Recording butterflies in Caithness.

What to record;

Species; the date the record was observed; the location (name from OS map if possible); Grid reference 6 figure preferably.

Additional information also of help is habitat, number, life stage (caterpillar, eggs, adult) food plant.

If you have an image of the butterfly especially for more uncommon species then that is a great help.


Below is a list of butterflies recorded in highland with some background information.

Information sources

  • Atlas of Butterflies in Highland and Moray (1980-2007) Barbour, Moran, Mainwood and Slater .
  • NBN Atlas Scotland


Louded Yellow , Colias croceus

Highland Status; migratory, rare and irregular in north Scotland.

Records in Caithness are from the 1992 influx when recorded from coastal areas and links habitat e.g. Dunnet Bay/ Sinclair Bay.

Habitat; Very wide ranging in open country, occasionally found in gardens

Flight period; Influx in May. Second generation bred locally in August September.

Larval food plant; Bird`s foot trefoil and clovers.

Large White; Cabbage white, Pieris brassicae

 Highland Status; widespread in the north through strong migratory habit with a bias towards human habitation

Records; Under-recorded in Caithness

Habitat; gardens and cultivated crops

Flight period; late May to early September

Larval food plant; Brassica and other cultivated species of cultivated Cruciferae.

Small white; Pieris rapae

Highland status; native/ common immigrant, occasional in the far north

Records; under recorded in Caithness records mostly coastal

Habitat; gardens, flowery waysides

Flight period; late April to mid September.

Larval food plant cultivated plants of the cabbage family

Green-veined white; Pieris napae

Highland status; common and widespread native

Records; well recorded in Caithness apart from peat land and hills

Habitat, damp pasture, stream and ditch sides open forest rides

Flight period; late April to early autumn

Larval food plant; cuckoo flower (Cardamine pratensis)and wild crucifers.

Orange tip Anthocharis cardamines

Highland status; spread north and west in the highlands from the 1980s and is probably still expanding.

Records; 2 in Caithness NE of loch Calder and ND26, 10 km square.

Habitat; damp meadows and streamsides where cuckoo flower is abundant

Flight period end April to mid June

Food plant ; cuckoo flower Cardamine pratensis


Green hairstreak; one record from ND 23 10 km square

Highland status; widespread in the west and in central Spey Valley, upland Easter Ross and east Inverness shire. Stable

Records; none in Caithness

Habitat; blueberry rich moorland and open woodland; also associated with gorse scrub

Flight period; end April to mid June

Larval food plant; blueberry, gorse and cross-leaved heath

Small Copper, Lycaena phlaeas

Highland status; native species , uncommon in the north

Records; occasional in Caithness, Sandside bay , Dunnet Bay  and Berriedale braes.

Habitat; waste ground and rough grassland where larval plants grow, banks, dunes

Flight period; mid May to September

Larval food plant; sorrels

small blue mating

Small Blue, Cupido minimus

Highland status; priority species colonies centred around Moray Firth and North Caithness

Records; Dunnet Dunes to Scrabster

Habitat; focuses on presence of kidney vetch and shelter, coastal dunes, gravel areas and old quarry sites.

Flight period; late May Early June

Larval food plant; Kidney Vetch

See also the CBG Project to expand small blue habitat.


Common Blue (Mating)

Common Blue; Polyommatus icarus

Highland status; native and common

Records; widespread, though thought to be declining

Habitat; grassy areas where birds foot trefoil grows

Flight period; mid June to late August

Larval food plant; birds foot trefoil (Lotus corniculatus)



Red Admiral

Red Admiral, Vanessa atalanta

Highland status: largely migrant though now proved to have bred and hibernated through the winter.

Records. Caithness records are coastal and lower altitudes.

Habitat; Widespread in open country and forest rides. Common in gardens on buddleia, iceplant and cotoneaster

Flight period; migrant in late May/June breeding to produce off spring,  flying in late summer to autumn. Any spotted in January/ February will have hibernated in a mild winter.

Larval foodplant; nettles


Painted Lady + Small Tortoiseshell

Painted lady; Cynthia cardui

Highland status. Migrant, less common than red admiral

Records, numbers vary annually but seen most years, and thought to be more abundant

Habitat; open country gardens, flower rich areas of rough pasture or waste ground especially where thistle species grow.

Flight period; main influx in June, with local bred offspring in autumn.

