What’s the most common migrant butterfly to arrive in the British Isles?

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Last weeks small influx of Red Admirals into the garden was the first sign of butterfly migration we’ve seen this year in the far south west of Cornwall.

This species is the most commonly recorded migrant butterfly visiting these shores every year but it is also the most easily recognisable which does influence the recordings. Whether it is actually the most numerous species to cross The English Channel is difficult to know because many other common UK resident species have their numbers swollen by butterflies arriving from the continent. Even our common ‘white’ butterflies are joined at times by many thousands of overseas insects.

Annual numbers of migrating butterflies vary wildly according to conditions where the butterflies are resident abroad and the weather systems which assist them on their journey to this country. There are some years when numbers of normally scarcer migrants such as Clouded Yellows and Painted Ladies far exceed those of the Red Admiral.

Perhaps the answer is that the Red Admiral is the most regularly reported butterfly migrating annually to the UK that is not considered to have a resident population here. But even this answer is not entirely satisfactory as there is increasing evidence to suggest that in some parts of the south the Red Admiral is managing to over-winter and if this trend continues then this will make future estimations of its migatory status also more difficult to assess.

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2 Responses

  1. Claire Ogden

    Hi Jamie, yes, stunning butterflies. There seem to be alot in the UK at the moment and Buddleia are one of the best plants to find them on. Some will be migrants but others are likely to be the offspring of earlier migrants. There are also records of Red Admirals managing to overwinter in this country in recent years so we may soon have a well established resident population in the UK. Your part of the country, East Essex, will receive lots of continental migrants and probably already has a resident population. Thanks for your sighting. Steve

  2. jamie may

    I have just counted 13 Red Admirals on a small buddleai bush where I work in Crowborough, East Sussex

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