RICHARD WILLIAMSON: Saying hello to the wonderful Brown family

THE Browns are a huge and wonderful family. They can always be relied upon to keep summer going. They are always out, even on the grey cool days of damp summers, and they are there too in blistering drought.

I refer of course to that super family: Satyridae, which make up 30 per cent of all Europe’s butterflies.

Satyrs? In human form that is a lustful and beastly-minded man. To the Romans, it was a creature with goat’s ears and budding horns. To the Greeks, half man, half horse.

The Browns are swarthy, inhabiting the half hidden world of shaded woodlands and long grass. They are now at the height of their powers.

If you can’t tell a butterfly from a bird you surely will have seen meadow brown butterflies in the long grass of summer whether on playing field, roadside verge, or downland meadow. They will be in your garden if you have long grass.

Each one lives for up to five days, typically two. I know that because years ago on Kingley Vale I studied their life-span, catching each insect, marking with a dot of paint (a different colour each day) and releasing. It has a close cousin the ringlet, and the two are most difficult to tell apart.

When doing my butterfly transect I have to be certain which is which.

Ringlets are completely sooty all over except for little grey roundels on the wings: not the bright eyes of meadow browns. But there are some exotic Browns, not just satyrs.

The marbled white for example, which looks like Pierrot in black and white, and which has been on the wing for the past month.

You get the feeling that it has just come in from France. If you go to the sandy heaths, you might see the grayling, another Brown.

If you go to the Alps you’ll see rock graylings, together with the Hermit, a mountain grayling.

If in Norway this summer, you might have spotted the Norse, or the arctic grayling. They are all Browns.

Way down in Spain last year, while tracking about with the family in the wilds where the vultures flew from the crags and the border posts with Portugal were now abandoned and looked like something out of Clint Eastwood Bad Man country, we saw black satyrs. The ‘eyes’ on their wings looked menacing.

Had we driven on farther north to the Pyrenees we would have seen the great sooty satyr, a butterfly as black as night but with a clusters of tiny white dots like a constellation of stars.

The Browns have ethnic differences all over the world, just like humans in the family of Man.