Children's activities

Count the butterflies in your garden!

Identifying and counting butterflies in your garden is a fun activity for adults and children – and provides useful scientific data.

In Belgium between 4 and 26 July 2020 a census of garden butterflies is taking place. (And in other European countries too, but the dates vary). It’s the opportunity to count the number of butterflies in your garden and submit the numbers to the relevant authorities. The aim is to investigate trends in butterfly species and help guide butterfly conservation efforts.

Taking part is easy. Simply count the butterflies you see in your garden during any 15-minute period within this time period. Counts are best undertaken on a dry, sunny day. This is a great idea for children too!

You then submit your results online. This is where it gets a little complicated. Belgium being Belgium, there is no single, central website. If you live in Flanders, you need to go to the Natuurpunt website and enter your results in Flemish here. In Wallonia you go to the Natagara website and enter your results in French here. If you live in bilingual Brussels, just choose the website in the language you feel most comfortable.

A GUIDE TO IDENTIFY GARDEN BUTTERFLIES

As you will realize once you head over to these sites, they are only available in Dutch or French (although Natagara is also in German). This makes it difficult for anyone who is unfamiliar with the Dutch or French names of butterflies.

So below I provide photos of the 16 most common garden butterflies you could expect to see in your garden. Each is identified with its English, Dutch, French and scientific name. So when you go online to record your observations you can easily tick the correct boxes.

Red admiral
Red admiral / Atalanta / Vulcain / Vanessa atalanta
Peacock
Peacock / Dagpauwoog / Paon du jour / Aglais io
Small tortoiseshell
Small tortoiseshell / Kleine vos / Petite tortue / Aglais urticae
painted lady
Painted lady / Distelvlinder / Belle dame / Vanessa cardui
Comma
Comma / Gehakkelde aurelia / Robert-le-Diable / Polygonia c-album
Map
Map / Landkaartje / Carte géographique / Araschnia levana
Meadow brown
Meadow brown / Bruin zandoogje / Myrtil / Maniola jurtina
Gatekeeper
Gatekeeper / Oranje zandoogje / Amaryllis / Pyronia tithonus
Ringlet
Ringlet / Koevinkje / Tristan / Aphantopus hyperantus
Speckled wood
Speckled wood / Bont zandoogje / Tircis / Pararge aegeria
Brimstone
Brimstone / Citroenvlinder / Citron / Gonepteryx rhamni
KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA
Large white / Groot koolwitje / Piéride du chou  / Pieris brassicae
Small white
Small white / Klein koolwitje / Piéride de la rave / Pieris rapae
Holly blue
Holly blue / Boomblauwtje / Azuré des nerpruns / Celastrina argiolus
Silver washed fritillary 2
Silver-washed fritillary / Keizersmantel / Tabac d’Espagne / Argynnis paphia
Swallowtail
Swallowtail / Koninginnepage / Machaon / Papilio machaon

MORE INFORMATION ON GARDEN BUTTERFLIES

Many thanks to Matt Rowlings of EuroButterflies.com for giving me permission to use his photographs. All the above 16 photos are his. Matt’s site is also highly informative, so if you need more information on a particular butterfly, it’s a great place to start.

If you see a butterfly you can’t identify, you can always take its picture and email it to me and I will do my best to identify it.

I hope you enjoy your butterfly counting weekend, and as I said earlier, it’s a great opportunity to introduce your children to butterfly identification and conservation.

Here are two lovely books to read if you’re interested in butterflies or how to make your garden more attractive to butterflies and other wildlife:

111 replies »

    • I think this is a common experience Judy and extremely sad. At first sight, it would be easy to think that global warming could only benefit butterflies, but research is showing that the opposite is happening. They are unable to cope with the wide fluctuations and changing climate patterns. Migratory species seem to be most severely affected.

  1. Very informative and a great initiative. I forwarded your blog to my parents. Some of these names are great. I love the map species – landkaartje. 🙂

  2. It’s so cool seeing some familiar “faces” (the red admiral and the fritillary in particular) even though I’m far away, across the pond! Excellent information too – I know there’s a “count your birds” day kind of thing over here, but I’ll have to peek and see if there’s a butterfly version in New Hampshire.

