The Gatekeeper

Enjoying nectar from a thistle on Bepton Down.
Enjoying nectar from a thistle on Bepton Down.

The Gatekeeper (Pyronia tithonus)

The Gatekeeper butterfly’s common name is well-suited to it as it is mostly encountered close to field gateways where flowers grow, as well as along hedgerows and field margins. It will readily be found in scrub but will avoid open grassland. It is also known as the Hedge Brown.

It only has a wingspan of between 38-48mm but is a most attractive little butterfly with bright orange/brown wings fringed with a wide earthy brown band and a very distinctive black eye spot with a couple of small white dots.

Unfortunately this butterfly has declined by about 12%  since the 1970s and is now only found in Southern Britain.

It is found on the wing mainly in July and August feeding on the nectar of thistles, brambles, ragworts and wild marjoram. The female will lay up to 200 eggs in August. These will hatch soon afterwards and the larvae will survive the winter before pupating for about three weeks low down in the vegetation in June and July. The larvae require grasses such as common couch, fescues and various types of meadow grass.  Only one generation per year.