The butterfly is undoubtedly the most popular of all insects. The incredible patterns formed by their brightly coloured wings and their erratic, yet graceful flight have made butterfly watching a popular pastime through the ages.
The common name ‘butterfly’ is believed to have originated in England. In previous times the English thought that the yellow colour of the early spring Brimstone species looked very similar to the colour of butter that they churned and that’s this insect has the name ‘butter-fly’.
Butterflies are part of a family of insects (along with moths) called ‘lepidoptera’ meaning scaled wings. Lepidoptera is from the Greek words lepis (meaning scale) and pteron (meaning wing). Tiny dust-like scales on the wings of butterflies give them their beautiful colouration. Some poets describe butterflies as ‘clothed in colour’.
Butterflies are generally active during the day and this general behaviour separates them from moths. If in doubt, butterflies can be distinguished from moths by their antennae. Butterflies generally have clubbed antennae, moths do not.
‘Skippers’ seem to have characteristics of both butterflies and moths, but most experts agree that, on balance, creatures such as our native Small Skipper is in fact a butterfly. We have over 50 native butterflies in England of which 10 are described in our website.