Gatekeeper

Pyronia tithonus (py-ROH-nee-uh ti-THOH-nuss)

Gatekeeper male - Ryton Wood Warwickshire 14.07.2012
Photo © Neil Freeman
 

Wingspan
Male: 37 - 43mm
Female: 42 - 48mm

Checklist Number
59.011

Family:NymphalidaeRafinesque, 1815
Subfamily:SatyrinaeBoisduval, 1833
Tribe:ManioliniGrote, 1897
Genus:PyroniaHübner, [1819]
Subgenus:  
Species:tithonus(Linnaeus, 1771)
Subspecies:britanniae (Verity, 1915)

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Introduction

The Gatekeeper, also known as the Hedge Brown, is a golden butterfly that provides a welcome sight in the middle of summer, when the fresh adults start to emerge. This butterfly spends much of its time basking with wings open, when the sexes are easy to tell apart - only the male has the distinctive sex brands on the forewings. In England and Wales this common and widespread species is found south of a line between Westmorland in the west and South-east Yorkshire in the east. In Ireland it is confined to coastal areas of the south and south-east counties. The butterfly is also found in the Channel Islands, but is absent from Scotland and the Isle of Man. The habitat this butterfly requires is found over most of the British Isles, and so we can only assume that the restriction to its range is governed primarily by climate. Colonies vary greatly in size, depending on the available habitat, ranging from a few dozen individuals to several thousand.

Pyronia tithonus ssp. tithonus

The species was first defined in Linnaeus (1771) as shown here (type locality: Germany). The nominate subspecies has not been recorded in the British Isles.

Pyronia tithonus ssp. britanniae

This subspecies was first defined in Verity (1915) as shown here (type locality: England). Records from the British Isles are of this subspecies.

Gatekeeper male 27.07.2012 Babbs Mill West Midlands

Male
Photo © Neil Freeman

Gatekeeper- 03C7238 Nottingham 24 July 2010

Male Underside
Photo © IainLeach

Gatekeeper (female), Hog Wood (23 July 2011)

Female
Photo © Mark Colvin

Gatekeeper - Ovington Park, Hampshire 2010

Female Underside
Photo © Mike Young

Photo Album ...


History

The table below shows a chronology of vernacular names attributed to this species. Any qualification of the name (e.g. male, female) is shown in brackets after the name.

YearNameReference
1699Lesser Double-eyed ButterflyPetiver (1695-1703)
1717Hedge Eye with Double SpecksPetiver (1717)
1742Orange Field ButterflyWilkes (1742)
1766Orange Field Butterfly (female)Harris (1766)
1766Gate KeeperHarris (1766)
1775Large GatekeeperHarris (1775a)
1795Clouded ArgusLewin (1795)
1803Large HeathHaworth (1803)
1819Small Meadow BrownSamouelle (1819)
1913Hedge BrownNewman & Leeds (1913)
1913Hedge EyeNewman & Leeds (1913)

Conservation Status

This butterfly is relatively stable in terms of both distribution and population and it is not currently a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusOccurrence Change
1976-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
1976-2014 (%)
Occurrence Change
2005-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
2005-2014 (%)
Not Listed
Increase+15
Decrease-41
Stable+1
Decrease-44

The table above shows the occurrence (distribution) and abundance (population) trends, using information from The State of the UK's Butterflies 2015 (Fox, 2015). Any UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).

Habitat

This species can be found wherever shrubs grow close to rough grassland. In fact, some of the largest colonies can be found at field edges and along hedgerows and we can expect to find this butterfly in scrubby grassland, woodland rides, country lanes, hedgerows and the like anywhere within its range.

Distribution

 

Click here to see the distribution of this species or here to see the distribution of this species together with specific site information overlaid.

Life Cycle

There is one generation each year, with adults emerging in July, peaking in early August, with only a few adults remaining until the end of the month. In contrast with its close relative, the Meadow Brown, this butterfly has a relatively-short flight period.

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.

Imago

Males set up small territories, often centred on a particular shrub or bush, and will fly up from their perch to investigate passing butterflies in the hope of finding a mate. Pairing occurs without any obvious courtship and, once mated, a female will typically lay between 100 and 200 eggs.

Although both sexes feed from honeydew, they will also feed from whatever nectar sources are available - Bramble and Ragwort being particular favourites.

Adults feed primarily on Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris), Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis), Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Hemp Agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum), Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.), Thyme (Thymus polytrichus) and Water Mint (Mentha aquatica).

