The peacock butterfly is instantly recognizable by its bluish purple, eye shaped markings on the upper hind wings. The rest of the upper wings are coloured in red, brown, black and shades of yellow. If you look at the butterfly from the top, it looks like the face of a bird, perhaps an owl, certainly a scary sight for anything looking to make a meal out of it! In contrast, the underside is black so that the Peacock is camouflaged when stopping on a branch or tree trunk for a rest. Males and females are hard to distinguish but their behaviour can give us clues.
When they mate, the male flies up to the female who then tries to escape. So, if you see two peacocks, the one who is running away is the female! The caterpillar of this species is also black with prickly spikes protecting it.
Latin name: Inachis Io
The larvae’s favourite food is stinging nettles but the adults have a sweet tooth, preferring to feed from nectar rich plants such as ragwort and cuckooflower. They are widespread throughout the British Isles and can be seen virtually all year round with a peak from July to September. Adults are lazy during the winter and stay tucked up in hibernation until warmer weather wakes them. In the Spring and Summer, they will gorge themselves on nectar in the morning, set up territories around midday and then look for mates throughout the afternoon. Females will lay their eggs on nettle leaves and in sunny locations so that larvae are nice and warm when they hatch. The larvae will make silky webs and huddle up together inside until they emerge to gobble up nettle leaves. They protect themselves against predators by spitting out green fluid or bunching together in groups and jerking menacingly from side to side.
In the garden
This species is very common and can be attracted into any garden with sweet, tasty plants such as bluebells and dandelions. Any common nettle plants can entice egg laying females and the larvae will thrive on their leaves. A wood pile in your garden can also provide shelter for hibernating adults looking for a cosy place to nap in the colder months.
An interesting fact
The peacock rubs its wings together when threatened, making a hissing noise which even humans can hear!