Donegal Island and coast sees mass Painted Lady Arrival (See news update below)

The Painted Lady scene had quietened since early July. There was large-scale immigration in late June and early July but reports of the butterfly quickly declined. Many of the butterflies settled to breed and as expected larvae are now being reported. The larva in the photograph is in the fourth of five instars. The egg that this caterpillar hatched from was laid on July 4th. In the final stage (fifth instar), the larva feeds so voraciously it does not interrupt its feeding even if touched-some feed for a whole hour without a pause! We would expect, given warm weather, for the home-grown butterflies to begin to fly from mid-August.

Painted Lady larva, fourth instar, on Creeping Thistle. It also breeds on other thistle species, Borage, mallows, Burdock and nettles. © J. Harding.

However, the Painted Lady story has just taken a new twist. A massive front has made land in Scotland and along the Donegal coastline. From Tory Island Grace Meenan described her experiences of seeing a huge number “like a carpet full of them, amazing to see!” The influx into Donegal is unusual in that it is not being reported arriving in numbers along the south coast. The factors that have seen it arrive there are not known but may be connected to their place of origin, wind direction and temperature. Regardless of the factors, the butterfly should be enjoyed. Unbelievable as it may seem in a year of abundance, it can almost disappear the following year. In all of 2010, for example, I saw just one, having seen hundreds in a moment in May 2009!

Here is a photograph of a settled Painted Lady sent by Grace from Tory Island.

Painted Lady on Tory Island, Co. Donegal.© G. Meenan.

We would like to hear from you about any Painted Lady sighting and indeed any butterfly or moth you see. For a valid record, send your name, date of sighting, the number of each species seen, a grid reference (see and the place name and county to All records are acknowledged.

It helps if you visit good habitats containing the plants that butterflies need. A walk in a flower-rich habitat, like this marvellous meadow at Castletown House, County Kildare, should be a butterfly-filled pleasure!

Flower-rich grassland at Castletown House, Kildare, home to the Small Copper, Common Blue, Painted Lady, Peacock and more. © J. Harding.


Sam Hanna from Kilkeel near the County Down coast reports around 100 Painted Lady butterflies in his garden, feeding on verbena and lavender. It seems that the butterfly is arriving in numbers on both sides of the northern part of Ireland.

Rare butterfly discovered in County Kildare

A butterfly last recorded in County Kildare pre-1941 has been discovered in Leixlip, County Kildare by Butterfly Conservation Ireland member Eddie Gilligan. The Purple Hairstreak, confined to oak woods is rarely seen in Ireland because it spends almost its entire adult life in the oak trees, usually high in the canopy. The old record for Kildare was for the Athy area and was phrased vaguely, raising considerable doubt about its accuracy.

However, Eddie saw the butterfly using binoculars, obtaining a clear view of the distinctive undersides.

The species is recorded mainly in scattered locations in Ireland. The pattern of records probably reflects recorder activity as well as the scarcity of oak woodland. Any records are gratefully received at For the details of a record that we need, see

One tip if searching for Purple Hairstreak is to check the sunny side of oaks from 5 pm to 7 pm when activity levels peak. The butterflies may then be seen darting about high in the canopy. It will often look silvery in the evening light, like a handful of silver coins tossed in the sunlight!

Purple Hairstreak underside. This specimen is a female but the underside is similar in both sexes. © J.Harding.

Butterflies to watch in July

A much better spell of weather during July has redeemed summer 2019. While the summer of 2019 is not comparable with the quality of last summer there are butterflies out now, some fresh, some past their best, but not in the abundance evident last summer.

Peacocks are just starting to appear, certainly not late, but in 2018 the butterfly emerged very early. Brimstones are also out now, surely with many more yet to emerge. I suspect we will not see these two in last year’s abundance; on August 3rd in 2018, I found 116 Peacocks and 15 Brimstones along a well-known ride in Lullymore, in County Kildare. Today (July 27th 2019) I found just two Peacocks and two Brimstones in that location.

I found a freshly emerged male Small Copper there-this gorgeous species is usually found in low single figures in any site but can reach high abundance but such years do not neatly correspond with fine summer weather.

The dramatic mid-summer Silver-washed Fritillary flies in good quality woodland throughout Ireland. In Lullymore and Lullybeg as elsewhere, there are some really large examples of both sexes but where I watch them I see much smaller individuals this year. This reduced size might be a result of the foodplant (Common Dog-violet) being less nutritious following the long drought from May 2018. The butterfly certainly looks less dramatic this season although last summer’s heat will have encouraged it to colonise new woods and encounter other populations.

Finally, a delicate and very widespread butterfly that some scientists have predicted will undergo a major decline if the climate continues to warm is flying now, but not in good numbers.  From Donegal Frank Smyth reports that a marsh that would typically have hundreds has just two or three on a given day. A species that likes wet meadows, damp hedgebanks, marshland and other wet, humid sites, the Green-veined White flutters around its sites feeding, seeking mates and egg-laying. Short-lived, it can be present in high figures in suitable habitats, such as flooded meadows containing water-cress but occurs in lower numbers in less suitable spots. The butterflies we are seeing now are the second generation and show darker wing-tips on the upper side of the forewing than their parents. This butterfly is often mistaken for the Small White but the latter lacks the markings that pick out the veins on the underside of the hind wings.

