Speckled Wood

Speckled Woods can be spotted in the shadier habitats of The Lizard. Flying from May to October, this is one of the butterflies that brightens the days into early autumn.
Photo: Ray Surridge

Scientific name: Pararge aegeria

Cornish name: ‘Tikki-dui’ is the general word for butterfly

Speckled Wood butterflies are on the wing from spring to early autumn, and are therefore a familiar sight for several months of the year. You need sharp eyes to spot them at rest, however, as they are very well camouflaged. The cream spots on the velvet brown of their wing uppersides merge into the dappled sunlight in their preferred habitat of woodland edges and clearings, and the mottled pattern of the wing underside disguises them very effectively as a dead leaf. Their fluttering, somewhat erratic flight is distinctive, so when on the wing they are much easier to spot.

In Cornwall, it has been noted that this species has in fact extended its habitat preferences to include hedgerows and wooded lanes, and is also an occasional garden visitor (Wacher et al., 2003) − almost anywhere that has some shade.

This species is distributed across most of Europe apart from northern Scandinavia, and in Britain it is absent from the north of Scotland. It is divided into a few subspecies, including P. aegeria aegeria in southern Europe and P. aegeria tircis in the north of the continent, including Britain. The former has more orangey coloured spots, compared to the creamy markings of the tircis subspecies we see in Britain, and the eye-spots on the underside of its hindwing are less clear. A further subspecies, P. aegeria insula, is found on Scilly, and this has more similarity to the more brightly marked butterflies of the southern European subspecies. Other subspecies are found in Britain, including P. aegeria oblita in Scotland.

Speckled Woods usually produce two or three broods per year, though in Cornwall, Wacher et al. (2003) note there is sometimes even a fourth in good years. It is the later broods, which have smaller cream spots than earlier broods, that are seen from late summer to early autumn: they are often found nectaring on Bramble and other flowers, as their main food of aphid honeydew is less available. They can overwinter either as caterpillars or chrysalids (the only British butterfly for which this is the case), with the latter emerging first in spring, or even in February if conditions are good. The larval foodplant comprises various grasses, with Common Couch, Yorkshire Fog, False Brome and Cock’s-foot being particularly favoured

Did you know…?

…The Speckled Wood flies from both very early to late in the day in warm weather

…Males are highly territorial and will defend their patch against all rivals!

More information and references:

Chinery, M., 2005. Collins Complete Guide to British Insects. HarperCollins, London.

Mansell, E. and Newman, L.H., 1968. The Complete British Butterflies in Colour. Ebury Press and Michael Joseph, London.

Wacher, J., Worth, J. and Spalding, A., 2003. A Cornwall Butterfly Atlas. Pisces Publications, Newbury, Berkshire.

Whalley, P. and Lewington, R., 2009. The Pocket Guide to Butterflies. Bounty Books, London.

Published: September 2013
Author: Amanda Scott
Photos: Ray Surridge