Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies
British Butterflies: Species: Species Account - The Holly Blue:
Holly Blue
Celastrina argiolus (Linnaeus, 1758)

Holly Blue egg.
  Holly Blue caterpillar.
  Holly Blue chrysalis
Holly Blue
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Insecta: Lepidoptera : Family Lycaenidae: Subfamily Lycaeninae : Genus Celastrina: Species argiolus:
The larvae of the Holly Blue have two preferred foodplants. In spring the larvae feed on the flower buds and berries of Holly while in late Summer the buds and young berries of Ivy are preferred.

The larvae grown up to 15mm in length and are generally green in colour with a pale yellow line along each side and a small jet black head which is generally unseen spending much of its time deep within a flower bud or berry feeding.

The mature larvae turn red in colour and often show signs of the distinctive pale blue colouration of the butterfly near the head (see photos below). The pupae is mottled with dark brown on a pale tan brown background is is covered in short fine hairs. They are 8mm long and 4mm wide at the widest point. The pupae feeding on Ivy in late Summer do not hatch out until the following spring overwintering deep within Ivy underneath a sheltered leaf.

The adult Holly Blue emerges early in spring well before any other of the blues. Unlike other blues the Holly Blue tends to fly high up around trees and bushes in full sunlight. The males can sometimes be found at ground level taking salts from dried up puddles in summer.

Annual numbers of Holly Blue are effected by the parasitic ichneumon wasp (Listrodomus nycthemerus) which injects its eggs into the larvae of the Holly Blue but only developes at the pupal stage upon which it feeds and subsequently kills. This affects the following years numbers of Holly Blue which in turn effects the wasp population (due to a lack of Holly Blue larvae). This allows the Holly Blue population to recover. As the Holly Blue population recovers, the wasp population increases and the cycle begins again.
Gardens public parks disused railway lines hedgerows field margins and woodland rides where both Ivy and Holly (the larval foodplant) can be found. Old Church Yards are a particularly good place to find Holly Blue's, many of which have large numbers of mature Holly and Ivy bushes.
The Holly Blue is a common resident in the UK but numbers vary sometime quite dramatically from year to year. It can be found across England and Wales north to the southern Lake District and Newcastle. It generally has two broods with butterflies on the wing in Spring and Early to Midsummer although a partial 3rd brood on the wing in October can occur.
Where to see the Holly Blue in the British Isles
Other notes
The Holly blue can be a frustrating butterfly to photograph. It is relatively easy to take pictures of individuals resting with wings closed but somewhat more time consuming to photograph with its wings open. The best time of day to take such photographs are early morning or late evening as the butterfly attempts to warm up in the weak sunshine. Finding the eggs and larvae is relatively easy once you know where to look and what to look for.
Lifecycle chart
Flight chart
The lifecycle and flight charts should be regarded as approximate guides to the Holly Blue in Britain. Specific lifecycle states, adult emergence and peak flight times vary from year to year due to variations in weather conditions.
IUCN category status 2010 5   IUCN category status 2007 34
--awaiting data-- --awaiting data--

5Fox, R., Warren, M., Brereton, T. M., Roy, D. B. & Robinson, A.
(2010) A new Red List of British Butterflies. Insect Conservation and Diversity.
Least Concern Least Concern

3Fox, R., Warren, M & Brereton, T.
(2007) New Red List of British Butterflies. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham.

4More information about IUCN categories.
UK status
Larval foodplants
The larva of the Holly Blue feed on the flower buds and berries of Holly (Ilex aquifolium) during the spring. During the late summer and autumn months they feed on the flower buds and berries of Ivy (Hedera helix).
British subspecies
Celastrina argiolus ssp. britanna (Verity, 1919)
Occurs throughout the UK.
Butterflies of Britain ID Chart
Your personal guide to British Butterflies. This 8-panel laminated chart is designed for speedy butterfly identification in the field. Ideal for anyone interested in identifying butterflies, perfect for children and adults and ideal for outdoor use, laminated, shower-proof and robust. Get your copy today.
Butterflies of Britain (Laminated ID Chart).
Online store
Visit our online store for many more butterfly related books and gifts.
Population trends 1
UK Population trend 1995-2004 down by -30%
UK Population trend 1976-2004 up by 281%

1Fox, R., Asher. J., Brereton. T., Roy, D & Warren, M. (2006) The State of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland, Pices, Oxford.
UK BAP status 2
UK BAP status not listed (link)

2For information about the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, visit the JNCC web site

National Biodiversity Network Gateway
National Biodiversity Network Gateway Distribution Map

Areas in and indicate a contraction in distribution of the Holly Blue except in Ireland where data is only available up until 1999.

* Records shown in outside the natural distribution may be the result of illegal or accidental releases by breeders or, depending upon the species, migrant individuals from mainland Europe.

Key to map*
= 2000 to 2010 inclusive (current distribution)
= records from 1950 to 1999 inclusive
= records from 1900 to 1949 inclusive
Records prior to 1st January 1900 are not shown.

The NBN Gateway records are shown on the map right. (See terms and conditions).

More data is available on the Holly Blue on the NBN Gateway web site.
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For full details of books and reports mentioned on this web site, view the references page.

Find out more online*
Holly Blue can be found on Peter Eeles excellent UK Butterflies web site.
Holly Blue can be found on Matt Rowlings excellent European Butterflies web site.

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Photographs of the Holly Blue
Image ID BB1975 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue (imago)
BB1975 ©
Image ID BB1348 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue female (imago)
BB1348 ©
Image ID BB1347 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue female (imago)
BB1347 ©
Image ID BB1068 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue female (imago)
BB1068 ©
Image ID BB1067 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue female (imago)
BB1067 ©
Image ID BB1066 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue unknown (imago)
BB1066 ©
Image ID BB1014 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue male (imago)
BB1014 ©
Image ID BB608 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue unknown (imago)
BB608 ©
Image ID BB464 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue female (imago)
BB464 ©
Image ID BB316 - Holly Blue - © Steven Cheshire
Holly Blue unknown (imago)
BB316 ©
There are 13 photographs of the Holly Blue in our stock photo library.
View more photographs of the Holly Blue as a thumbnail gallery or as a slideshow.
Aberrations and forms
There are 9 named aberrant forms of the Holly Blue currently listed. Find out more about aberrants here.

ab. antidisconulla - Lempke 1954
ab. aquilana - Grund 1908
ab. clara - Tutt 1896
ab. lilacina-lata - Tutt 1908
ab. lilacina-suffusa - Tutt 1908
ab. minor - Tutt 1908
ab. obsoleta - Tutt 1908
ab. paucipuncta - Courvoisier 1912
ab. punctata - Tutt 1908