Holly Blue

Celastrina argiolus (sell-us-TRY-nuh ar-jee-OH-luss)

Holly Blue female - Hailsham, East Sussex 9-May-2015
Photo © trevor

26 - 34mm

Checklist Number

Family:LycaenidaeLeach, 1815
Subfamily:PolyommatinaeSwainson, 1827
Tribe:PolyommatiniSwainson, 1827
Genus:CelastrinaTutt, 1906
Species:argiolus(Linnaeus, 1758)
Subspecies:britanna (Verity, 1919)

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The Holly Blue is primarily found in the southern half of the British Isles, and is a frequent visitor to gardens. This species is renowned for fluctuating wildly in numbers, forming a predictable cycle over a few years, believed to be caused by parasitism from the wasp Listrodomus nycthemerus whose sole host is the Holly Blue. The wasp lays its eggs in Holly Blue larvae, with a single adult wasp eventually emerging from the Holly Blue pupa. In England and Wales this species is widespread and common, south of a line running from Cumberland in the west to County Durham in the east. This species is also found on the Isle of Man and throughout Ireland, but is absent from Scotland except as a scarce vagrant.

Taxonomy Notes

Fuchs (1880) described the summer generation as f. parvipuncta and summarises that, in August specimens, the fringes of the forewing are less heavily chequered, the black dots are smaller and less numerous, and the greenish blue shimmer at the base of the hindwing underside is smaller and weaker. The definition (in German) also provides a detailed description of these (and other) features. The nominate form, f. argiolus, is generally considered to represent the spring generation.

Celastrina argiolus ssp. argiolus

The species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Europe). The nominate subspecies has not been recorded in the British Isles.

Celastrina argiolus ssp. britanna

This subspecies was first defined in Verity (1919) as shown here (type locality: Woodford, Epping Forest, Essex, England). Records from the British Isles are of this subspecies.

Males of the spring and summer brood are similar in appearance, but females of the summer brood have a much broader dark band on the upperside of the forewings than those of the spring brood.

Spring Brood

Holly Blue - male - Mill Road Cemetery, Cambs - 08 May 2013

Photo © NickB

Holly Blue (male), Chiddingfold Forest (1 May 2013)

Male Underside
Photo © Mark Colvin

Female Holly Blue. Seaford. E. Sussex.

Photo © badgerbob

Holly Blue - imago - Portsdown - 16-Apr-07 [Alan Thornbury]

Female Underside
Photo © Alan Thornbury

Photo Album ...

Summer Brood

Holly Blue - Shipton Bellinger - 7 Aug 2010

Photo © Clive

Holly Blue - Magdalen Hill Down - 4 July 2010

Male Underside
Photo © Clive

Holly Blue female -  Worthing, Sussex 12-Aug-2014

Photo © Neil Hulme

Holly Blue (female), St Martin's, Isles of Scilly (31 August 2012)

Female Underside
Photo © Mark Colvin

Photo Album ...

Conservation Status

The population trend of this delightful butterfly is one of a marked increase. It has also spread northward. It is not, therefore, considered a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Not Listed

The table above shows the distribution and population trends of species regularly found in the British Isles. The distribution trend represents a comparison between data for the periods 1995-1999 and 2005-2009. The information provided is taken from the Butterfly Conservation report The State of the UK's Butterflies 2011. The UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).


This butterfly is found in many different types of habitat, including gardens, churchyards, woodland, parks, and anywhere its foodplants and nectar sources can be found.



Click here to see the distribution of this species or here to see the distribution of this species together with specific site information overlaid.

Life Cycle

There are two broods each year, although there may be only one brood in the north. Adults from overwintering pupae emerge as early as the first week of April in a typical year, with the next generation emerging at the end of July and early August.

The chart(s) above have been correlated with the phenology plot below, taken from the UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme. The blue line gives average counts over the full data set from 1976 to date, and the red line gives the average for the last year.


