A Butterfly Diary: May


Best-known for his carol “Hark the herald angels sing”, Reginald Heber was also a poet. His poem “The Harebell” is absolutely perfect for the view I had the day I photographed this beautiful butterfly…

 With drooping bells of clearest blue
Thou didst attract my childish view,
Almost resembling
The azure butterflies that flew
Where on the heath thy blossoms grew
So lightly trembling.


 Green-Underside Blue (Glaucopsyche alexis or Alexis-Bläuling in German)

AlexisBläuling(Click on the photos for a closer look)

They are one of the gossamer-winged butterflies, flying from May to June, and in good weather again in July and August. The meadow where I found this one in early May (and there were several flying around me) is the perfect habitat, with plenty of nectar-rich wild flowers such as vetch, clover and harebells.

The wingspan of this one was just about 2cm. We have a few blue butterflies here, but I have never seen such a pretty one before.


The more common one here is the Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus, Hauhechel-Bläuling)


Its wingspan is only about 2.5cm, and it has beautiful orange and brown markings on the outer wings. The male is more distinctive than the female, and they can be seen all through the summer. They have been in the garden since early May this year. The Common Blue likes all sorts of vetch and clover, but I love the fact that a favourite of theirs is the Ononis spinosa (Spiny Restharrow/Hauhechel), which is one of the only thorny plants I gladly grow!


Around the 10th of May I spotted this Fritillary and decided it must be a Weaver’s Fritillary (Boloria dia, Magerrasen-Perlmuttfalter)


(The photo was taken on a green mat, it’s not the lawn!)

I know very little about this butterfly although we often see it, but according to Wikipedia the larvae feed on Prunella and Violets, so again I have some good plants for these in my garden. The wingspan of this one is perhaps 3 or 4cm. The orange colour varies – some of them look much browner, but with the same markings.


In the middle of the month this brown butterfly made a brief appearance and I haven’t seen it since: a Woodland Ringlet (Erebia medusa, Rundaugen-Mohrenfalter)


The wings were very silky and the wingspan about 4 cm. I have looked it up and they fly from May to July, while their habitat is the edges of woodland, dry and chalky hillsides and in mountain meadows.


The last one I could photograph towards the end of the month was the Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae, Kleiner Fuchs).


The Centranthus is opening and these fairly large butterflies (3-4cm) are attracted to its red flowers. They will be in the garden all year – the first are in March on the spring flowers, and the last love to visit the Sedum and Asters in autumn.


Other butterflies spotted were the Brimstones and Orange Tips as well as the Green-Veined White. I also briefly saw the first Hummingbird Hawk-Moths in a warm spell, just as the Centranthus was opening – they will be back and I hope to get some photos of them.

A few other flying vistors made an appearance too. Firstly this Large Red Damselfly…


then this tiny dragonfly…


And finally this amazing creature!


It liked my metal butterfly decoration! I found out that it is a Broad-bodied Chaser dragonfly (Libellula depressa, Plattbauch) and is one of the most common dragonflies in Europe. This is a young male, with a blue tinge to the abdomen, and yellow patches which can also be seen clearly. It is pretty big – about 7 cm long and the abdomen as thick as my little finger. The Wikipedia page has lots of information on this dragonfly – perhaps you see it too?

That’s it for May – not bad, as The June Gap usually makes itself felt at the end of May and early June, when the spring generation fades away and the new summer generations are yet to emerge. (See Sarah’s post from last year on The June Gap at The Garden Deli).


Finally, some words from the late poet and human rights activist, Maya Angelou:

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.”


Have you seen many butterflies so far this spring? What is the most common one near you at this time of year? Please share!


The June Gap

Big Butterfly Count (UK)

Identifying Butterflies etc (UK)

The Guardian – Dragonfly Gallery

A Butterfly Diary: April

Love is like a butterfly:  It goes wherever it pleases and pleases wherever it goes. 

(Click here for the song: “Love is like a butterfly”)


At the beginning of the month I saw many of the same butterflies as posted about in late March: Common Brimstones, Peacocks and Commas. A few additions appeared in April, but it is still rather early for most.

The first Orange Tips (Anthocharis cardamines, Aurorafalter) arrived on March 31st, and have been fluttering around since then. I am always happy to see these, as they provide an excellent excuse for not doing much weeding; they are attracted into my garden – to lay their eggs – by Honesty, Nettles and Garlic Mustard.  They do in fact contain mustard oil, making them taste horrible to birds… the orange wingtip is the warning: don’t eat me! They like Cuckoo flowers too (Cardamine pratensis).


I was amazed how much they seem to love the Aubretia, which has also been very popular with the bees. To me these butterflies symbolize Spring, as they are only seen flying in the months of April and May.


The next one I saw was the Green-Veined White (Pieris napi, Grünader-Weißling). It is very similar to the Cabbage White – probably the most common butterfly of all in Europe.


When I recently read that they like Bugle, Buttercups and Vetches, I was very pleased to note another few areas of the garden I MUST NOT WEED! (Yes, we have them all within the garden…) These butterflies can be found in abundance on the edge of woodland and valleys with grassy meadows.


Finally, I spotted an absolutely tiny butterfly, which turned out to actually be a moth… the Mint Moth (Pyrausta purpuralis, Purpurrote Zünsler ). It has a wingspan of only about 2 cm, and although a moth it often flies in the daytime too.


The caterpillars like mint, oregano and thyme, which grow wild in this area as well as in my garden. The moths are apparently common in dry and chalky grassland areas such as we have, although I have never noticed one before. Here the moth has landed on a Loosestrife leaf for a rest in the sun! It was very friendly and waited for me to fetch my camera – I only got one shot at it though and then it was off again.


Thou winged blossom, liberated thing,
What secret tie binds thee to other flowers,
Still held within the garden’s fostering?

(from Ode to a Butterfly, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson)

I hope you are seeing lots of butterflies too – or at least soon will be! Even if you don’t get photos – incredibly difficult – please share what’s visiting your garden!



A Butterfly Diary – Please Join In!

Change is what makes us better people – ask any butterfly and he’ll know what I mean…


Yes, a little out of focus I know, but after chasing him round the garden I was just glad to have got a shot of him! A Comma (Polygonia c-album or C-Falter in German) is a rare enough sight, let alone in mid-March! This was March 13th to be precise. Commas overwinter and this generation will fly until June or so. They are apparently quite common in Germany, but I hardly ever see them. They have beautifully shaped wings (and are sometimes called Angelwings), and when they are closed you can see the characteristic comma shape in white on the dark background. You can see it well in the photo below which I took a couple of summers ago…


Among other plants, the Comma caterpillars like to feed on hazel and pussy willow, both of which are in our garden.


I also saw a Common Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni, Zitronenfalter) that day. It’s the yellow blur below on the left…


This butterfly has the longest life expectancy of all butterflies found in Germany – up to 12 months.

I will do my best to get a better photo this year!

Since then I have glimpsed a Peacock (Inachis io, Tagpfauenauge) and a Cabbage White (Pieris brassicae, Kohlweißling). The Peacock is one of our most common butterflies here – not to be confused with the American Peacocks. The photo below is from last autumn…


“Thou spark of life that wavest wings of gold,

Thou singless wanderer ‘mid the singful birds”

(from Ode to a Butterfly, by Thomas Wentworth Higginson)

I will be keeping a Butterfly Diary this year, and posting towards the end of each month – with or without photos and with some butterfly links. If anyone would like to join in please do! It would be so interesting to hear which butterflies visit your gardens around the world!


European Butterflies

UK Butterfly Conservation Site