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Butterflies are some of the most conspicuous of insects due to their size and habit of feeding from flowers during the day. They also play an important roll in pollinating plants and although the variety of species in the Outer Hebrides is small some species are abundant during the summer. There have been 18 species recorded from the islands compared with 32 species on the Scottish mainland and 58 species over the UK as a whole. Some of these are very restricted and require specialised habitat. As you travel further north within the UK butterfly diversity diminishes with further declines in diversity obvious when you start moving away from the mainland. Orkney and Shetland have recorded 14 species each although some of these are vagrants and there are more species regularly recorded in Orkney than Shetland. There is a similar effect as you travel from south to north in the Outer Hebrides with diversity greatest around the southern part of South Uist.
Please follow the link for the most recent: Atlas of UK Butterflies 2010 - 2014
Clouded Yellow: a rare migrant to the islands the with few records. Unlikely to be seen apart from in very occasional mass immigration years when large numbers head north from southern Europe.
Large White: this is a well known pest of brassicas and often unwanted around the garden due the damage the caterpillars can cause to a cabbage crop. They are often scarce these days as probably less people grow cabbages although if you do plant them for the first time almosy miraculously this butterfly will appear. It is a resident species although numbers are almost certainly enhanced by migrants.
Small White: resembles the Large White and can easily be confused with its normally larger relative. Its status in the islands is unclear although it is recorded from time to time and like the latter species is probably a migrant that occurs in varying numbers each year. It also feeds on cultivated brassicas but is thought to be less damaging than the latter species. It is apparently attracted to white flowers when nectaring.
Green-veined White: an abundant and widespread species that is often confused with the Small White. It can be found throughout the islands and can occur in large numbers.
Orange-tip: A male from Lemeray, Lewis in May 2013 was probably accidental from the Scottish mainland following strong easterly winds. Another was photographed in the Castle Grounds, Stornoway in 2014. The larvae feed on a variety of plants, in particular Cuckooflower which is abundant in the islands.
Common Blue: Common resident throughout the main islands.
Dark Green Fritillary: only found in the southern isles (Uist and Barra) and most common from South Uist - Barra.
Red Admiral: a migrant to the islands that occurs in variable numbers depening on the prevailing weather.
Painted Lady: a migrant froms North Africa that occurs every year although numbers vary greatly with only a few records in some years whilst occsionally larger numbers reach the islands. The largest immigration evering in the UK was in spring 2009 when thousands of these butterflies were recorded throughout the Outer Hebrides.
Small Tortoiseshell: a common resident species that is sometimes found hibernating inside people's houses. It is often the first species recorded during the year, especially if an there's an early warm spell which can result in sightings in February / March.
Peacock: an uncommon species that appears to be on the increase. It may be found almost anywhere although it is still generally rare here.
Speckled Wood: this expanding species len the UK was first recorded in Lew's Castle Grounds, Stornoway in 2004. It has become well established in the woodland although suitable habitat outside of Stornoway limits any future expansion.
Grayling: this resident species is restricted to the southern most past of the islands and has not been recorded any further north than Lochboisdale, South Uist. The local sub-species is of the form atlantica.
Meadow Brown: this is an abundant butterfly found throughout the islands.
Ringlet: first recorded in South Glendale, South Uist in 2008. It has not been found anywhere else subsequently, at least at the moment. This site is also very vulnerable and often suffers from burning.
Small Heath: fairly common in the south but increasingly uncommon the further north in the islands you travel. It is regular in South Uist, especially the southern half, south. There are a couple of records of singles from North Uist although it is rarely recorded here and there's an outstanding report from Lewis.
Large Heath: a species that specialises at living in boggy areas and as the islands are dominated by boggy moorland it is widespread and common in these areas. The subspecies that occurs here, scotica is duller and less well marked on the underwing compared with other subspecies occuring further south.
Monarch: this vagrant from North America was seen at Torlum, Benbecula on 4th October 1951.
Could we see more in the future? There has been much in the news of climate change and a northerly expansion of some butterfly species with a couple of species including the Ringlet and Speckled Wood showing large extensions in their range. Both have been added to the Outer Hebrides list since the new millenium although our isolation does create a significant barrier to colonisation.