Peacock Butterfly (Inachis io) — ID Guide

The Peacock Butterfly is one of our most distinctive butterfly species, it is large and brightly coloured and once seen, it is not easily forgotten. This species follows on from the last two in that they are all in the Vanessids family.

The Peacock can be found in a wide range of habitats, from gardens, meadows and parkland, woodland rides and even wasteground.

A beautifully posed Peacock butterfly showing those distinctive eyespots, this particular individual looks very fresh and is in pristine condition – Oisín Duffy
A beautifully posed Peacock butterfly showing those distinctive eyespots, this particular individual looks very fresh and is in pristine condition – Oisín Duffy

The species is large and very colourful, one of the most noticeable things about the Peacock are the large eyespots on its wings. These are used as a defence mechanism against predators, as the eyes are quite large they serve the purpose of putting off would-be threats, especially when the wings are opened at the last minute. The eyespots are iridescent blue in colour on the hindwing, while the blue slowly fades to a reddish yellow colour on the forewing. The overall colour of the species is a deep red.

The underside of the species is rather unremarkable, however there is a good reason for this. Having a dull underside colour, like that of a dead leaf, means that hibernating as an adult throughout the winter is a lot less risky (as you can blend in much better).

The rather uninteresting underside of the Peacock, nectaring on a white form of Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense) – Oisín Duffy
The rather uninteresting underside of the Peacock, nectaring on a white form of Creeping Thistle (Cirsium arvense) – Oisín Duffy

There is no other species in Ireland which looks quite like a Peacock butterfly and once you get your eye in, you’ll never forget it.

The foodplant for this species, like the Small Tortoiseshell and Red Admiral is Nettle (Urtica diocia). This once again brings up the importance of so-called “weeds”. Larval foodplants may not always be the most conventionally pretty plants, but their function is so much more important than their form. The caterpillars are small, black and spiny and have a number of white spots as they mature.

Close up of the Peacock, a small bit of the forewing are visible along with the closest underside wing. The eyes of this species are spectacular also – Oisín Duffy
Close up of the Peacock, a small bit of the forewing are visible along with the closest underside wing. The eyes of this species are spectacular also. – Oisín Duffy

Cheat Sheet (TLDR Version):

Name: Peacock (Inachis io)

Laraval Foodplant: Nettle (Urtica diocia)

Distribution: Common and Widespread

When: Generally from April right through the season till September. (Since this species overwinters in Ireland, you may even come across it earlier or later in the year than listed above).

If anyone out there has any questions or suggestions regarding this piece or maybe regarding future pieces, feel free to get in touch through Twitter.

Oisín Duffy
About Oisín Duffy 23 Articles
Oisín Duffy is an ecologist and environmental educator with a special interest in the Flora of Ireland and Pollinators. He is the photographer and co-author of Biodiversity Ireland’s identification guide on “Trees and Shrubs”. He has a BA from NUIG and an MSc from NUIG and UL. Oisín is an active biological recorder, and current Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland (BSBI) Vice-county recorder for East Donegal (H34) and participates in a number of recording schemes run by the National Biodiversity Data Centre (NBDC), Bat Conservation Ireland (BCI) and others. In 2016, Oisín worked in conjunction with the National Biodiversity Data Centre to develop a plant monitoring scheme for Ireland. During the Summer of 2016, he toured Ireland giving workshops for the Irish Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. His most recent work has been as a photographer and author of the “Wildflowers in South Armagh”.

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