Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies
British Butterflies: Species: Species Account - The Marsh Fritillary:
Marsh Fritillary
Euphydryas aurinia (Rottemburg, 1775)

Marsh Fritillary egg.
  Marsh Fritillary caterpillar.
  Marsh Fritillary chrysalis
Marsh Fritillary
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Insecta: Lepidoptera : Family Nymphalidae: Subfamily Melitaeinae : Genus Euphydryas: Species aurinia:
Although the Marsh fritillary has highly variable markings it is a distinctive species which is only likely to be confused with the Heath Fritillary which tends to be more uniform in colour. The Marsh Fritillary by contrast is more brightly coloured with bands of black and orange with paler orange spots. The wings are darker towards the body.

Stonger darker markings are found in colonies from Scotland and Ireland.

The Marsh Fritillary is a Priority Species for conservation due to the continued loss of habitat and resulting drop in population.
The Marsh Fritillary is found in open grassy locations especially damp grassland that is dominated by tussock-forming grasses. It can also be found on calcareous grassland and heaths.

Small colonies may also exist in large woodland clearings where the larval food plant Devil's-bit Scabious grows.
The Marsh Fritillary was once a widespread butterfly in Britain and Ireland but has declined severely over the twentieth century. Similar declines have occured throughout Europe. Populations of Marsh Fritillary vary from year to year and are highly volatile requiring a network of habitats for its long term survival.
Where to see the Marsh Fritillary in the British Isles
The Marsh Fritillary was once a widespread butterfly in Britain and Ireland but has declined severely over the twentieth century. Similar declines have occured throughout Europe. Populations of Marsh Fritillary vary from year to year and are highly volatile requiring a network of habitats for its long term survival.

Key sites for the Marsh Fritillary include:
Carmarthenshire: Caeau Ffos Fach near Cross Hands (A Butterfly Conservation Reserve consisting of a group of Rhôs pasture fields which form the main part of a SSSI and centre of the most important Marsh Fritillary population surviving in the Carmarthenshire). Other sites in Carmarthenshire include Mynydd Mawr.

Cumbria: In the 1940s approximately 200 Marsh Fritillary sites exisited in central Cumbria and the Solway coast but by 1990 only four remained. Inbreeding was a major problem at these sites due to their isolation from each other alongside the continued detrioration of the habitat.

In 1993 the Cumbria Marsh Fritillary Action Group was set up in order to try and halt the decline but by 2004 only one site remained and only a single larval web was found. These larvae were taken into captivity to start a captive breeding programme while work was done on suitable sites to improve the habitat.

168 larvae were taken from the last site. Pure bred Cumbrian offspring of these larvae produced a suspected genetic weakness which resulted in the females producing infertile eggs. Fortunately some of the Cumbrian offspring were crossed with larvae taken with permission from a strong colony in Argyll Scotland. The offspring of the Cumbrian/Argyll breeding programme produced a strong vigorous population.

By 2007 four sites in Cumbria were ready for reintroduction. 3500 larvae were released on a site on the Solway coast (Finglandrigg on the Solway Plain, west of Carlisle. OS NY283572)and an additional 3,500 at a site in West Cumbria. 10,000 were released at a site in Penrith while over 20,000 were released onto a site in the central Lake District.

These sites were surveyed in the summer of 2007 and over 200 flying marsh fritillaries were counted in a day in the central Lakes. The other sites were fairing well although the Penrith site where over 10,000 larvae were release recorded only 5 adult butterflies and later only 1 larval web. To bolster the population here, 7 more larval webs were added in the hope that this will stablise the population.

A captive breding programme is continuing while work is now underway to provide more habitat and link sites together in order to allow these populations to mingle and prevent any future genetic problems.

Gloucestershire: Strawberry Banks (a small population occurs here but is at high risk due to colony isolation).

Pembrokeshire: Castlemartin MoD (In 2006 a population explosion resulted in estimates of many thousands of butteflies on the wing following the butterfies discovery there in 2003).

Ceredigion: Rhôs Pil Bach, Morfa Harlech NNR present on the Dune Slacks and Tonyrefail Rhos.

Brecon Beacons: Ystradgynlais, Penderyn and Hirwaun support small populations.

Cornwall: Goss & Tregoss Moor NNR, Bodmin Moor.

Dorset: Lydlinch, Rooksmoor, Deadmoor, Alners Gorse, Lankham Bottom.

Scotland: Isle of Islay, Mull and parts of Argyll. It is now extinct in east and southern Scotland.
Other notes
Lifecycle chart
Flight chart
The lifecycle and flight charts should be regarded as approximate guides to the Marsh Fritillary 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
Vulnerable Vulnerable

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

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
Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis) is the main larval foodplant for the Marsh Fritillary. The larvae spin webs and feed in a group.

The larvae may also feed on Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) and Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria).
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).
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Population trends 1
UK Population trend 1995-2004 up by 73%
UK Population trend 1976-2004 down by -73%

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 priority species (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 Marsh Fritillary 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 Marsh Fritillary 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*
Marsh Fritillary can be found on Peter Eeles excellent UK Butterflies web site.
Marsh Fritillary can be found on Matt Rowlings excellent European Butterflies web site.

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Photographs of the Marsh Fritillary
Image ID BB1526 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB1526 ©
Image ID BB1525 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary female (imago)
BB1525 ©
Image ID BB1524 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB1524 ©
Image ID BB1523 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB1523 ©
Image ID BB1522 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary male (imago)
BB1522 ©
Image ID BB1521 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary female (imago)
BB1521 ©
Image ID BB1520 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary female (imago)
BB1520 ©
Image ID BB1519 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary female (imago)
BB1519 ©
Image ID BB1518 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary female (imago)
BB1518 ©
Image ID BB1517 - Marsh Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Marsh Fritillary female (imago)
BB1517 ©
There are 24 photographs of the Marsh Fritillary in our stock photo library.
View more photographs of the Marsh Fritillary as a thumbnail gallery or as a slideshow.
Aberrations and forms
There are 19 named aberrant forms of the Marsh Fritillary currently listed. Find out more about aberrants here.

ab. artemis - [Denis & Schiffermüller] 1775
ab. atricolor - Schultz 1906
ab. deficiens - Cabeau 1928
ab. dubia - Krulikowsky 1890
ab. infrafasciata - Hörhammer 1935
ab. infraochrea - Verity 1950
ab. melanoleuca - Cabeau 1932
ab. namurcensis - Lambillion 1909
ab. nigrolimbata - Schultz 1906
ab. ochrea - Tutt 1896
ab. rectiangula - Cabeau 1924
ab. sebaldus - Schultz 1906
ab. sesostris - Schultz 1906
ab. sesquiargentea - Verity 1950
ab. suffusa - Frohawk 1938
ab. tetramelana - Cabeau 1931
ab. virgata - Tutt 1896
form. hibernica - Birchall 1873
form. scotica - Robson 1880