      • That’s awesome, Denzil! There’s definitely one in Northern NH (according to the map), and one in my hometown area of Massachusetts (where my mom still lives). Thanks for sussing this out! And yes, I’m beyond lucky to live here – gorgeous weather at least three days a year (the rest of the time, blizzards or heat waves – LOL). Seriously, while I have some serious wanderlust, I can’t imagine calling any place else home.

    • It’s so disappointing isn’t it Rosaliene. Experts are warning of extinction of some butterfly species due to the combined effects of air pollution, overuse of insecticides and climate change. All of which we can do something about.

  3. Strangely we have seen more butterflies this year than ever before in our garden! We actually commented the either day we don’t know where they have all come from!

  4. I use to see butterflies all summer long and enjoyed watching them in the garden move from flower to flower.love all the colorful pictures 🙂

  5. Wow, I love butterflies, but never really knew the names of different species. This is all super good information with the names and everything. Once I visited a butterfly park in Rhodes in Greece, but it was too hot for them and they were just resting with their wings hidden.

    • Thanks for the compliments Tiina. Yes it’s interesting that even butterflies find it too hot sometimes, which does not auger well with global warming continuing.

  6. This was so nice..got to enhance my knowledge on these beautiful creatures so much, next time shall definitely look out for them in garden more closely:)

  7. Wow! Some amazing butterflies. What a great thing to do with the family. I’m sorry to say that our garden/yard doesn’t seem to attract many butterflies. Bees, yes.

  8. Who doesn’t love butterflies, but i had no clue about sucha a varied family..it’s amazing to see nature is really beautifully made..

    • Even the common ones are so wonderfully patterned aren’t they! One (the Map) looks completely different depending on whether it hatches in the spring or in the summer!

  9. What a fantastic, fun and educational activity to get children involved in. I loved all the photos of the different types of butterflies you included here and I hope that as many people as possible actively take part during the weekend.

  10. I would love to count butterflies but it is impossible for me to remember their names. I loved that orange and black butterfly. In Dubai, we have butterfly garden which opens in Winters and I enjoy looking at these beautiful creatures.

    • Yes it takes a bit of practice to distinguish between some of them. I find the blue butterflies (I only showed one of them) the hardest to identify as many look quite similar (blue!).

  11. This is very generous of you, Denzil, to provide the sites where butterflies can be reported and the types of butterflies everyone might see. What is that beautiful jade green beauty at the top of the post?

    We get monarchs where we live (Southern California, USA) and a few other common butterflies – we planted a butterfly and hummingbird garden a few years ago and now have regular visitors.

    • Oh Sharon I would love to see monarchs, particularly when in their migratory clouds. And hummingbirds in the garden; I can only imagine how exciting they would be to see.

      • We don’t see clouds of monarchs here, just a few loners or a married couple, at least not where I live. But when we visited Point Pelee, the southernmost tip of Canada that dips into Lake Erie, we stood looking at the magnificent tall trees with their autumn leaves fluttering in the breeze. And then the leaves flew away in masses of monarchs, thousands and thousands. We’d had no idea that the butterflies migrated to this point every year. That was more than 40 years ago. However, I just looked at the website and saw no mention of the butterfly migration so perhaps this event is no longer one that happens. Their loss is tragic in every sense.

    • do you see butterflies much around where you are, Sharon? am lucky if I see 1 a day. So lovely, Denzil! how many did you see?

      btw, Denzil – am planning on a vacation & saw that some hotels offer free or discounted rooms to travel bloggers – food for thought for you to perhaps want to include a non-Belgium tab?

  12. Very informative post, I don’t live in Belgium but I can imagine this to be so great and helpful effort. The pictures by Matt are so pretty! <3

  13. I am impressed by all of the wide variant of butterflies with all the colors that you have here. I had no clue they had such a day to count them but it does make sense for conservation efforts for sure.

