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Butterfly Conservation- Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch

Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)


When fresh, the upperwings of the Ringlet (wingspan 42-52 mm) are velvety black with conspicuous white fringe to the wings but the colour fades to a dark brown colour after a few days. The male is slightly smaller that the female and tends to be darker, but both sexes are similar in appearance. The upper surfaces of the wings are dark brown with small black eye spots. The underside of the wing is a warmer brown with the distinctive pale ringed eye-spots that give this species itís common name. A number of aberrations can be seen in this species where the Ďringletsí on the underside of the wing are either reduced or absent (form arÍte) or larger and elongated (form lanceolata).

Credit: Andrew Masterman
Credit: Scott Shanks
Credit: Scott Shanks

Life Cycle

Adult Ringlets begin to emerge in early June, with males flying up to 10 days before females. Males may be found searching for mates on overcast days or even in light rain. The butterfly forms colonies in areas of grassland with tall grass suitable for egg laying. Only one brood is produced each year. Females scatter their pale yellowish eggs haphazardly among tall coarse grasses such as cockís-foot (Dactylis glomerata), false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), tufted hair-grass (Deschampsia cepitosa), common couch grass (Elytrigua repens) and meadow grasses (Poa Spp.). The pale brownish larvae are slightly hairy with a darker stripe down their back. The larvae feed nocturnally, spending the day at the base of the clump of grass before climbing up stems to feed at dusk. The larvae overwinter in leaf litter at the base of the grass clump, awakening to feed on warm days. In spring the larvae resumes feeding until fully grown, then forms a pale brown pupa at the base of the grass clump.

Flight Times

In south west Scotland adults can be found on the wing from early June through to early September, with numbers peaking in July. Adults favour the flowers of bramble, thistle, catís ear, rosebay willowherb and buttercups for nectar.

Habitat & Distribution in SW Scotland

Distribution map 2010

The Ringlet is a butterfly of wet grasslands and woodland glades and prefers damper habitat than the Meadow Brown with taller uncut vegetation with some shelter provided by trees or shrubs. In the north it can be found in more open areas.

It is widely distributed in most of south west Scotland although it is less common in Argyll being confined to Islay, Jura and some coastal parts of the Argyll mainland south of Oban. The Ringlet is expanding itís range northwards and this expansion is very notable in the Greater Glasgow area, where new colonies are being discovered each year.

The Ringlet is widely distributed across the UK but there are some curious holes in its distribution: in the North Midlands and NW England; in Northumberland; in parts of southern Scotland; most of Argyll and most of NW Scotland. Like many other butterflies, the Ringlet has undergone some range expansions and contractions from time to time and there is an interesting theory that some of the range contractions during the late 19th and early 20th cenntury in areas like London, the Midlands, NW England and Glasgow owed to atmospheric pollution from coal burning. Lichens which are sensitive to sulphur dioxide pollution also disappeared from these same areas and now that coal burning has ceased in these areas, we are seeing the Ringlet re-colonise London, Greater Glasgow and begin to spread back into NW England.

The Ringlet is currently undergoing a dramatic expansion in the UK and especially in Scotland. Until recently, there was a gap in its distribution in eastern Scotland with it being present in Aberdeenshire but not in the Lothians & Berwickshire but this has now filled in. And the Ringlet has recently re-colonised Greater Glasgow but the most dramatic expansion has been observed in the Highland Branch area and is described in detail in the Atlas of Butterflies in Highland & Moray. New colonies were established in 2005 in the upper Spey and Monadhliath areas with some scattered colonies further north-west and this expansion has continued since 2005.


  • 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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