry.

“They like almost the same habitat as the Silver Washed Fritillary and the Pearl Border and Small Pearl Border Fritillary. The Silver Washed Fritillary lays its eggs on an oak tree near a violet patch and the caterpillars hatch out and find their way to the violets,” explained Barry. “A variant on the female Silver Washed Fritillary lacks the orange pigment and is called a Valezina and we occasionally find them on the Island.

“August is a good time to see the blues: the Holly Blue, the Common Blue, the Adonis Blue and the Small Copper all brood in April and August, but the Chalkhill Blue is the only one that has a single brood. They are all downland butterflies,” he added.

“We have just over 40 species of butterfly on the Island. More common ones like the Red Admirals, Peacocks and Commas will be around until September as they like the rotten falling apples.

“Occasionally you will see an American Painted Lady. They live in Spain but do come here under certain conditions. We also see the Monarch and the European Swallowtail here sometimes,” he said.

But even rarer butterflies have been sighted on occasion. “One summer when I was recorder I kept getting reports of exotic butterflies and we found that they had escaped from a private collection,” recalled Barry.

If you do want to see the more exotic species pay a visit to Butterfly World near Wootton where you can walk through a flower-filled greenhouse full of jewel coloured butterflies. And an ideal place to see our native butterflies is the specially constructed ‘Butterfly Walk’ on the Adgestone Road just after you join it from the Brading Down Road.

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15 April 2016

By Jo Macaulay in Articles