The adults are most easy to identify when at rest, since their undersides are distinctive among the blues found in the British Isles, with the possible exception of the Small Blue, which is much scarcer (and, as its name implies, much smaller). The male and female are distinguished by their uppersides, where the forewings of the female have broad black borders that are absent in the male. However, the adults only tend to open their wings in weak sunshine. Second brood females generally have broader black borders than first brood females.

A particular characteristic of this blue is that it will fly high off the ground, distinguishing it from other blues. In this respect, they are more similar in behaviour to a hairstreak.

Both sexes visit a variety of nectar sources such as Bramble, Holly and Forget-me-not. However, they do seem to have a preference for honeydew rather than nectar. The males will also come down to the ground to take salts and minerals from damp mud and animal waste.

Adults feed primarily on Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Forget-me-not (Myosotis spp.), Holly (Ilex spp.), Honeydew / Sap, Ivy (Hedera helix), Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) and Water Mint (Mentha aquatica).

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The white eggs are laid singly at the base of unopened flower buds of the foodplant. Eggs laid in spring are typically laid on Holly, whereas the summer eggs are typically laid on Ivy. And so the Ivy Blue would be an equally-appropriate name for this species! In this respect, the Holly Blue is unique in the British Isles, where the different broods use different foodplants. In good years, the eggs can be relatively easy to find on the foodplant and hatch in around 2 weeks.

Holly Blue egg on Trefoil(?) Little Haven Essex 10th June 2014

Photo © millerd

Holly Blue - ovum - Thatcham - 15-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles

Holly Blue ovum

Photo © Tony Moore
Stafford. 20.05.14.

Holly Blue - ovum - Thatcham - 25-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles

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The larva is extremely well camouflaged, and is usually a plain green colour, although some larvae may also have areas that are light pink. The larva is most-easily found by looking for damage to the developing flower buds, where it may usually be found attached to a neighbouring bud. The larva bores a hole in the side of the flower bud and scoops out the content, leaving a succession of empty flower buds, each with an access hole, in its wake. The larva has 3 moults in total.

The primary larval foodplants are Holly (Ilex spp.) and Ivy (Hedera helix). Bramble (Rubus fruticosus), Dogwoods (various) (Cornus spp.), Gorses (various) (Ulex spp.), Snowberries (various) (Symphoricarpos spp.) and Spindle (Euonymus europaeus) are also used.

Holly Blue Larva - Solihull 15.09.2012

Photo © Neil Freeman

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 07-Sep-12

Photo © Pete Eeles

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 30-Sep-08 (3)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 30-Sep-08 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles

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The larva leaves the foodplant to pupate on or near the ground, and turns mauve in colour prior to pupation. The larva spins a very fine silken girdle to attach itself to the chosen pupation site. Pupae from the spring generation emerge in 2 to 3 weeks, whereas those formed in late summer overwinter.

Holly Blue pupa - Reared from wild egg - Stafford 16.06 14

Photo © Tony Moore

Holly Blue - Bournemouth [REARED from wild larva] - 17 Sep 2011

Photo © Coopera

Holly Blue - pupa - Thatcham - 10-Aug-08 (8) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Holly Blue - Pupa [REARED from wild larva] - 20.3.15 - B'mouth, Dorset

Photo © Coopera

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Description to be completed.

Click here to see the aberration descriptions and images for this species.

Similar Species

Common Blue

Description to be completed.

Small Blue

Description to be completed.


No videos are currently available for this species.

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Fuchs (1880) Fuchs, A. (1880) Lepidopterologische Mittheilungen aus dem unteren Rheingau. Entomologische Zeitung.
Leach (1815) Leach (1815) In Brewster: The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Swainson (1827) Swainson, W. (1827) A Sketch of the Natural Affinities of the Lepidoptera Diurna of Latreille. The Philosophical magazine : or Annals of chemistry, mathematics, astronomy, natural history and general science.
Tutt (1906b) Tutt, J.W. (1906) A Study of the Generic names of the British Lycaenides and their close allies. Entomologist's Record and Journal of Variation.
Verity (1919) Verity, R. (1919) Seasonal Polymorphism and Races of some European Grypocera. Entomologist's Record and Journal of Variation.