Meadow Brown Butterfly: Identification, Life Cycle, and Behavior

Get ready to dive into the fascinating world of the Meadow Brown butterfly. You’ll explore its unique characteristics, life cycle, and behaviors.

You’ll also learn how to identify male and female Meadow Browns, what they eat, and the threats they face.

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

What is the Classification of Meadow Brown?

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) belongs to the Nymphalidae, or Brush-footed butterfly family, which comprises about 6,000 species globally.

This species slots into the Satyrinae subfamily, sharing characteristics with other ‘browns’, ‘ringlets’, and ‘argus’. Satyrids count for over 2,400 species – a grand chunk of Nymphalidae.

The Meadow Brown gets its species name – Maniola jurtina – from Carl Linnaeus, the famed Swedish botanist and “father of modern taxonomy”.

Maniola refers to a small, divine spirit in Roman mythology, while jurtina is Latin and roughly translates to “of the daylight”.

Together they encapsulate the essence of this butterfly, darting through the sunlit meadows, light reflected off their brown wings.

Fun Fact: The Meadow Brown, like all butterfly species, evolved from moths. This accounts for certain moth-like characteristics, including their cryptically colored underwings, a camouflage against predators.

If we travel further back in evolutionary history, the butterfly-moth ancestors were a kind of primitive moth, known scientifically as ‘microlepidoptera’.

You’ll notice many species still bear the ‘lepidoptera’ tag – the official order for butterflies and moths.

What is the Distribution of Meadow Brown?

The Meadow Brown butterfly, known scientifically as Maniola jurtina, is one of Europe’s most widespread species.

Its distribution spans across Western Europe, from Ireland flow right through to Russia. The Meadow Brown is also found in parts of Northern Africa and Western Asia.

  • In the UK, they are a common sight in almost every grassland habitat, becoming more scarce in the northernmost parts of Scotland.
  • In the US, Meadow Browns maintain a presence, only restricted to a few states, majorly seen in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

Unlike many other butterflies, Meadow Browns are highly adaptive to changing environments, enabling them to survive in a wide range of conditions and habitats.

They can be spotted in diverse locales – from leafy woodlands to urban gardens.

Their adaptability means that you also stand a good chance of spotting them in high altitude areas – they have been sighted up to heights of 1500 meters (approximately 4,900 feet).

In conclusion, the Meadow Brown butterfly flaunts a widespread, nearly global distribution, thriving in variant terrains and altitudes, rendering it one of the most notably present butterflies across different geographical locations.

What are the Main Characteristics of the Meadow Brown?

The Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) is renowned for distinct features that set it apart from other butterfly species.

One of its most prominent characteristics is its size, averaging around 2 inches (5 cm) in wingspan.

Meadow Brown butterfly


Its prominent coloration is a key identifier. Adult Meadow Browns display a mixture of shades, from a dull orange to dark brown. On the upper side of their wings, they showcase an orangish-brown hue, which serves to blend in with their environment.

Variation in Appearance

Meadow Browns display sexual dimorphism. Meaning, the males and females present different physical characteristics. Male Meadow Browns typically have less orange coloring on their upper wings compared with their female counterparts, whose wings have larger orange patches.


Arguably one of the defining characteristics of Meadow Brown is the single eyespot found on each of its upper wings. These eyespots can have one or two whitespots and play a crucial role in predator evasion.

Antennae and Body Structure

In terms of body structure, Meadow Browns have their antennae clubbed at the end, a common trait among butterflies.

Their bodies are covered in a fine layer of scale-like hairs, which give them a somewhat furry appearance.

Seeing a Meadow Brown fluttering around in the open fields is indeed a delightful sight, due largely to these distinctive traits and characteristics.

How to Identify Male and Female Meadow Brown?

Identifying Meadow Brown butterflies isn’t very tough. They fall under the large family of ‘Satyridae’, known for its brown varieties.

With a wingspan of around 2 to 2.5 inches (50-64mm), Meadow Browns stand out with their earthy tones. How to distinguish between the genders?

For starters, male Meadow Browns are typically smaller than females. Their coloring is darker in tone, with lighter patches helping them blend into their grassy habitats.

Males also have a single large black eyespot with a single white pupil on the top of their forewing.

As for female Meadow Browns, they have a markedly different appearance. She often outsize her male counterparts. Females exhibit two eyespots on their forewing as opposed to the males’ single one.

They have a much lighter brown color and show discernible variance in the orange coloration on their upper forewings.

In essence, the size difference, variances in eye spots and the coloration offer clear pointers in telling male and female Meadow Browns apart.

But remember, subtle differences may occur due to diet, climate, and other external factors. Practice makes perfect in identification!

What is the Mating Ritual of Meadow Brown?

