Grayling Butterfly

Fast Facts

Latin name: Hipparchia semele

Notable feature: When resting the wings are always closed and the eyespot (on the underside of the upper wing) is often hidden, making it appear much smaller than it is. The colour of the upperside of each wing appears brown with eye spots present

Conservation Status: Least Concern

Where in the UK: This butterfly forms discrete colonies and, while some colonies are inland, the overall distribution of this butterfly would suggest that this is primarily a coastal species, at least in the British Isles.

Grayling Butterfly (Hipparchia semele) © Iain H Leach

Description:

The Grayling Butterfly (Hipparchia semele) is a native, butterfly; it is the largest of our “browns”.  It can be found on the Scottish Biodiversity List and is also listed as High Priority for Butterfly Conservation.

When resting the wings are always closed and the eyespot (on the underside of the upper wing) is often hidden, making it appear much smaller than it is. The colour of the upperside of each wing appears brown with eye spots present.

The underwing of the adult is mottled-brown and they appear larger in flight when pale yellow-orange bands can be seen.

The Grayling is a master of disguise – although fairly conspicuous in flight, it mysteriously disappears as soon as it lands, perfectly camouflaged against a background of bare earth and stones, always resting with its wings closed.


    • Size: Wingspan measure between 55-60mm
    • Life span:  Annual life cycle; from egg to adult approximately a year
    • Diet:  Caterpillars feed on a range of grass species including, but not exclusively, Bristle Bent (Agrostis curtisii), Early Hair-grass (Aira praecox), Marram (Ammophila arenaria), Red Fescue (Festuca rubra), Sheep’s-fescue (Festuca ovina) and Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa).  The adults are pollinators of several plant species
    • Reproduction:  Adults emerge at start of July, peaking by the end of the month and are seen until September. They have one flight season in a year. Males are territorial and can often be seen resting on stones investigating anything coming into their territory.  The Grayling over-winters as a caterpillar before pupating at end of spring, about June time, to begin the cycle again.
    • When to see: This Grayling is found on sheltered, sunny and dry sites where vegetation is sparse, providing the bare ground that this butterfly requires. Typical sites include heathland, sand dunes, coastal grassland and disused quarries. Adults are seen flying during the day.
    • Population Trend:  The Grayling has suffered severe declines over the long term and is therefore a priority species for conservation efforts.
    • Threats: Habitat loss, climate change, encroachment of scrub as this species prefers open areas with bare ground.
    • Fun Fact(s):  The Grayling regulates its body temperature by leaning its wings at different angles to the sun.  It is known for its variation between geographically-isolated populations, with six named subspecies occurring within the British Isles!

How you can help: 

Buglife is working to increase awareness of invertebrates and the Grayling through specific projects, including B-Lines and campaigns such as “Ardeer Peninsula – Scotland’s bee haven” but we need your help!

Buglife B-Lines are an imaginative and beautiful solution to the problem of the loss of flowers and pollinators. B-Lines are a series of ‘insect pathways’ running through our countryside and towns, along which we are restoring and creating a series of wildflower-rich habitat stepping stones. Linking existing wildlife areas together, creating a network, like a railway, that will weave across the UK landscape.  More information about B-Lines and how you can help pollinators can be found on our B-Lines & Pollinator Projects pages.

Get involved with the UK Butterfly monitoring scheme or download the iRecord app and get recording!


Do remember that we rely on donations to continue our work.  If you have searched, found and learnt about our incredible invertebrates on our website, please do consider Making a Donation, Becoming a Member or maybe even making a purchase in our shop.  For more ideas on how to support our work find out how to Get Involved.  Thank you 🕷