Larval foodplant; Thistle (Cirsium vulgare and Cirsium palustre)

Small tortoiseshell, Aglais urticae

Highland status and population trends; native species, common, fluctuates greatly with recent trends going downwards

Records; widespread

Habitat; found in many habitats up to hilltops

Flight period after hibernation; April to June.  Offspring, late July to September. Occasional adults seen flying early in the year on exceptionally warm days .

Larval foodplant.  Common nettle Urtica dioica



Peacock, Inachis io

Highland status; Seen as a vagrant until 2002. September of that year there was a large influx to Eastern Inverness and Morayshire. Since then it has extended its range throughout Highland including Caithness.

Records Increasing numbers of records

Habitat; flower rich areas, gardens.

Flight period end of March to early June and early August to October

Larval food plant; common nettle

Camberwell beauty, Nymphalis antiopa

Highland status occasional migrant, doesn’t breed in UK

Records; 1 in Caithness, Reay area.

Habitat; wide ranging in gardens to feed on flowers and rotting fruit

Flight period; immigrants appear in autumn. Some overwinter to produce records in April/May

Larval foodplant;  sallow and poplar.

small pearl bordered fritillary

Small pearl bordered fritillary (Borolia silene)   priority species

Highland status and trends; widespread and locally abundant, appears to be expanding

Records; Caithness colonies; Broubster forest, Langwell  Strath and Berriedale forest, Spittal area and N.E. of Loch Ruard.

Habitat damp grassland where common dog and marsh violet occur

Flight period end of May late July into august

Larval foodplant; common dog and marsh violet

Pearl bordered fritillary (Boloria euphosyn) priority species. Regarded as nationally threatened

Highland status and trends. It appears to be declining in Highland with fewer confirmed sites.

Records. One Caithness record in the Berriedale area.

Habitat. Open base rich woodlands with abundant dog violet(Viola riviniana).

Flight period; early May to mid- June

Larval food plant; Dog Violet (Viola riviniana)

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja)

Highland status and trends; native species, widespread.

Records; probably under recorded in Caithness. Mostly coastal records

Habitat; Flower rich forest rides and dune`s grassland and moorland.

Flight period; late June to end August

Larval food plant violets  riviniana and palustris


Speckled Wood

Speckled Wood (Pararge aegeria)

Highland status; native, colonised Moray, Easter Ross into Sutherland and over the last 40 years

Records; Reached Caithness after 2000 .and now present in many woodlands and plantations such as Dunnet forest and  Achvarasdal woodland

Habitat;conifer and broadleaved woodland, well developed scrub and mature gardens. The butterfly is very shade tolerant.

Flight period; late April to early October

Larval foodplant; grasses including False Brome, couch grass and cock`s foot

Scotch Argus (Erebia aethiops)

Highland status;widespread in Highland apart from Caithness and Sutherland. Population stable and appears to be increasing in West Sutherland

Records; One record in Caithness, East Caithness coast ND13

Habitat; sheltered woodland rides and clearings. Open coastal slopes and upland rough pasture.

Flight period late July –early Sept

Larval food plant purple moor grass

Grayling (Hipparchia semele)

Highland status; Native species, local. General decline,especially in the west.

Records; one pre 1996 record for north Caithness

Habitat; coastal cliffs, shingles and dunes

Flight period ; end of June end of August

Larval foodplants; various grasses.

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

Highland status and trends; Native species, common and widespread. Fluctuating population, but stable.

Records; frequent in Caithness though absent in high places

Habitat; open grassland, coastal dunes, woodland clearings and rough pasture.

Flight period; late June end of August

Larval food plants, various grasses.

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)

Highland status and trends; this butterfly has spread from its former range limit in Aberdeenshire. It has been recorded since 1995 in Morayshire and Speyside where it is now common

Records; not yet recorded in Caithness

Habitat; damp coarse grassland where there is shelter, forest rides and edges

Flight period; late June beginning of August

Larval food plant; various grasses

Small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus); priority species

Highland status; widespread species of grassland from coast to 500 metres.Thought to be declining in eastern Highland.

Records; occasional records in Caithness. Dunnet head Dunnet Bay also a concentration around Berriedale/Langwell strath

Habitat; coastal dune, dry grassland, woodland clearings and moorland edge.

Flight period; May to early August

Larval food plant; grasses particularly fescues

Large Heath (Ceonympha tullia)

Highland status; occurring widely in acid boggy habitats with strong populations in the peatlands of Caithness and Sutherland

Records; well recorded throughout Caithness

Habitat; boggy moorland up to 600 metres

Flight period; mid June to early August

Larval foodplant; cotton grass Eriophorum vaginatum