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Lepidopterology is the study of butterflies and moths.

Butterflies and moths are not the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about Scottish wildlife, but take more notice and it is amazing what may find here in West Dunbartonshire. Perhaps we don't notice them very often because they are in disguise. 

Butterflies and moths change shape and form through its life cycle in a magic yet complex series of biological processes from caterpillars to adult butterflies.

So what is the difference between a butterly and a moth? 

They are both Lepidoptera. The actual differences are blurred through misconecptions. It has little or nothuig to do with colour or what time of day or night they come out or their furriness. To really simplify it : Butterflies have clubbed antennae, and moths do not.

To confuse us further, we may well be seeing them in their egg, larvae or chrysallis (pupa) stages even before they flutter about our gardens or other open spaces. So, before you squish that grub, take a moment to consider what it is about to turn into.

A caterpillar is the larval stage of a moth or butterfly. It is the second part of their four-stage life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult. 

If you want a more technical answer, then it is recommended that you refer to online sources such as those below.  

Dark GORSE PIERCING BUG : Grapholita internana

Although often referred to as the gorse piencing bug, this is actually a moth.  A single brooded day flying species found from April to June. The larvae feed on the seeds inside a pod of Ulex europaeus. They hibernate in a cocoon either in the larval habitation or on the ground in which they pupate. [Suffolk Moths].

Being rather inconspicuous.


The peacock butterfly has brownish-red wings, each with a single, large peacock-feather-like eyespot – used to scare predators. It rests with its wings closed, showing the almost black, well-camouflaged underside.

It is one of the commonest garden butterflies, found throughout lowland England and Wales. It is rarer in Scotland.[RSPB]

Peacock butterfly seen above Renton in late March. As this time of year is still cold and wet, it is great to see that it has already gone through its various stages of its life cycle. Few sources of food await it so early in spring. But this is daffodil season and this butterfly was making good use of them.


It is on the wing throughout the year, having two or three broods and overwintering as an adult. The caterpillars feed on common nettle.
Male small tortoiseshells are very territorial, chasing each other, other butterflies and anything else that appears in their space. They court females by 'drumming' their antennae on the females' hindwings.
[Wildlife Trusts]

Small tortoiseshell seen above Renton.


There are 4 varieties.  A butterfly with streaked greeny-grey wing veins radiating out from the shoulder is a green-veined white. A butterfly with a blotchy greeny-grey camouflage pattern all over the wing is an orange tip. A butterfly with a plain creamy white coloured wing with no obvious markings is either a small white or a large white.

This is a large white seen above Renton in May. Most probably a male. The female has two black spots and a dash on each forewing.

A sunny day late in July and quite a few of these white butterflies are about. Some, such as this one, are looking tatty. Butterflies are fragile. They live for just 2 to 6 weeks.

ORANGE TIP : Anthocaris cardamines.

This one is out to fool us. Can you even make it out against the cuckoo flowers? Perfect camouflage. But yes, this is the orange tip butterfly. The upper and lower wing patterns are very different.and there are also gender differences. It is generally considered a "white butterfly" and appears so until it rests somewhere and exposes its other side. It is mainly found throughout Europe and temperate Asia (Palearctic). The males feature wings with a signature orange pigmentation, which is the origin of A. cardamines' common name.

Males and females of this species occupy different habitats: males mostly frequent the edges of forests whereas females frequent meadows. A. cardamines feeds on most plants found within its habitat but the females selectively oviposit on young inflorescence of crucifers. [Wiki]. 

This one was spotted above the Leven at the Strathleven Industrial Estate in April. Firm identification usually depends on being able to see both upper and lower wing surfaces.

BUTTERFLY CONSERVATION website : Everything you need to know about butterflies and moths including excellent means of identification.





BUTTERFLY IDENTIFICATION : This website illustrates the life cycle. https://www.butterflyidentification.com/butterfly-facts/life-cycle-of-a-butterfly?utm_content=cmp-true

RSPB : https://community.rspb.org.uk/ourwork/b/rspb-england/posts/what-s-the-difference-between-a-moth-and-a-butterfly

SCOTTISH WILDLIFE TRUST : https://scottishwildlifetrust.org.uk/2017/04/how-to-identify-white-butterflies/#:~:text=In%20the%20UK%20there%20are%20four%20common%20white,by%20the%20bright%20orange%20tips%20of%20its%20forewings.

THE GARDEN JUNGLE or Gardening to Save the Planet. Dave Goulson. Vintage books. 2019, ISBN 9781529116281. 

SUFFOLK MOTHS : https://suffolkmoths.co.uk/micros.php?bf=12420

UK MOTHS : An excellent guide to identification of moths : https://www.ukmoths.org.uk/

WIKIPEDIA : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_butterflies_and_moths and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthocharis_cardamines

WILDLIFE TRUSTS : How to identify caterpillars: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife/how-identify/identify-caterpillars

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