This is a relatively-common butterfly that is unmistakable when seen at rest - the rings on the hindwings giving this butterfly its common name. The uppersides are a uniform chocolate brown that distinguish this butterfly from the closely-related Meadow Brown. Despite this uniformity, a newly-emerged adult is a surprisingly beautiful insect, the velvety wings providing a striking contrast with the delicate white fringes found on the wing edges. The dark colouring also allows this butterfly to quickly warm up - this butterfly being one of the few that flies on overcast days.
Variation in this butterfly is primarily focused on the rings on the hindwings, the lanceolata aberration being particularly striking, where the rings are elongated to form teardrops. Other aberrations occur where the rings are greatly reduced or completely absent. Huggins (1959) also describes a form in Kerry, Ireland, that is of normal size until 600 feet, when it starts to be replaced by a dwarf form that, at 1,000 feet, takes over completely.
This butterfly can be found throughout most of the British Isles, south of a line between the South Ebudes in the west and Banffshire in the east. It is also absent from the western parts of northern England, north-west of the Midlands, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. This butterfly forms discrete colonies where numbers vary from a few dozen to several thousand.
This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Europe).
There is one generation each year, with adults emerging in the second half of June, peaking in mid-July, with a few individuals continuing into August. The flight period is relatively-short when compared with its close relatives.
The chart(s) above have been correlated with the phenology plot below, taken from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The blue line gives average counts over the full data set from 1976 to date, and the red line gives the average for the last year.
A variety of habitats is used, although sites characterised as being sheltered and damp are preferred, such as woodland clearings, woodland edges and rides, meadows, hedgerows, road verges and country lanes, where the full heat from the summer sun can be avoided and where the foodplant is lush. The butterfly is not typically found in open areas, such as grassland or heathland.
The primary larval foodplants are Cock's-foot (Dactylis glomerata), Common Couch (Elytrigia repens), False Brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), Meadow-grasses (various) (Poa spp.) and Tufted Hair-grass (Deschampsia cespitosa).
Adults feed primarily on Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis vulneraria), Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) and Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.).
Male and female are almost identical in appearance, although it is just possible to make out the feintest of sex brands on the forewings of the male, which contains special scent scales used in courtship. Males adopt an exclusive strategy of patrolling for mates and are often seen in ones and twos fluttering among the grasses that typify their habitat.
A mated female lays her eggs in a somewhat-chaotic fashion, typically perched on a grass stem and ejecting a single egg at random, often into the air, causing it to land in the vegetation. Both sexes take nectar from a variety of sources, Bramble and Thistle being particular favourites.
Description to be completed. Click here to see a full list of aberrations for this species.
Ringlet - Mating Pair - 12/07/2008, Hogstown Bog, Co Down, Northern Ireland
Photo © Dave McCormick
ab. arete (Muller.Faun.Fridrichs.1764.no.330.p.36.)
Underside of the forewings with two small white points, the hindwings with five. These points are very much smaller than those of ab.centrifera Seitz and have no encircling ring. Tutt(Butts.1896.p.412) gives a wrong description of Muller's arete saying "the underside showing white points with yellow rings". This is the form named centrifera by Seitz and should be ignored.
ab. cuneata (Gillmer.Int.Ent.Z.1908.1.p.359.)= elongata Tutt.Ent.Rec.1910.22.p.77.
The spots of the underside slightly cuneiform in shape. Tutt's elongata has the spots a little elongated or pear-shaped. This form has not the prominent golden-buff rings of lanceolata Shipp, the ocelli are normal except in their slightly elongated shape, not nearly so drawn out as in lanceolata.
ab. lanceolata (Shipp.Ent.Rec.1894.5.p.99.(fig.Entom.26.p.281.))
The spots of the underside unusually large and pear-shaped.
Eggs are a pale yellow when first laid, but soon turn a pale brown. The stage lasts between 2 and 3 weeks.
The larva is nocturnal and hides by day at the base of a grass tussock, emerging at night to feed on the tenderest parts of the foodplant. The larva hibernates while in the 3rd instar, but will feed on particularly warm evenings during the winter. Regular feeding resumes in the spring when the larvae can be found by torchlight feeding on grass stems, although they will fall to the ground with the slightest disturbance. There are 4 moults in total.
The pupa is formed in a flimsy cocoon, comprising just a few strands of silk, at the base of a grass tussock. This stage lasts around 2 weeks.
No similar species found.
Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.
|Arthur's Seat, Attenborough Nature Reserve, Aylesbeare Common, Backside Common, Banstead Downs, Bentley Wood, Bovey Valley Woodlands, Broughton Down, Bryncelyn Hall, Coombe Heath, Cross Hill Quarry, Decoy Heath, Eakring Meadows Nature Reserve, Epping Forest, Fleam Dyke, Gait Barrows, Glenarm, Hainualt Forest CP, Hockley Woods, Horsenden Hill, Howardian Local Nature Reserve, Hyde, Kenfig Pool, Kinghorn Loch Path, Latton Woods, Laughton Common Wood, Lavernock, Lower Woods, Mansmead wood, Meanwood Park, Millenium Arboretum, Moors Valley Country Park, Moss Field, Murton Lane, Old Castle Down, Old Down, Basingstoke, Prees Heath, Pulborough Brooks (RSPB), Rookery, Sutton Bingham Reservoir, Uffmoor Wood, Viking Field/LesleySears, Winsdon Hill|
This is one of the few species that is doing well, with evidence of increases in both distribution and population. It is not, therefore, a priority species for conservation efforts.
From The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland and the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).
The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.
The species description provided here references the following publications:
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