Pyronia tithonus ssp. britanniae

Gatekeeper- 03C5615 Nottingham 17 July 2010

Photo © IainLeach

Gatekeeper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 16-Jul-08 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
16-Jul-2008

Gatekeeper (m)  Stanwell Moor, Middlesex  25th June 2009

Photo © millerd

Gatekeeper - imago - Stockbridge Down - 23-Jul-08 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
23-Jul-2008

Gatekeeper - imago - Thatcham - 13-Jul-08 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Jul-2008

Gatekeeper male 27.07.2012 Babbs Mill West Midlands

Photo © Neil Freeman
28-Jul-2012

Gatekeeper female - Solihull West Midlands 26.07.2014

Photo © Neil Freeman
26-Jul-2014

Gatekeeper (female), Hog Wood (23 July 2011)

Photo © Mark Colvin
23-Jul-2011

Gatekeeper- 03C1913 Nottingham 23 July 2010

Photo © IainLeach

Gatekeeper- 03C7238 Nottingham 24 July 2010

Photo © IainLeach

Gatekeeper- 03C5647 Nottingham 17 July 2010

Photo © IainLeach

Gatekeeper - Ryton Wood Warwickshire 20.07.16

Photo © Neil Freeman
20-Jul-2016

Gatekeeper - imago - Bentley Wood - 09-Jul-04 (3)

Photo © Pete Eeles
09-Jul-2004

Gatekeeper female - Solihull West Midlands 27.07.2013

Photo © Neil Freeman
27-Jul-2013

Gatekeeper, mating pair, Cosham, 03/07/2015

Photo © Pauline
03-Jul-2015

Gatekeeper, (Pyronia tithonus)

Photo © Gary.

Gatekeeper - Larkhill 22-07-2013

Photo © Wurzel
22-Jul-2013

Gatekeeper - imago - Ballard Down - 17-Jul-06 (0474)

Photo © Pete Eeles
21-Jul-2006

Gatekeeper - Ovington Park, Hampshire 2010

Photo © Mike Young

Gatekeeper pair - Crawley, Sussex 23-July-05

Photo © Vince Massimo
23-Jul-2005

Photo Album ...


Ovum

Eggs are laid singly, usually in shade underneath a shrub, either on the foodplant, on nearby vegetation or at random - ejected into the air over a suitable patch of foodplant. Eggs are pale yellow when first laid but soon develop brown patches, giving a mottled effect. They darken further as the larva develops within the egg. This stage lasts between 2 and 3 weeks.

Gatekeeper - ovum - Unknown location - Uknown date (2) [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Gatekeeper - ovum - Unknown location - Uknown date [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Gatekeeper ovum - found Gnosall Railway line 31.07.14

Photo © Tony Moore
02-Aug-2014

Gatekeeper - ovum - Greenham Common - 10-Aug-14

Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Aug-2014

Gatekeeper - ovum - Greenham Common - 14-Aug-14

Photo © Pete Eeles
14-Aug-2014

Photo Album ...


Larva

The larva eats its eggshell on hatching and proceeds to feed on the tenderest parts of the foodplant by day, before hibernating after its first moult at the base of a grass clump, usually within a withered grass blade. Larvae resume feeding in the spring and typically only feed at night. There are 2 colour forms of the larva - light brown and green and there are 4 moults in total.

The primary larval foodplants are Bents (various) (Agrostis spp.), Fescues (various) (Festuca spp.) and Meadow-grasses (various) (Poa spp.). Common Couch (Elytrigia repens) is also used.

Gatekeeper - larva - Unknown location - Unknown date [REARED] [Brian Clegg]

Photo © Brian Clegg

Gatekeeper - larva [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry
21-Apr-2014

Gatekeeper Larva - First Instar - Somerset - 31/08/14

Photo © William

Photo Album ...


Pupa

The pupa is formed low down in vegetation, hung upside down and attached by the cremaster. This stage lasts around 3 weeks.

Gatekeeper - pupa - Unknown location - Unknown date [REARED] [Brian Clegg]

Photo © Brian Clegg

Photo Album ...


Aberrations

Description to be completed.

Click here to see the aberration descriptions and images for this species.

Similar Species

Meadow Brown

Description to be completed.

Videos


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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Boisduval (1833) Boisduval, J.A. (1833) Icones historiques des Lépidoptères d'Europe nouveaux.
Grote (1897) Grote, A.R. (1897) Die Schmetterlingsfauna von Hildesheim. - Mitt. Roemer-Museum, Hildesh.
Hübner (1819) Hübner, J. (1819) Verzeichniss bekannter Schmettlinge.
Harris (1766) Harris, M. (1766) The Aurelian. Edition 1.
Harris (1775a) Harris, M. (1775) The Aurelian. Edition 2.
Haworth (1803) Haworth, A.H. (1803) Lepidoptera Britannica.
Lewin (1795) Lewin, W. (1795) The Papilios of Great Britain.
Linnaeus (1771) Linnaeus, C. (1771) Mantissa plantarum altera generum editionis.
Newman & Leeds (1913) Newman, L.W. and Leeds, H.A. (1913) Text Book of British Butterflies and Moths.
Petiver (1695-1703) Petiver, J. (1695-1703) Musei Petiveriani centuria prima-decima, rariora naturae continens.
Petiver (1717) Petiver, J. (1717) Papilionum Britanniae Icones.
Rafinesque (1815) Rafinesque, C.S. (1815) Analyse de la nature ou Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés.
Samouelle (1819) Samouelle, G. (1819) The Entomologist's Useful Compendium.
Verity (1915) Verity, R. (1915) Contributo allo studio della variazione nei Lepidotteri. Bollettino della Societa Entomologica Italiana.
Wilkes (1742) Wilkes, B. (1742) Twelve New Designs of English Butterflies.