Gatekeeper butterfly - Pyronia tithonus, click for a larger image
Click any photo for a larger image
Gatekeeper butterfly - Pyronia tithonus
Photos ©2005 -
Meadow Brown butterfly - Maniola jurtina, click for a larger image
Meadow Brown butterfly
Photo ©2005 - Stuart
Wild About Britain

Gatekeeper butterfly - Pyronia tithonus
Family - Nymphalidae
Also known as - the Hedge Brown

A common and resident butterfly in the UK especially southern England although becoming rarer in the north possibly from the the need for larvae to develop quickly during the spring and early summer.  They are found mainly on Grasses species selection page">Grasses in woodland clearings, heathland, and hedgerows favouring sheltered sunny situations.  Scarcer in areas where excessive verge mowing, hedge removal and "tidying" of the countryside has occurred.

Similar to the Meadow Brown, the two species can be difficult to distinguish with closed wings as the underwing markings are similar.  However, the smaller and more orange Gatekeeper tends to rest with its wings open, whereas the Meadow Brown usually rests with its wings closed.  The Gatekeeper also has double pupils in its eye spots.  Light Brown to Brown wings, wingspan to 40mm (1.6in) with orange marking and thin white or dark edging.  Brown body and wing roots, black "eye" at the tips of the orange wing marking with tiny double white spots to the "eye".  Sexually dimorphic, the male ♂ has a dark patch of scent-producing scales known as the androconia on the upper side of the forewing.

Pale yellow eggs are laid singly on grass sheltered by Hawthorn, Bramble and Blackthorn bushes protected from grazing by rabbits, sheep, deer Etc.  The eggs are spherical with roughly 16 vertical ridges when first laid, developing small brown spots within a couple of days, hatching after about 14 days.  Larvae feed on various Grasses including Common Meadow Gras.  They enter hibernation in September emerging in March or April to pupate.  Adults feed on Bramble, Devil's-bit Scabious - Succisa pratensis, Fleabane - Pulicaria dysenterica, Hemp Agrimony - Eupatorium cannabinum, Wild Privet, Common Ragwort, Red Clover, various Thistles - Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) and Water Mint.

Two similar species of Pyronia are found in southern Europe, the Southern Gatekeeper - P. cecilia and the Spanish Gatekeeper - P. bathsheba.

Bradley & Fletcher #1625

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