Mating in Meadow Browns is an engaging spectacle. The courtship typically begins when a male spots a female and pursues her in a high-speed chase.

This chase is not solely confined to open spaces but often snakes through dense vegetation.

Understandably, persistence is a key trait in male Meadow Browns during courtship. If the female attempts to escape, the male doesn’t give up quickly but continues to follow her.

This relentless pursuit is testament to the male’s determination and stamina.

Once the chase ends, the actual mating process begins. The male and female will perch, with the male usually on top. They will then remain in this position for a significant amount of time.

Typically, this mating posture can last from 30 minutes to an astonishing 4 hours!

It is interesting to note that the actual copulation behavior is often hidden from view. This is because the act usually takes place on the ground, amidst tall grasses or under leaves.

Finally, here’s a fun fact for you: after a successful mating, female Meadow Browns become temporarily immune to further advances from males.

This is because they emit a special pheromone that signals their unavailability. This fascinating aspect of Meadow Brown behavior enables them to focus on the rest of their life cycle, primarily laying eggs and nurturing the future generation.

What Does the Caterpillar of Meadow Brown Look Like?

First, let’s get a vivid picture of the Meadow Brown’s caterpillar stage. Generally, these caterpillars measure up to 1.5 inches (or 3.8 cm) in length. They boast a slim and elongated appearance that is fairly common to many caterpillar species.

In terms of color, these caterpillars display a striking green hue. Throughout their bodies, darker green lines exist. Their skin manifests a smooth texture.

An easily recognizable feature, however, is the presence of two yellowish-white lines running along the sides of their bodies. Along these lines, you may notice tiny, fine white hairs.

At the top of their rounded heads, you’ll see a pair of short yet noticeable antennae. On the lower portion of their bodies, there are claspers that aid in swift climbing and attachment on different surfaces.

With these unique characteristics, distinguishing Meadow Brown caterpillars from others becomes an effortless task.

For this, you just need to think about their green bodies, the dual yellowish-white lines, and their set of antennae and claspers.

Overall, the Meadow Brown caterpillar showcases an aesthetic and form ideally suited to its lifestyle and survival needs.

This is a creature that beautifully demonstrates the marvels found in the insect kingdom.

What is the Life Cycle of Meadow Brown?

Understanding the life cycle of the Meadow Brown is key for its identification and comprehension of its behavior.

The life cycle consists of four main stages: the egg, the caterpillar, the pupa, and the adult butterfly.

In the first stage, the female Meadow Brown lays its eggs on the host plant.The eggs are initially pale green, soon turning to a deep, lush ochre after a few days.

Next, the caterpillar, or larval stage, continues the cycle. Caterpillars emerge from the eggs after around a week.

They feed voraciously on the host plant, growing, shedding their skin, and evolving. Their color varies from a mottled green to brown as they mature.

Afterward, the caterpillar then forms a chrysalis, or pupa. This phase is where it starts its transformation into a butterfly.

The Meadow Brown spends the winter in this cocoon-like state, waiting for the arrival of warmer weather. The pupa stage may last between several weeks to a few months.

Finally, once the conditions are ripe, the adult butterfly, or imago, emerges from the pupa. It stretches its new wings to dry, and begins its journey as a mature, flying insect.

Each stage of the Meadow Brown life cycle presents a unique set of characteristics, building upon the previous phase and paving the way for the next.

Knowing these stages well will help you easily identify the Meadow Brown in any phase of its life.

What Is the Average Life Expectancy of a Meadow Brown?

The Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina) lives quite a sterling, albeit brief, life. On average, most adult Meadow Browns have a life expectancy of about a month.

This might seem short; nevertheless, it’s a considerable span for butterfly life cycles. The process of metamorphosis, coupled with environmental factors, contribute to the relatively short life cycle.

From the hatching of the egg to the maturity as a butterfly, Meadow Browns exhibit a commendable resistance against adversities.

The average time span for their metamorphosis varies depending on the temperatures, with colder climates extending the duration.

In particularly cold regions, the Meadow Browns’ caterpillar stage can hibernate over winter, thereby drastically enhancing the overall life span.

Please remember that these figures are averages, and actual lifespans can vary based on variables such as predation, disease, and weather conditions.

The Meadow Brown, despite a limited life span, leaves a significant mark in its ecosystem.

Its fleeting dances across verdant meadows, heralding the sun-kissed summer days, make it an enduring symbol of nature’s vibrant cycle of birth, growth, and demise.

What Does the Diet of a Meadow Brown Consist Of?

The diet of a Meadow Brown, in both its adult and caterpillar stages, is very specific and limited. As an adult, the Meadow Brown butterfly relies primarily on nectar from flowers to sustain itself.

