Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina (Linnaeus 1758)
Family: Nymphalidae, sub-group Satyrinae (the Browns)
Photo above top left by Chris Abbott
Photo above top right by Kevin Hill
All other photos by Martin Partridge
Medium to large, drab brown butterfly. Male upperwings are dusky brown with a blurred brown patch from central forewing to the body. In the corner of each forewing is a small an eyespot, usually surrounded by a circle of orange, which contains a single white dot on black circle (compared to 2 white dots in Gatekeeper). This orange patch and eyespot is more prominent and larger on the female. When freshly emerged, the adult male is rich glossy, chocolate brown, soon fading to a dull sooty shade, becoming steadily paler with age. Females usually larger (sometimes much larger) and brown with orange patches in central part of upper forewing.
The Meadow Brown often sits with its wings closed, and the lower hindwings may be all that is visible. This is grey-brown with a slight orange sheen and zigzag border.
Can be easily be confused with Gatekeeper, Grayling or Ringlet, but all have distinct differences in patterning.
The Meadow Brown may be seen in almost any habitat and although it is associated with meadows it is also a woodland butterfly and may be seen flying quite high around trees. The Meadow Brown favours wild grasses with patches of rough, uncut grassland up to c50cm height. A wide variety of grass species are used as foodplants with a preference for medium to fine-leaved species such as bents Acrostic spp, the ryegrasses Lolium spp, and meadow grasses Poa spp. It is common along roadside verges, used and disused railway tracks and sidings, hedgerows, ditches and river banks. Also found on brownfield sites, along woodland rides and edges, in parks and cemeteries, sheltered moorland areas, coastal cliffs and sand dunes, and in gardens .
The Meadow Brown is widespread and common, especially in lowland areas, and has one brood in Jun/Aug.
From a peak count in 2013 the numbers of Meadow Brown sightings has remained steady at around 30,000 a year with troughs in 2017 and 2018. However, the length of the flight season has steadily increased over the last seven years with sightings being recorded in mid to late September.
VC63 and VC64 record the highest annual counts whereas the other VC areas, with higher moorland areas in the north and west, record considerably less. Large swarms are often reported and three figure counts are usually observed in every VC area. Three figure counts are regularly reported at sites such as Littleworth Park, Barnsley; and also at Catterick Garrison; St Aidan’s RSPB reserve is another site which now records large swarms. However, the vast majority of sightings are single or double counts.
Females usually mate on first day of emergence, courtship being short, with few preliminaries. In the process, the male surrounds its partner with a scent, which to humans may be reminiscent of musty hay or dirty socks! (Thomas & Lewington 1991). Pale eggs are laid singly on grasses or ejected into the litter layer. Several eggs may be left in the same neighbourhood.
Brown larvae hatch after about two weeks, and eat their eggshells. They turn green soon after starting to eat grass. Larvae are not thought to hibernate in the full sense of the word, remaining active, and feeding by day throughout the winter whenever it is mild enough. In colder spells they shelter in grass tussocks. By Mar, usually in the 3rd instar, they switch to night-time feeding to avoid predation by nesting birds. Pupation usually takes place by early Jun, with the pupa suspended on a grass stem or leaf blade. The green and black pupal colours vary from pale to dark according to the amount of light, warmth and humidity available on chosen site, which may be near ground level or up to c20cm high. This stage may last up to a month, but can be much shorter in warmer conditions. Emergence is weather dependent, usually earlier in the warmer parts of VCs 61, 63 & 64, although it has been reported as early as mid-May in all areas on occasion. Individual butterflies live from around 5 to 21 days. Main emergence often around 2nd week of Jun and fairly synchronous across all Yorkshire VCs, except for VC65 which may be up to 2 weeks later. Numbers usually peak in Jul with a few individuals lingering on through Sept.
Being a brown butterfly, the Meadow Brown is good at absorbing heat, which is a useful adaptation in a northern climate. As a result it may still fly when it is cloudy and even slightly damp. In cool sunny conditions it may lean over on a patch of bare ground to present a closed-wing view to the sun to absorb its heat. When the Meadow Brown is hot enough it will face the sun with wings closed to reduce absorption.
UK BAP Status: Not listed.
BC Priorities: National: Low. N of England: Low. Yorkshire: Low.
European Status: Not threatened.
Meadow Browns are very variable with around 100 aberrations described. Specimens with varying degrees of paler shading on upperside hindwings are not uncommon and are grouped into ab partimtransformis. The upperside of ab excesso, with additional eyespots circled in orange, could be mistaken for a Scotch Argus.
PR Brook November 2020