Learning about Butterflies

Learning and increasing my knowledge about wildlife is a key part of being an Academy Ranger as it is essential information when considering habitat management and the effects it might have on wildlife.

At the moment, I am learning about identifying butterflies and their life cycles. The life cycle of most butterflies is pretty similar, for example this is the life cycle of the Marbled White;

  1. Firstly, the egg will be deposited by the female butterfly onto the food plant of the butterfly and this will then fall onto the ground and will eventually hatch after 3 weeks.
Melanargia galathea egg

Marbled white egg

  1. The caterpillar will hibernate on the ground until spring and then will feed on the food plant. The caterpillar stage lasts for around 11 months until pupation begins.
Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) caterpillar

Marbled white caterpillar

  1. The caterpillar begins to pupate, hidden in vegetation on the ground (some butterflies pupate on the food plant) and goes into the chrysalis stage which last 2/3 weeks.
Marbled White (Melanargia galathea) butterfly pupa

Marbled white in chrysalis stage

  1. Finally the beautiful Marbled White appears and then mates with another male/female Marbled White and the female lays its eggs on the food plant and dies within 2 weeks or less of becoming an adult butterfly.
Melanargia galathea laying an egg

Female marbled white laying an egg on the food plant

  1. The cycle goes round again.

However, some butterflies have much different ways of going through the life cycle such as the Large Blue which once it turns into a caterpillar it exhibits a form of parasitism and take advantage of the common red ant by mimicking it and releasing similar pheromones so that it thinks it is a red ant larvae and transport it to its nest. Once in the nest it will continue its mimicry but at the same time will eat the ant larvae or beg for food by acting like ant larvae. These are 2 strategies, predator and cuckoo.

Red Ant taking caterpillar back to the ants nest

Pupating Large Blues in red ant nest

Large Blue

Another thing about butterflies is that most of them don’t travel very far from their food plant at any stage of their life cycle – except for the Painted Lady butterfly which migrates from North Africa and the Mediterranean to Britain around May/June and then makes reverse journey in autumn.

Painted Lady

There is much more to learn but here are some pictures I took on Wednesday of last week when we did some butterfly spotting.




Small Copper




Female Common Blue


Green-veined White


Essex Skipper


Male Common Blue






Small White


Marbled White


Small Heath


Meadow Brown


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