Keep an eye on your garden-all of these butterflies will visit gardens, although Brimstone and Silver-washed Fritillary needs to be present close by to drop in for nectar.  Common Knapweed, Creeping Thistle, wild mint, Common Marjoram and bramble are particular favourites at the moment.  Water these plants in dry weather to increase nectar release-this will keep your butterflies fed!

(Note: the following photographs were taken on July 27th)

Silver-washed Fritillary, male. The males are especially restless during warm, sunny weather. © J.Harding.
A beautiful Peacock, wings outstretched on bracken. Judging by its pristine appearance, it emerged this morning.© J.Harding.
Brimstone, male, on bramble. For the first few days of its adult life, the Brimstone is very hard to approach, flying into trees when disturbed. © J. Harding.
Small Copper. © J.Harding.
Green-veined White, sharply reduced in number in 2019. © J.Harding.


Brimstone overlaps with the new Generation

The Brimstone has the longest adult life of any Irish (or British) butterfly. The emergence of the adult butterfly begins in late June or more usually in early July and the butterflies may live up to 12 months. It is not active throughout this time, spending much of the time from September to March in an inactive state usually referred to as hibernation. Typically, the butterfly seeks out a safe over-wintering site from mid-September and remains there until around mid-March from when mating and egg-laying occur. By mid-June all or nearly all adult Brimstones are dead and we await the new adults.

However, occasionally, probably as a result of good weather, some survive long enough to see their own descendants fly. In 1934, the great English entomologist and zoological artist, Frederick Frohawk (1861-1946) recorded seeing old, very worn hibernated Brimstones on the wing in the second half of July, in company with numbers of freshly emerged specimens. For the first time in my experience, I observed this generational overlap in Lullybeg in County Kildare. A newly emerged male (male butterflies generally emerge before females) was seen flying energetically along a ride at Lullybeg on June 3rd. On June 7th an old, worn female, which is shown below, was sighted on the same track. She fluttered to feed low down on young bramble before fluttering away to look for buckthorn plants to lay whatever eggs she still holds.

While this overlap in the Brimstone may have occurred before, it is a rare event. There is no reason why a male Brimstone from last year’s hatch would not survive just as long. However, the parents will not mate with their offspring. Brimstone butterflies do not mate in the year they hatch but delay breeding until spring. By that time, only Brimstones that hatched the previous summer will be alive. Nevertheless, living a full year is a great achievement for the adult butterfly and if the climate develops to give us warmer summers Brimstone lifespans may increase.

This female Brimstone, frayed and worn, lived to see the first examples of the next Brimstone generation take flight. © J.Harding.

Predicted Painted Lady influx arrives

In late March and early April of this year, Butterfly Conservation Ireland member John Lovatt reporting from Cyprus saw hundreds of Painted Lady butterflies in every direction he looked. He went on to estimate that a million butterflies had arrived in the Gkreko Head district alone. The butterflies that arrived in Cyprus are believed to have come from the Middle East. You can see John’s article in the April archive.

In the past few weeks, a heatwave in Europe means that many Painted Lady caterpillar foodplants may have become desiccated, rendering them unsuitable for breeding. This may be an additional factor driving the Painted Lady to cooler areas to the west and north where foodplants remain nutritious. Massive population accumulations in an area may be an impetus behind population movements; some species form swarms when the population is very large and move together. This creates the dramatic spectacle of clouds of Painted Ladies on the move-I was lucky to see this in south-west Galway in late May 2009.

Since the end of June, large numbers of Painted Lady have been appearing along our coasts and soon penetrated inland.  It is notable that the butterflies are faded. It usually takes around two weeks of activity to lose wing scales to the extent being observed now. It is likely that the new arrivals are not recently emerged.

Egg-laying has been reported within sight of the sea at Howth on Ireland’s east coast. Perhaps the female/s  that laid eggs there had mated before reaching Ireland and laid soon after reaching the land. In Meath and Kildare, I observed males establishing territories along sunny tracks and at wood edges. Some butterflies are migrating within Ireland, or at least dispersing within a locality; on Tuesday, July 2nd I saw over 20 Painted Lady feeding on bramble at a wood edge. All were unsettled and easily disturbed. On the following day, in excellent weather, I saw just three there.

Whatever their movements within Ireland, it is likely that many butterflies will settle to breed. Indeed, today (July 4th 2019) I watched a female lay two eggs on separate Creeping Thistle plants in my meadow. We will, weather permitting, see the native-born generation take flight from late August. It appears that 2019 will be one of those years when Painted Lady outnumbers the Red Admiral, usually our most numerous migrant.

Keep us in touch with your Painted Lady and other butterfly sightings. Email them to us at and let us know the number seen, location name, grid ref and date of sighting. We will post your sighting on our 2019 sightings page.

A freshly emerged Painted Lady. © J. Harding.