Here are some of the butterflies and moths you will see in the countryside in many parts of the UK and Europe. There are links to larger pictures and information about each species. Also included are a few lovely butterflies and moths from further afield.
Despite some obvious differences between many of the insects that we call butterflies and those that we call moths, there is no real scientific basis for separating the two groups, and lepidopterists (those who study this insect group) treat them as a single order.
Some obvious features of many of the butterflies are their bright colours and their habit of flying by day and resting with their wings closed vertically above their bodies. Most moths are dully coloured, nocturnal insects and hold their wings flat or in a ridge shape over their bodies when at rest. But there are exceptions to these convenient 'rules': burnet moths, for example, are very brightly coloured and they fly mainly during the day.
In Britain there are about 2500 species of butterflies and moths, with moths greatly outnumbering butterflies. Looking beyond the UK, across the world some 150,000 species of butterflies and moths have been identified, and no doubt there are many more still to be discovered.
The eggs are laid on the leaves of plants suited to the needs of the particular species. Some prefer nettles or docks; others may need specific flowers or the leaves of a particular tree. The larvae hatch after a few weeks and begin feeding.
After a few months the larva, or caterpillar, is fully grown and ready to pupate. It then turns into a chrysalis. It is in this state that many species spend the winter, although some hibernate as larvae and others do so as winged adults. The cycle begins again the following year with a new generation of butterflies and moths laying their eggs.
We photograph buterflies in the wild, without catching them and, if possible, without disturbing them from their normal patterns of behaviour. If you feel gthe need to capture specimens for close study, a large net is the best way to catch day-flying butterflies. They can then be studied and photographed before releasing them. In the early evening, moths can be caught in the same way, but once it gets dark this is not very practical. A lamp, preferably an ultra-violet one built in to a trap, does the job with the minimum of effort. We pack ours with pieces of egg boxes among which the moths soon settle down. On releasing moths from a trap it is important to disperse them; otherwise, the birds will have a feast and your location might be seriously depleted of some moth species.
The pictures and text on the First Nature butterfly and moth pages are the results of our own observations, notes and photography in Britain and Ireland, on mainland Europe, in North America and South America, and to a limited extent also Asia. We have also learned much from the published research and Web resources produced by many other organisations and individual enthusiasts who have studied butterflies and moths, and we wish to acknowledge our reliance on such expertise.
More specialist information on British, Irish, European mainland and American butterflies can be found on these superb websites:
UK Butterflies, by Peter Eeles
British Butterflies, by Stephen Cheshire
Learn About Butterflies, by Adrian Hoskins
UK Leps, by Reg Fry
Butterfly Ireland - Dublin Naturalists' Field Club
European Butterflies, by Matt Rowlings
European Butterfly Page, by Guy Padfield
Captain's European Butterfly Guide, by Simon Coombes
Butterflies of France, by Roger Gibbons
Butterflies in Italy, by Robin Fox
Butterflies of Bulgaria, by Zdravko Kolev
California Butterfly Monitoring, by Dr Arthur (Art) Shapiro
Butterflies and Moths of North America - Butterfly and Moth Information Network
Butterflies of America, by Jonathan P. Pelham / Butterflies of America Foundation
Asher. J., Warren, M., Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoat, G., Jeffcoat, S.
(2001) The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
(1982) Butterflies and Moths of Britain and Europe. Pan Books, London.
(1987) Butterflies of the British Isles: The Nymphalidae, Shire Natural History No 19, Aylesbury.
(1988) Butterflies of the British Isles: The Lycaenidae, Shire Natural History No 24, Aylesbury.
(1989) Butterflies of the British Isles: The Pieridae, Shire Natural History No 50, Aylesbury.
Fox, R., Asher. J., Brereton. T., Roy, D & Warren, M.
(2006) The State of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland, Pisces, Oxford.
Fox, R., Warren, M., Brereton, T. M., Roy, D. B. & Robinson, A.
(2010) A new Red List of British Butterflies. Insect Conservation and Diversity.
Fox, R., Warren, M & Brereton, T.
(2007) New Red List of British Butterflies. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham.
Harding, J. M.
(2008) Discovery Irish Butterflies & their Habitats.
Hofmann, H., Marktanner, T.
(2001) Butterflies and Moths of Britain & Europe. HarperCollins, London.
May, P. R.
(2003) Larval Foodplants of the Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland. The Amateur Entomologists' Society, Kent.
(1985) A Colour Guide to Familiar Butterflies Caterpillars and Chrysalides.
Newland, D. E.
(2006) Butterflies in Britain. Wild Guides, Hampshire.
(1968) The Complete British Butterflies in Colour.
(1997) The Colour Identification Guide to Caterpillars of the British Isles, Viking,
Riley, A. M.
(2007) British and Irish Butterflies: the Complete Identification, Field and Site Guide to the Species, Subspecies and Forms, Brambleby Books, Luton. ISBN: 978-0-9553928-0-1
Sterry, P. Photographic Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Europe
New Holland Publishers Ltd; 2nd Revised edition edition (1 May 2001) Language English ISBN-10: 1843302659 ISBN-13: 978-1859747308
Tolman, T., Lewington, R.
(1997) Butterflies of Britain & Europe. Harper Collins, London. ISBN-13: 978-0007242344
Britain's Butterflies: A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Ireland (Second edition, fully revised and updated) (Britain's Wildlife) [Illustrated] [Paperback] D. E. Newland D. E. Newland (Author) IISBN-13: 978-1903657300 Princeton University Press; Second edition (16 Aug 2010)