The butterflies known as “the Browns” tend to have larvae that feed off the leaves of grasses, but they do not make rolled-up tubes of grass leaves to feed in like the family of butterflies known as the Skippers. The larvae are fairly typical caterpillars but when examined closely usually have two small “split” tail extensions. The adults tend to be brownish from a distance, but often with beautifully complicated subtle patterns of colour when viewed close-up, together with circular patterns or “eyes” on their wings.
In fact “the Browns” are a sub-family of another family of butterflies, the Nymphalidae, which also includes “the Admirals” and “the Fritillaries”. All these butterflies share the characteristic that the front pair of legs are not used as legs, so that the butterflies only use its two rear pairs of legs to stand upon. The front pair of legs are held close to the chest and are covered in hairs that may have a sensory function.
The most commonly seen “Brown” in Hadlow parish is the Meadow Brown that may be found everywhere grass is allowed to grow long in the parish from June through to August. Them there is the Ringlet that may be found where there is grass next to woodland or larger hedgerows, usually found from the end of June/beginning of July, and the Gatekeeper found in numbers from the middle of July onwards, again commonly by hedgerows. Finally the Speckled Wood is the most “woodland” of all the Browns, and is common in woodland rides, paths and glades or nearby. You don’t need much woodland to attract them, but you do generally need a bit.
Other “Browns” found in Kent but not in Hadlow include the Grayling, which used to be found on the coast on the chalky grasslands near places like Dover, but which now be on the edge of extinction in the county. Then there is the Wall, again most commonly found in dry chalk grassland such as Lydden Temple Ewell near Dover. Another chalk grassland lover is the Marbled White, but with a much wider distribution on dry alkaline soils in Kent. This is so brightly patterned with white and dark markings that it doesn’t look like a Brown at all, hence its common name. However as there is no chalk grassland near Hadlow, you are unlikely to see any of these three butterflies within the parish.
Finally there is the Small Heath looks a little like a much smaller slightly more orange version of the Meadow Brown, and this may be found on a range of dry grassy areas around Kent. A few individuals of these have actually turned up within the parish from time to time, and might be expected to be found in the southern grasslands of the parish around the River Medway and the gravel pits – but no consistent luck yet! Maybe an ecological restoration plan for the worked out gravel pits might help!
Taking an overview of “the Browns” (Satyrinae) worldwide there are over 2,400 species. In the more tropical areas, the larvae may feed off the leaves of bamboos or even palms as opposed to grasses. The adults tend to be rather plain-coloured, and prefer somewhat shaded or moister habitats.