Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies
British Butterflies: Species: Species Account - The Silver-washed Fritillary:
Silver-washed Fritillary
Argynnis paphia (Linnaeus, 1758)

Silver-washed Fritillary egg.
  Silver-washed Fritillary caterpillar.
  Silver-washed Fritillary chrysalis
Silver-washed Fritillary
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Insecta: Lepidoptera : Family Nymphalidae: Subfamily Heliconiinae : Genus Argynnis: Species paphia:

Found in mature Oak woodland during mid to late summer, the Silver-washed Fritillary is one of our most recognisable and conspicuous woodland butterflies. It can be found throughout southern and central England, Wales and Ireland. Its presence in any particular woodland is dependent upon the type and structure of the woodland and how the woodland is managed. The size of a colony varies from wood to wood ranging from one or two butterflies to several hundred on the wing at any one time during its flight period.

Although this butterfly loves the sun it actually lays its eggs in the cooler, shady parts of the woodland where the larval foodplant Common Dog Violet grows.

The males which are a deep rich orange-brown with dark brown spots are particularly active during hot sunny days when you can see them patrolling up and down woodland rides searching for virgin females with which to mate. They will only occasionally stop to feed on thistles and bramble although late afternoon and early evening sees the males spending less time chasing the females and more time feeding.

Females which are slightly larger than the males with more rounded wings are golden brown in colour with dark brown spots. They initially lead a secretive life often feeding on bramble flowers close to the woodland edge where there is more dappled sunlight. Freshly emerged females will often display a green iridescence depending upon the angle which sun light fall on the wings.

The Silver-washed Fritillary is an unusual species because a small proportion of the female population have wings that are brown-green in colour rather than the normal golden brown. This form is known as f. valesina and can be quite common in some colonies.

Before they mate, a male and female will perform a wonderful courtship flight whereby the female flies in straight line while the male circles around her. First he flies quickly under her and then up and back over the top of her. He continuously repeats this over and over again until she accepts him.

While they are mating, both male and female will sit with wings closed but sunlight will encourage the male to open his wings. The female is more reluctant to open her wings while mating although both males and females may be the lead partner during the courtship.

After the pair separate and go their own way, the females become more active, feeding in the open or searching for a place to lay their eggs. The males continue to search for another female although as they get older, the need to feed rather than breed becomes more important.

Personal Observation
New Forest, July 2011
A mating pair (the female being f. valesina) in a woodland clearing showed some interesting behaviour during the summer of 2011. It was sunny as we entered the clearing and first caught a glimpse of the pair descending from the tree canopy like falling leaves from a tree. The male was in charge of the flying as they landed amongst low growing bramble where he started to feed while the female sat motionless for several minutes. Then the sun was obscured by a cloud and the female took the lead and flew up into a nearby tree with the male still attached and hanging motionless behind her. They would sit wings closed on top of a leaf on the sunny side of the tree, orientated so that the male faced head-on in the direction of the sun. As the sun appeared from behind the clouds, the male opened his wings and for 5 minutes basked in the sunlight. He would then become fidgety and pull the female to the edge of the leaf before taking the lead, female still attached and motionless during the tumbling flight back down to earth, to the nearest bramble patch to feed again. As another cloud obscured the sun, the male would close his wings and the female would take control and drag the male back up into the trees. This behaviour repeated itself several times as we observed this pair for nearly two hours.

Oak woodland with wide sunny glades and rides where the larval foodplant Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana) is common is the Silver-washed Fritillary's primary habitat. Habitat managment is key to the survival of this species. Coppice rotation, woodland ride widening and scallops and the creation of open woodland glades provide an opportunity for the larval foodplant and nectar sources such as bramble to grow. Tree stumps provide important sites where females lay their eggs in close proximity to Common Dog-violet plants.

In parts of Devon and Cornwall it is known to breed along hedgerows and sheltered lanes which are in close proximity to woodland.
The general outlook is good for the Silver-washed Fritillary which has faired well during the last three decades with a small expansion in its range. Its distribution will always be dependent upon the availability of suitable habitat.
Where to see the Silver-washed Fritillary in the British Isles
Cumbria: Howe Riding Wood.
Dorset: Stubbhampton Bottom, Alners Gorse.
Hampshire: Wooton Coppice - New Forest (common), New Copse - New Forest.
Northamptonshire: Fermyn Wood (only occurs here in very low numbers).
Warwickshire: Ryton Wood (common along main ride), Wappenbury Wood, Snitterfield Bushes (common).
Worcestershire: Wyre Forest
Other notes
Lifecycle chart
Flight chart
The lifecycle and flight charts should be regarded as approximate guides to the Silver-washed 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
--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 Adult female lays her eggs on damp north facing bases of tree-trunks usually on moss. The eggs are laid in a location where the actual larval foodplant grows nearby. Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana) must be growing in shady positions on the woodland floor.
Butterflies of Britain ID Chart
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Butterflies of Britain (Laminated ID Chart).
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Population trends 1
UK Population trend 1995-2004 down by -14%
UK Population trend 1976-2004 up by 33%

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 species of conservation concern (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 Silver-washed 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 Silver-washed 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*
Silver-washed Fritillary can be found on Peter Eeles excellent UK Butterflies web site.
Silver-washed Fritillary can be found on Matt Rowlings excellent European Butterflies web site.

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Photographs of the Silver-washed Fritillary
Image ID BB2320 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Debbie Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary female (imago)
BB2320 ©
Image ID BB2319 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Debbie Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary female (imago)
BB2319 ©
Image ID BB2294 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB2294 ©
Image ID BB2293 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB2293 ©
Image ID BB2292 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB2292 ©
Image ID BB2291 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB2291 ©
Image ID BB2290 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary female (imago)
BB2290 ©
Image ID BB2289 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB2289 ©
Image ID BB2288 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB2288 ©
Image ID BB2287 - Silver-washed Fritillary - © Steven Cheshire
Silver-washed Fritillary male and female (imago)
BB2287 ©
There are 80 photographs of the Silver-washed Fritillary in our stock photo library.
View more photographs of the Silver-washed Fritillary as a thumbnail gallery or as a slideshow.
Aberrations and forms
There are 13 named aberrant forms of the Silver-washed Fritillary currently listed. Find out more about aberrants here.

ab. albomaculata - Goodson 1959
ab. calidegenita - Stauder 1921
ab. confluens - Spuler 1901
ab. immaculata - Bellier 1862
ab. lutea - Reuss 1916
ab. nana - Stephan 1923
ab. nigricans - Cosmovici 1892
ab. ocellata - Frings 1902
ab. subtusaurea - Reuss 1923
ab. subtuscoerulea - Reuss 1923
ab. valesina-eudora - Fischer 1915
ab. valesina-udei - Reuss 1926
form. valesina - Esper 1800
Silver-washed Fritillary ab.valesina