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Butterfly Conservation- Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)


The Meadow Brown is a medium sized brown butterfly (wingspan 40-60 mm) found widely distributed across south west Scotland. The male is slightly smaller that the female and tends to be darker coloured and have darker brown eyes, but both sexes are similar in appearance. The upper surface of the wings is brown with a black and white eye spot on the forewing ringed by orange. The female has more extensive patch of orange on her forewing. The underside of the forewing is orange and grey, again with a black and white eye spot. The underside of the hindwing is grey-brown with a paler band near the outer edge with a few small dark spots. The Meadow brown is often the most abundant butterfly in areas of grassland.

Two sub species of Meadow Brown occur in Scotland: insularis occurs in southern and eastern Scotland whereas the slightly larger and darker splendida occurs further west from Arran northwards through Argyll, many of the western isles and north of the Great Glen. In some areas such as Morayshire, both sub species occur.

Credit: Scott Shanks
Credit: Jim Black
Credit: Scott Shanks

Life Cycle

Adult Meadow Brown begin to emerge in early June with males tending to emerge a few days before females. The butterfly can form large colonies on suitable grassland. Only a single brood is produced each year but a few fresh newly emerged individuals can be found in late summer owing to varying development times of the larvae. Females lay their pale spherical eggs singly on a wide range of grasses. Fine-leaved grasses such as fescues (Festuca Spp.), bents (Agrostis Spp.) and meadow grasses (Poa spp.) are preferred, but coarser grasses such as cocks-foot (Dactylis glomerata) and false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum) may also be used. Females will occasionally lay eggs on other nearby vegetation, but the slightly hairy green larvae subsequently move onto grasses to feed. The young caterpillars feed by day before overwintering among the grass stems. In spring the larvae resume feeding on grass, but now nocturnally. The pupa is highly variable in colour, ranging from green to brown with coloured stripes. It is formed either on grass stems or on the ground among leaf litter.

Flight Times

In south west Scotland, adults can be found on the wing from early June with the peak during July and numbers decline by mid-August with a few still on the wing during September.

Habitat & Distribution in SW Scotland

Distribution map 2010

The Meadow Brown is one of the most widely distributed and abundant butterflies in Britain. It can be found in most parts of Scotland apart from higher ground above about 200 m and is found on Orkney on some sheltered south-facing slopes from which it colonises other areas in warmer years but it does not occur on Shetland. In the past, as its name suggests, it was associated with traditional hay making with the early summer harvesting of grass crops favouring the butterfly as adults could lay eggs in July after the crop was cut. It is thought that the large areas of hay meadows prior to the 1950s supported much larger populations of Meadow Brown than today.

Changing agricultural practices with less haymaking and more silage growing in which several cuts per year are made and the replacement of traditional mixed swards comprised of native grasses with perennial ryegrass monocultures which Meadow Brown cannot feed on has led to a decline of Meadow Brown in the intensive arable areas of the country.

In south West Scotland, the Meadow Brown can potentially be found wherever there are patches of native grasses, but it tends to be absent from mountain slopes, wet heathland and sheep-grazed slopes. It particularly favours flower-rich semi-natural meadows, waste ground and may even visit and breed in gardens with areas of longer grass. However, mowing or intensive sheep grazing results in too short a sward which cannot support the Meadow Brown. Adults favour the flowers of knapweed, ragwort and brambles for nectar.

In south west Scotland, both sub species occur with insularis being present in most parts of the branch area but on Arran, Argyll and the western Isles, it is the larger splendida which occurs and in some parts such as mainland Argyll and perhaps Dunbartonshire, both sub spp may occur.


  • Barbour, D., Moran, S, Mainwood, T & Slater, B 2008. Atlas ofr Butterflies in Highland & Moray. Big Sky.
  • 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.
  • Fox, R., Asher, J., Brereton, T., Roy, D., Warren, M. 2006. The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Pisces Publications.
  • Thomson, G. 1982. The Butterflies of Scotland. Croom Helm London.
  • Tomlinson, D. & Still, R. 2002. Britainís Butterflies. WILDGuides.

Written by Scott Shanks & Andrew Masterman

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