Glasgow & SW Scotland Butterflies

Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch Website

January 21, 2010

Ayrshire Small Blue Reintroduction Project


Pair of Small Blues mating on Kidney Vetch

Pair of Small Blues mating on Kidney Vetch

The Small Blue (Cupido minimus) is the UK’s smallest butterfly (wingspan 16-27 mm). Colonies of this charming little butterfly can be found from the north of Scotland down to the south of England, but became extinct in south west Scotland in the early 1980s. In 2007 it was added to the UK Biological Action Plan (BAP) species list after suffering a significant decline in distribution.



The butterfly’s small size and weak flight mean that the adults are quite sedentary, with few individuals moving further than 50 m from the colony during their short lives. Both sexes are similar with dark slate blue upper wings and silvery blue undersides with a few dark spots. Males often have a dusting of blue scales on the upper-wings, while the females tend to be slightly browner than the males. In Scotland, adults can be on the wing from late May/early June through to July, depending on weather conditions. A small second brood may be seen in August/September in exceptional years.

The female lays a single egg on the flower heads of kidney vetch, the caterpillar food plant. Only one egg tends to be laid per plant as the young caterpillars can be cannibalistic. When not being anti-social the caterpillar feeds on developing seeds in the flower head, undergoing 3 moults before hibernating under moss or in a crevice in the soil. The following spring the caterpillar pupates without further feeding.  Adults seem to prefer nectaring on the yellow flowers of kidney vetch or birds-foot trefoil, although other plants may be used.

Kidney Vetch flower colour forms

Kidney Vetch flower colour forms



 Colonies of this butterfly tend to be small and are prone to local extinctions due to their dependence on the levels of kidney vetch flowering in the colony area. Habitat fragmentation and loss due to building developments, changes in grazing and scrub encroachment, can all quickly make sites unsuitable for this habitat specialist species. Most colonies are found at coastal locations where erosion exposes bare ground where new kidney vetch seedlings can germinate and the adults can bask in the sun. Colonies may also be found at old industrial brown field sites or quarries; again with lots of bare ground and low fertility where the kidney vetch does not get out-competed by grasses. Low levels of grazing by rabbits can help maintain small blue colonies; however they do tend to eat the flower heads, as do sheep. Autumn /winter grazing and ground disturbance by cattle or horses is ideal at managed sites.


Working with the Scottish Wildlife Trust we would like to reintroduce this charming little butterfly to south west Scotland. Gailes Marsh is an SWT nature reserve situated just south of Irvine on the Ayrshire coast, and just 1km from the site of Ayrshire’s last small blue record.

Map of Gailes Marsh reserve

Map of Gailes Marsh reserve

The reserve currently boasts a range of butterfly and moth species including common blues, small coppers and dark green fritillaries. An area with a high density of kidney vetch exists in the south west of the reserve. We plan to expand this area and also transform the north- west section of the reserve into good small blue habitat. Coastal dunes west of the reserve contain suitable small blue habitat with good amounts of kidney vetch.

It is hoped that we will eventually see natural colonisation of this area by butterflies from the reserve.


The timing of the actual reintroduction will depend on how long it takes to create good quality habitat and maintain the levels of kidney vetch flowering on the reserve, which must be sufficiently high to support a healthy butterfly population. Kidney vetch is a short lived perennial which can take between 2-5 years to flower depending on conditions. We are currently in discussion with other branches of Butterfly Conservation about the source of initial small blue stock for the project.


Habitat creation at Gailes Marsh is due to commence in early 2010. The fertile top soil will be removed to create strips of bare sandy subsoil and south-facing soil banks that will be sown with kidney vetch seed. The areas sown with kidney vetch will be sheltered from the wind by planting native hedging along the western edge of the reserve.

Small Blue Buttefly on Kidney Vetch

Small Blue Buttefly on Kidney Vetch


Anyone who would like to help with this project would be very welcome indeed. We are currently looking for volunteers to help plant the hedges and sow kidney vetch. If you are able to find space in your back garden, window sill or green house to grow kidney vetch plants for the project, we can provide you with seed.


In the next few years we will also need volunteers to help monitor kidney vetch germination and flowering at Gailes Marsh and areas outside the reserve. After the small blues are introduced to the reserve we will need volunteers to help with timed counts of adult butterflies during their short flight season. This is necessary to monitor how well the project is going. Training in using a GPS device to accurately monitor kidney vetch patches or butterflies can be provided to any interested volunteers. This is a fantastic opportunity to get involved with real conservation work for a native Scottish species.


Scott Shanks





January 20, 2010

So, where do all the butterflies go in winter?

Filed under: Butterflies — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Scott Shanks @ 11:54 pm

Good question! I’m sure everyone must have fond childhood memories of warm summer days during the School holidays, playing in the sunshine, Swallows in the sky and warblers singing in the trees and of course, butterflies fluttering by. As summer turns to autumn the swallows and warblers take their leave and head south for warmer lands. BUT, where do all the butterflies go?

Well, although you’re unlikely to see them, most UK species don’t head south with the swallows and warblers. They spend the winter in gardens, parks and the countryside hibernating either as an adult, chrysalis, caterpillar or an egg!

There are a number of survival strategies used by butterflies in the UK to survive the chilly winter conditions. Species listed are those found in South West Scotland.

