Scientific name: Pyronia tithonus
As its English name suggests, the Gatekeeper (also known as the Hedge Brown) is often encountered where clumps of flowers grow in gateways and along hedgerows and field edges.
The upperwings are orange and brown, with a brownish-grey fringe and a black eyespot on the forewing tip and the males have a strongly marked brown scent band. The eyespots have two white pupils, not one, as in the Meadow Brown. The underwings resemble a leaf, patterned with various shades of brown and featuring several black eyespots with white pupils.
The pattern amd colour of the wings are highly variable and about a dozen aberrations have been named. It is often seen together with the Meadow Brown and Ringlet, from which it is easily distinguished when basking or nectaring with open wings. It has an erratic style of flight.
Both males and females feed on honeydew and whatever nectar is available. Favourite nectar sources include Wild Marjoram, Common Fleabane, ragworts, and Bramble.
A female will lay betweeen 100-200 eggs, but singly and ejected in the air over a suitable foodplant (as does the Meadow Brown).The egg stage of the lifecycle lasts two to three weeks. The eggs start off a pale yellow, then become motttled with orange, then brown and darken.
On hatching, the caterpillar eats the eggshell, then feeds during the day on the foodplant. It moults five times, hibernating after the first moult in a grassy clump. In the spring it comes out of hibernation and only feeds at night. When fully grown, the caterpillar is a beige-grey colour with a green tinge, short white hairs and dark lines.
The caterpillar forms into a cream-coloured chrysalis, with uneven dark streaks. It hangs upside down in low vegetation for around three weeks.
It is widespread in southern Britain and its range has extended northwards in recent years. Its range is far more localized in southern Ireland.
Size and Family
- Family: Browns
- Size: Medium
- Wing Span Range (male to female): 40-47mm
- Butterfly Conservation priority: Low
- European status: Not threatened
Various grasses are used, with a preference for fine grasses such as bents (Agrostis spp.), fescues (Festuca spp.), and meadow-grasses (Poa spp.). Common Couch (Elytrigia repens) is also used. The full range of other species used is not known.
The Gatekeeper can be found in areas where tall grass is close to hedges, trees or scrub, or where Bramble occurs, such as hedgerows, country lanes, field margins and woodland rides. It can also occur in scrubby grassland such as undercliffs, heathland and downland.
- Countries: England, Wales and Ireland
- Southern Britain and the far south of Ireland
- Distribution Trend Since 1970’s in Britain: -12%
- Butterflies and farmland
- Farmland Butterflies ID chart
- Gardening for Butterflies and Moths
- Butterflies in towns and cities
- Woodlands for Butterflies and Moths