The orange-and-brown Gatekeepers have been brightening my local wanderings for a couple of weeks now, eclipsing the now-fading Meadow browns and Ringlets with their newly emerged vibrancy, but I’m struggling to tell which are the males and which the females.
It’s easy when they sit with their wings open, as the males have dark streaks of colour through the centre of their upper wings. So, that’s a male posing perfectly in the photograph above and a female being not quite as co-operative in the image below.
For some reason though – and I have spent several hours lately observing them – I don’t see females sitting open-winged very often. As butterfly observers in other parts of south Wales tell me they frequently see females perched open-winged in their areas, I’m wondering why there’s a difference locally. Is there an imbalance in the local population, with many more males than females? Are the males more aggressive here, so the females prefer not to advertise their presence? I don’t know the answers so if someone does, I’d love to know.
In the meantime, I’ve been trying to spot which are male and female when their wings are closed. The females should be lighter in colour, I believe, but lightness and darkness are so subjective and very changeable, depending on the prevailing weather conditions and the habitat. Females are also a little larger but, again, it’s difficult to make that comparison unless you see the two sexes sitting side by side. Take the three butterflies above – I know the one of the left is a female as I saw her upper wings, and I would guess that the individual on the right is a male as it does look quite dark, but the one in the middle?
I’ll keep trying to improve my observation skills but, in a couple of weeks, the Gatekeepers will be looking as faded as the Meadow browns and Ringlets are now – like the female above, photographed in mid August – and then my queries will have to wait until the cycle begins again next year.