Butterflies are one of the most conspicuous insect groups, with wonderful colour and shapes. However, sometimes their identification is not easy and we need precise keys to identify butterflies. On this page, you can find information, free resources including books and field guides, and several options for searching online.
First, it is important to differentiate butterflies (Rhopalocera) from moths (Heterocera), and then determine the proper family an individual belongs.
In Europe, we have 6 different families:
In the following video, Martin Warren explained the main characteristics of butterfly families and how to recognise them:
There are many resources to help in butterfly identification such as websites, books, and field guides. The latter can be very helpful in the field because the key characteristics of each species are highlighted enabling the user to correctly identify the butterfly observed.
In the ABLE project and eBMS, we produced several Field Guides per region for specific regions. In each of these, only the butterflies that occur in the region are included, reducing the number of species illustrated and hopefully making it identification easier for the user. You can download the pdf and print a copy of the Field Guide for the following regions:
You can also find all these Field Guides, species list per country and region and more information on the eBMS website
The European Butteflies Group (EBG) has produced a series of field guides to help with identifying difficult species groups. These field guides illustrate both the upper and undersides of each species, and highlight the key identification features. You can download all these guides for free:
© Copyright Butterfly Conservation: These guides are made available for private use only. Any form of commercial usage is forbidden.
Many thanks to Bill Raymond for designing the ID guides above. Thanks to Bernard Watts for information and photographs, to Matt Rowlings, Roger Gibbons, Nick Greatorex-Davies, David Moore and Vincent Baudraz for photographs and to Richard Lewington for the use of his illustrations. Thanks also to LepiDiv for permitting the use of their distribution maps.
This photographic guide enables the identification of the 269 butterfly species occurring in Britain, Western and Central Europe. The first part of the guide describes the identification features of each butterfly family and subfamily and the second part illustrates the identification characteristics of closely related and similar species. The photographs in this guide are all taken in the field and show the butterflies in their natural position.
Author Peter Gergely.
The Butterflies of the Iberian Peninsula by Paul R. G. Browning (pdf English) can be downloaded free from the European Butterflies Group website. This is a revised version that covers all the butterflies occuring in Spain and Portugal. Photographs of both the butterfly and its habitat are included, together with descriptions of identification features, habitats, larval hostplants and distribution.
There are many websites on the internet that could help a lot in butterfly identification in different languages. Here we give a list of the best website to help you identifying butterflies and moths:
You can also view distribution maps of European butterflies here:
www.ufz.de/european-butterflies Gallery of distribution maps of European butterflies