Widespread on the coast of Britain and Ireland and on heathland in southern Britain. Rests with wings closed. Underwing mottled-brown. Appears larger in flight when pale yellow-orange bands can be seen. 

Cryptic colouring provides the Grayling with excellent camouflage, making it difficult to see when at rest on bare ground, tree trunks, or stones. The wings are kept closed when not in flight and the forewings are usually tucked behind the hind wings, concealing the eyespots and making the butterfly appear smaller. In flight this is a distinctive, large butterfly with a looping and gliding flight, during which the paler bands on the upper wings are visible.

The Grayling is widespread on the coast and southern heaths but is declining in many areas, particularly inland.

Size and Family

  • Family: Browns
  • Size: Medium/Large
  • Wing Span Range (male to female): 55-60mm

Conservation Status

  • Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in England
  • Listed on Section 7 of the Environment (Wales) Act 2016
  • Scottish Biodiversity List
  • Northern Ireland Priority Species 
  • UK BAP status: Priority Species   
  • Butterfly Conservation priority: High                          
  • European status: Not threatened

Caterpillar Foodplants

The main species used include Sheep's-fescue (Festuca ovina), Red Fescue (F. rubra), Bristle Bent (Agrostis curtisii), and Early Hair-grass (Aira praecox). Coarser grasses such as Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and Marram (Ammophila arenaria) are occasionally used.



Many colonies occur on coastal habitats such as; dunes, saltmarsh, undercliffs and clifftops.

There are inland colonies on habitats including; dry heathland, chalk grassland, old quarries, earthworks, derelict industrial sites - such as old spoil heaps and very occasionally in open woodland on stony ground.

It is important that the soils are dry and well-drained, with sparse vegetation and plenty of bare ground in open positions.


  • Countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland
  • Throughout Britain and Ireland, but mainly on coastal sites
  • Distribution Trend Since 1970s: -62%

Grayling (underwing) - Patrick Clement

Grayling (underwing)

Grayling (female/upperwing) - Chris Rowland

Grayling (female/upperwing)

Grayling (underwing) - Iain LeachGrayling (underwing) - Iain Leach

Grayling (underwing)

Grayling (underwing) - John Money

Grayling (underwing)

Grayling (camouflaged) - John Money

Grayling (camouflaged)

Grayling (underwing) - Vlad Proklov

Grayling (underwing)

Grayling (underwing) - Vlad Proklov

Grayling (underwing)

Grayling (male & female) - Bob Eade

Grayling (male & female)

Grayling (egg) - Chris Rowland

Grayling (egg)

Grayling (caterpillar) - Peter Eeles

Grayling (caterpillar)

Grayling (caterpillar) - Peter Eeles

Grayling (caterpillar)

Grayling (pupa) - Peter Eeles

Grayling (pupa)