The Life Stages of Scottish Butterflies during winter

The Life Stages of Scottish Butterflies during winter



Species such as Painted Ladies, Clouded Yellows and Red Admirals migrate to the UK each year in varying numbers from their breeding grounds in Southern Europe and North Africa. These butterflies generally can’t survive our winter, and until recently it was thought that most died with the first chilly days. However in 2009 scientists with Butterfly Conservation showed that at least a proportion of Painted Ladies make a reverse migration in autumn, heading back across the English Channel and down through Europe. Clouded Yellows and Red Admirals may also use this strategy.

Some species such as Peacocks, Small tortoiseshells and Commas spend the winter hibernating as adults. These butterflies spend the summer and autumn feeding up on lots of nectar and the fermenting juices of windfall apples, plums and brambles, building up enough body fat to last them through the winter. The butterflies seek out log piles, crevices in tree trunks, dense vegetation and piles of leaves and occasionally garden sheds, barns and other out buildings. On warm days the butterflies may emerge to search for any plants still in flower to top up their reserves, but swiftly return to their hibernation site if it clouds over. In England the Brimstone also hibernates as an adult. Butterflies that hibernate as adults are often the first to be seen in the year. This generation takes advantage of early spring flowers and new vegetation on which to lay their eggs that will go on to produce the next generation.

If you find a butterfly hibernating behind your curtains or the wardrobe in the spare room, leave it where it is. However, If the room is heated and the butterfly is quite active it can use up all of its energy very quickly, so it is better to move it to a cooler location such as a shed or outbuilding where it will remain until the good weather comes again in March/April. 

Another common strategy is to spend the winter as a chrysalis. This is the magical intermediate stage between caterpillar and adult. Butterflies that spend the winter as a chrysalis often do so at the base of the food plant or in grass tussocks or just beneath the soil. This helps to protect them from the worst of the frost. These butterflies can react quickly to changes in the spring weather, and complete their transformation and emerge as adults to take advantage of fresh growth of their caterpillar food plants. Butterflies that use this strategy include: The whites (Large White, Small White, Green-veined White and Orange-Tips), the Holly Blue and Speckled Woods*. These butterflies commonly have 2 or more broods per year, even in Scotland. This is likely due to their ability to get the first generation of the year going quickly.

Spending the winter as a caterpillar is the most common strategy used by butterflies and most moths. As summer changes to autumn, caterpillars that have been happily munching on their food plant often move down to snuggle among the leaves and debris at the base of the food plant or grass tussock.  During warmer spells the caterpillar can continue to feed  and so can top up energy reserves. The advantage of passing the winter in a relatively mobile form if flooding occurs in spring, they may be able to move to safety. Butterflies which spend the winter as a caterpillar include the Dingy Skipper, Chequered Skipper, Large Skipper, Small Skipper, Common Blue, Northern Brown Argus, Small Copper, Green Hairstreak, Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Pearl-Bordered Fritillary, Dark Green Fritillary, Marsh Fritillary, Speckled Wood (*this species may also hibernate as a chrysalis*), Wall, Mountain Ringlet, Scotch Argus, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Small Heath and Large Heath.

The final strategy is used by the Essex Skipper and various Hairstreaks in Britain, including the Purple Hairstreak in Scotland, is to spend the winter as an egg. The female Purple Hairstreak lays her eggs at the ends of oak twigs next to buds. The Purple Hairstreak caterpillar is fully formed inside the egg before the onset of winter. When the caterpillar hatches in spring it begins to feed on the little leaf buds, and perhaps avoids high levels of tannins that build up in oak leaves as they age. The Essex Skipper spends the winter as an egg and emerges in April/May to feed. Interestingly the adult Essex Skipper is on the wing just 1 month later than its close relation the Small Skipper which spends the winter as a caterpillar.

Scott Shanks

January 19, 2010

Happy 25th Anniversary Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch of Butterfly Conservation!

The 19th of January 2010 will mark the 25th anniversary since the founding of the branch way back in 1985!


To celebrate 25 years of supporting Butterfly and Moth Conservation in south west Scotland we are planning a year of exciting events including butterfly walks, moth nights, conservation work parties and members days with talks and presentations.


Happy 25th Anniversary Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch of Butterfly Conservation

Happy 25th Anniversary Glasgow & SW Scotland Branch of Butterfly Conservation


Come along to our Member’s Day in Glasgow on the 28th of March. Meet the committee and other members and find out local efforts to conserve Butterflies, moths and their habitats. There will be a number of presentations ranging from details of species surveys, up-coming events and local conservation projects you can get involved with.


The Members’ Day will be held at:

The Quaker Meeting House, 38 Elmbank Crescent, Charing Cross, Glasgow (opposite the Charing Cross Train station)

2pm to 5pm


Members are invited to bring along any Butterfly/ Moth pictures they’d like to show in digital format on a disk or memory stick. Or bring along any prints they’d like to display. If you would like to give a talk - please contact Neil Gregory on

January 16, 2010

New edition of ‘On the Spot’ out now!

The new 25th anniversary edition of On the Spot, the newsletter of the Glasgow & South West Scotland branch of Butterfly Conservation is out now!

On the Spot January 2010

On the Spot January 2010

Glasgow & SW Scotland branch members should get their copy in the next day or so, in time for the 25th anniversary of the founding of the branch on the 19th of January!

Scott Shanks (Newsletter Editor)

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