Species of the month

Species of the Month: Peacock Butterfly

Peacock butterfly on field scabious © Ken Dolbear MBE 

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Our Species of the Month species surveys are an important way you can help us.  Records are sent to DERC (Dorset Environmental Records Centre) who collate this information to build up a picture of the of the state of Dorset's wildlife. So please help us help wildlife by filling in the form below. Thank you!

May Species of the Month: Peacock butterfly

Scientific Name: Inachis io


This colourful butterfly is deep red, with blue, cream & black ‘eye-spots’.  In contrast, the undersides of its wings are mottled brown and provide great camouflage.  

The caterpillars are velvety black, with tiny white spots and several long, conical outgrowths (pinacula) on each segment.  They are usually seen between May & July and grow to approximately 4cm before pupating. 

Eggs are tiny, green ‘beads’ found in large clusters on the undersides of nettle leaves.  

Peacock © Bob Coyle

Peacock © Bob Coyle


Peacock caterpillars feed on common nettles and are occasionally found on hops. 

Peacock butterflies love nectar rich plants and can often be seen visiting wildlife friendly gardens! 


Peacock butterflies lay their eggs on the underside of nettle leaves.  After 2 weeks, these hatch into gregarious caterpillars which live under a silk web at the nettle tips.  Once they reach full size, the caterpillars pupate for around 2 weeks before emerging as the beautiful adult butterfly. 

Peacock butterflies hibernate overwinter in hollow trees, wood piles & sheds.  Folding their wings, they expose the mottled brown underside and quietly ‘disappear’ into the background.  The offspring of these adults are ‘on the wing’ from July onwards and will themselves hibernate the following winter. 

Did you know?

  • Peacock butterflies get their name from the ‘eye spots’ on their wings.  These resemble the patterned ‘eyes’ on male peacock tail feathers. 
  • If alarmed, a peacock butterfly will flash its ‘eye spots’ and rub its wings together to make a hissing sound.  Actions which can scare off peckish mice and birds! 
  • It may take as long as 2 hours for the female Peacock to lay up to 500 eggs on the undersides of nettle leaves! 
  • The colour of pupae will vary depending on their surroundings, giving them the appearance of crinkled leaves rather than a tasty snack! 

Where can they be found?

Peacocks are a regular garden visitor and enjoy feeding from nectar rich flowers. 

Caterpillars love nettles and can be found in ‘untidy’ clusters amongst fine webbing at the tips of nettles. 

Wildlife gardening tips

  • To attract Peacocks and other butterflies, plant lots of nectar rich flowers (such as marjoram, clover, Buddleia & Sedum) which flower throughout the year.  This will provide a ‘nectar café' with long opening hours, for lots of insects! 
  • If you have space, a clump of nettles in a sunny spot will provide food for the groovy, black caterpillars.  
  • Leave piles of logs & leaves undisturbed as potential places for Peacocks to hibernate.  Being careful not to disturb them, why not check sheds/garages in the winter to see if you have any grateful lodgers - they may be under shelves or in other nooks and crannies!  See if you can spot them emerging in spring! 

Join our campaign for more information on how you can help stop the decline of invertebrates:  Take Action for Insects  

Find out about other things you can do to help garden wildlife: Backyard Nature  

Species of the Month sightings form

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Blue tit © Stewart Canham