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Butterfly Conservation- Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch

Grayling (Hipparchia semele) - PRIORITY SPECIES


The Grayling is a butterfly whose wings are held closed when not in flight and the pale grey to almost black colouring provides excellent camouflage for the rocky stony habitats in which it is found. If startled, the Grayling will flick its forewing upwards to reveal the orange upper hindwing with an eyespot.

Credit: Neil Gregory
Credit: Anon
Credit: Jim Black

Life Cycle

Eggs are usually laid singly on the blades of various grasses including Red Fescue & Tufted Hair-Grass but can be laid on dead grass nearby. The immportant factor is the presence of bare ground to provide a warm micro-climate for the caterpillars. The yellow and brown striped caterpillars feed at night at the tips of grass blades. After overwintering, the caterpillars resume feeding in spring becoming fully grown in May or early June and then pupate just below ground level.

Flight Times

The adults emerge in late June and are on the wing until the end of August or early September. Grayling have a distinctive bobbing & gliding flight and are usually seen singly or as a small group. They are not often seen nectaring but the few seen tend to favour Ragwort.

Habitat & Distribution in SW Scotland

Distribution map 2010

The Grayling has a very coastal distribution in Scotland being found on rocky cliffs, dunes, grassland, heathland or along woodland paths but all these diverse habitats are characterised by having open bare areas of soil or stony ground which receive the full warmth of the sun.

Another major habitat type is industrial waste ground, so-called brownfield sites which in contrast to its coastal habitats are often inland. The brownfield sites have bare areas of concrete, rubble, spoil, and tarmac adjacent to grass and scrub which heat up quickly in the sun, like sandy & stony coastal habitats. In the 1994-2004 period, Grayling was seen at various brownfield sites along the River Clyde from Glasgow to Motherwell, including the former Ravenscraig steelworks at Motherwell and also some Ayrshire sites including kilmarnock & Stevenston.

In Argyll in 2006, two new habitat types were noted. One Grayling was seen beside the waterfall on the sunny south-facing lower slopes of Ben Cruachan (a great butterfly site NN081272)- this rocky gorge is part of the Glen Etive SSSI owing to the associated ancient woodland and bryophytes - which evidently provides the warm rocky habitat the Grayling favours. One Grayling was also found near Bridgend, Moine Mhor on a south-facing rocky escarpment created by the building of a forestry track (NR846936). These two examples are unlikely to be unique Grayling habitats so it is hoped that volunteers can be encouraged to look for Grayling along rocky south facing waterfalls and along rocky south-facing escarpments on forestry tracks in the west Highlands (see Surveys 2008)

The Grayling was designated a Priority Species in 2007 on the basis of a continued decline in England where it faces a range of threats including destruction of lowland heath, building development and golf courses on sand dunes, and agricultural intensification. However, many new colonies have been recently discovered in western Scotland and it is probably under-recorded here. More surveying is required in western Scotland whose rocky character should be ideal for the Grayling and further research is required into its mobility and habitat requirements.


  • Futter, K., Sutcliffe, R., Welham, D., Welham, A., Rostron, A., MacKay, J., Gregory, N., McCleary, J., Tait, T., Black, J. & Kirkland, P. 2006. Butterflies of South West Scotland. Argyll Publishing. (see Atlas page)
  • Asher, J., Warren, M, Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G., Jeffcoate, S. 2001. The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland. Oxford University Press.

Written by Andrew Masterman

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