It is observed to visit a diverse range of flowers for this purpose, including thistles, knapweeds, and dandelions among others. You might often witness it feeding in the early morning or late afternoon hours.

Its choice of flowers isn’t random—it is attracted to certain colors and scents. Meadow Brown tends to be attracted to purple and pink flowers, and especially to those that emit a sweet scent.

Grasses form the main diet of Meadow Brown caterpillars. They are commonly found feeding on the leaves of Cocksfoot or Yorkshire fog.

Other grass species preferred by these caterpillars include Fescues and Rye-grasses.

As a gardener or butterfly enthusiast, it’s beneficial to understand the preferred diet of the Meadow Brown.

By planting the right flowers and maintaining grassy habitats, you can attract these fluttery creatures to your garden and provide an ideal habitat for their caterpillars.

The nutrition acquired from their diet fuels the growth and development of the Meadow Brown, influencing each stage of its life cycle.

Please remember, a balanced diet is as crucial for these insects as it is for us. The health of our Meadow Brown populations is a telling sign of the health of our environment.

Which Plants Serve as the Primary Hosts for Meadow Brown?

Meadow Browns, being quite adaptable, feed on a variety of host plants, with their larvae having a particular preference for different species of grasses. Specifically, Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata), Fescue (Festuca ovina), and Yorkshire Fog (Holcus lanatus) are some of the primary choices for the Meadow Brown caterpillars.

Moreover, the Common Meadow-rue (Thalictrum flavum) and Creeping Soft Grass (Holcus mollis) also make the list of commonly preferred hosts for these insects.

It’s fascinating to see Meadow Brown’s resourceful use of different plants, a testament to its adaptability.

While considering food plants for adult Meadow Browns, you’ll find that this butterfly, being a nectar-lover, often visits flowers, favoring those that are purple, such as thistle.

More specifically, the Common Knapweed (Centaurea nigra) and Common Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) seem to attract the most attention.

So, if you’re keen to invite these pleasant guests to your garden, incorporating these plants could greatly increase your chances of spotting the Meadow Brown.

What are the Unique Mimicry Behaviors in Meadow Brown?

In the wide world of butterflies, mimicry is a common survival strategy, and the Meadow Brown butterfly is no exception.

In their quest for survival, Meadow Browns display a unique form of Batesian mimicry where harmless species copy the warning signals of harmful species to confuse predators.

Meadow Browns exhibit a darker hue on their wings, resembling several distasteful and toxic butterflies found in the same habitats.

This form of camouflage allows them to be mistaken for their unpalatable counterparts, deterring potential predators from attacking them. It’s a fascinating blend of deception and survival, mixed into the everyday life of these beautiful creatures.

Another notable example is the adaptive behavior where Meadow Browns “play dead”. Upon being approached by a threat, they abruptly fall to the ground, fold their wings, and feign death.

This behavior, combined with their earthly-colored wings, makes it incredibly difficult for avian predators to spot them amongst leaves and soil.

In essence, the mimicry behaviors of the Meadow Brown not only provide a testament to its survival skills but also adds to the allure of its existence.

Mimicry offers a fascinating look into the dynamics between prey and predator, and the Meadow Brown’s strategy speaks volumes about adaptability in a world where survival hinges on deception and illusion.

It’s a stark reminder that in nature, things are not always what they seem.

What Are the Main Threats to Meadow Brown Populations?

The most serious threats to Meadow Brown butterflies stem from human activity.

The first threat comes from habitat degradation. Many landscapes where Meadow Browns typically thrive are being converted into farmland, industrial sites, or urban developments. This not only deprives them of their homes, but also of their food sources.

Another threat is pesticide exposure. When pesticides are sprayed on crops, some inevitably make their way to nearby meadows. These chemicals can have harmful effects on butterflies.

Climate change is also a major concern. Changes in seasonal patterns or severe weather events can disrupt the finely-tuned timing of Meadow Browns’ lifecycle.

Finally, the increasing spread of invasive species poses a new threat. These intruders can out-compete Meadow Browns for food and habitat, or even directly prey on them.

In conclusion, protecting Meadow Brown populations requires addressing these major threats. We need conscious effort to conserve their habitat, minimize pesticide use, and mitigate the effects of climate change.


Having explored the life cycle, diet, unique behaviors, and main threats to the Meadow Brown, it’s evident that this butterfly species holds a fascinating spot in the natural world.

It is crucial to continue studying and preserving these insects to maintain biodiversity. What are your thoughts on the Meadow Brown?

Don’t forget to leave a comment below sharing your thoughts or experiences.

Butterflies   Updated: July 8, 2023
avatar Welcome to Insectic, a blog to learn about insects and bugs. I'm Richard, and I've created this website to share my experience, knowledge, and passion with others.

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