Monday, 3 September 2012


Green Hairstreak by Andrew Malcolm
The life of a butterfly constitutes four main phases. It begins as an egg; the egg then develops in to larva or caterpillar. At this stage most feeding and growth are undertaken. When fully grown the larva becomes a chrysalis or pupa. Although the pupa appears inactive, great change is occurring within and the metamorphosis into butterfly or imago is completed. The adult form of the butterfly is the colourful, beautiful flying insect with which we are most familiar.

Butterflies, along with moths, are part of the order Lepidoptera. This reflects the fact that their wings are covered in scales. A readily distinguishing feature from moths is their clubbed antennae, which moths don’t have. Moreover butterflies are a day flying or diurnal contrasting with moths, which are usually, though not exclusively, nocturnal. As butterflies are sun loving they occur in summer and autumn, and rarely in winter!

There are 33 regularly occurring species of butterfly in Ireland and a small number of vagrants. Regularly occurring species in Waterford amount to twenty-five, with a few unusual vagrants.

Of the White and Yellows, all occur in Waterford, with the exception of Brimstone. Clouded Yellow is a migrant occurring in large numbers in some years and is extremely rare or absent in other years. Wood Whites, a small delicate white, occur widely in Waterford.

Irish Browns are well represented, with the notable exception in Waterford of the Large Heath. All of the others are present. Wall Brown (declining in Ireland) can be seen along rocky/rough areas of the coast. They are easily seen at Ballymacart at present. Grayling and Gatekeeper can be seen later in the summer near Dunhill and at Ballyscanlan.

Marsh Fritillary by John Joe Cahill
Among Irish Vanessids and Fritillaries, Pearl-bordered Fritillary does not occur in Waterford. Red Admiral and Painted Lady are migrants and can occur in large numbers. Comma has only recently become established in Ireland, particularly in Wexford and now recorded in very small numbers in Waterford City and its environs. Queen of Spain Fritillary, not reliably recorded in Ireland since 1960, was sighted a Carrickavrantry, Co. Waterford by Tony Byrant in October 2011. Marsh Fritillary has not been recorded in Waterford in recent years. However, last June, a freshly dead specimen was recovered from the grill of a car at Ballinamult, so they may occur. As the name suggests, they are sighted exclusively on bogs/marshes and their flight period is late May to early June. Information on any occurrences would be greatly appreciated.

Green Hairstreaks Mating by Francis O'Connell
Of the Irish Hairstreaks, Coppers and Blues, Brown Hairstreaks do not occur in Waterford and Small Blues very sparingly (any records very welcome). Green Hairstreaks are presently on the wing and can be seen at Coumaraglin in the Monavullagh Mountains and on the approaches to the Vee. Purple Hairstreaks, an oak tree specialist, can be seen on Oaks in the late summer. They are probably widespread in suitable habitat, which is almost exclusively high in the canopy of Oak Trees – careful scrutiny should be rewarded.

Two Skipper species occur in Ireland. Dingy Skipper does not occur in Waterford. Essex Skipper has recently colonised Ireland and is now well established in Wexford, so is a potential vagrant/colonist in Waterford.

Monarch, a large American vagrant, occurs in Ireland in small numbers in autumn and has been recorded in Waterford.

A Guide to the Butterflies of Ireland, an excellent publication, designed to aid identification in the field, is available from the Dublin Naturalist’s Field Club, 35 Nutley Park, Donnybrook, Dublin 4. As well as illustrating all regularly occurring butterflies in Ireland, it also gives “Time Of Flight Charts” for each species.

Check out for national records (and submissions) and for local occurrences. See also for details of the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme.

If you have any questions or comments, please email them to

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