    • Thankfully today was a sunny day so the butterflies were on display! Mind you, I think everyone is agreeing that they don’t see as many as they used to in years gone by.

  14. I didn’t know they did census for butterflies but that does make sense. I like the peacock butterfly the best!
    ~http://viabella-thebeautifullife.blogspot.com/

  15. Hello Denzil,
    What a beautiful post and such a lovely concept. So much variety in butterflies over there.
    I hope they are all plentiful and all who partook enjoyed ‘counting butterflies’. Have a lovely week 💐🙋🏻

    • Thanks Di. Yes Sunday was sunny so the butterflies were out flying. I don’t get a lot in my garden but it will be interesting to see the national results. Hope the packing is going well!

      • That sounds lovely, Denzil. They must have known they were on show…🦋

        And thank you for asking. Yes, we can’t do much more now until the last minute. Waiting for the visa paperwork now…
        Wishing you a happy new week up there 🙋🏻💐

  16. Looks like an amazing event! I went to Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans last month and enjoyed it! Butterflies are so beautiful to look at!

    • They are aren’t they Ana, and particularly in a butterfly garden where you can see them close-up. You have a nice travel blog; ever been to Belgium?

  17. Wow, what an ingenious idea and a wonderful way to embrace and enjoy nature. We saw lots of butterflies on our travels but I never tried to count them! Beautiful photos here. 💖

  18. Your photos are beautiful! I love taking pictures of butterflies too, however, most of them are blurry. I guess I need to adjust my shutter speed. These pictures make me want to take a trip to a butterfly garden and snap photos of these beautiful creatures too!

    • Thanks for fluttering by Kristine. And for complimenting me on the photos, but as I mentioned, they are not mine but Matt’s from EuroButterflies.com. However, I am glad they are inspiring you to take your own butterfly snaps. 🙂

    • I think urban planners have a great responsibility to make city parks and gardens more bee- and butterfly-friendly, also so that city dwellers like you can enjoy them.

  19. So happy to know Denzil that there are lots of Butterflies thriving where you are.. I have not seen many at all this year here in the UK.. At least not in our part of the countryside..
    So loved all of your photo’s just wonderful..
    I have several butterfly friendly shrubs and flowers in my garden.. Last year I saw many butterflies on them.. Sadly this year apart from about a dozen not many at all..
    Wishing you well Denzil
    🙂 Sue

    • Well it will be interesting to see the results of the survey Sue. I have the impression that numbers are down this year too. On my walks, spotting a number of butterflies on a bush seems to be a noteworthy observation rather than a common one. And of course, we all remember when we were children and seeing Buddleia and Sedum bushes literally covered with butterflies!

      • yes my own Buddleia a few years ago was covered in butterflies.. I only have seen the odd cabbage white.. And around a dozen sightings of Red Admirals this year and the red admiral could well have been the same one who kept visiting my garden..

  20. Wow!! Such a beautiful butterflies. This will be a great activities for kids, so they know about the nature of butterflies.

    • You’re right Elizabeth. I’m actually reading a really good book at the moment about the tangible benefits to children of spending regular time in nature.

  21. Ik heb alles doorgestuurd en had heel veel vlinders.Heb mijn tuin verleden jaar ook speciaal ingericht voor meer vlindersoorten te hebben en het heeft fijne resultaten gegeven

    • Yes the swallowtail is an interesting one. It’s so rare in the UK, that when I saw my first one over here in my garden I couldn’t believe my eyes.

    • Yes Brigid I really enjoy watching the butterflies in the garden. Tinged, however, with a bit of sadness when I remember the clouds of butterflies on bushes when I was a child in the 1960s. Now I rejoice when I see 2 or 3.

  22. This is the first time I’ve learned there’s a butterfly census. That’s a great project for kids. We definitely get swallowtails in NY, and monarchs, my favorite. Here in Milwaukee, I see butterflies along the river, but haven’t identified most of them, I’ll start trying to do that more often, just for my own education. You’ve got some real beauties displayed here.

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