Holly Blue

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

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

Wingspan
26 - 34mm

Checklist Number
61.012

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

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Introduction

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

Male
Photo © NickB

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

Male Underside
Photo © Mark Colvin

Female Holly Blue. Seaford. E. Sussex.

Female
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

Male
Photo © Clive

Holly Blue - Magdalen Hill Down - 4 July 2010

Male Underside
Photo © Clive

Holly Blue summer brood female - Solihull 31.07.16

Female
Photo © Neil Freeman

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

Female Underside
Photo © Mark Colvin

Photo Album ...


History

The table below shows a chronology of vernacular names attributed to this species. Any qualification of the name (e.g. male, female) is shown in brackets after the name.

YearNameReference
1717Blue Speckt Butterfly (male)Petiver (1717)
1717Blue Speckt Butterfly with Black Tips (female)Petiver (1717)
1775Azure BlueHarris (1775b)
1795Wood BlueLewin (1795)
1853Holly BlueMorris (1853)
1913Blue Speckt ButterflyNewman & Leeds (1913)

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 StatusOccurrence Change
1976-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
1976-2014 (%)
Occurrence Change
2005-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
2005-2014 (%)
Not Listed
Increase+39
Increase+37
Decrease-12
Large Decrease-61

The table above shows the occurrence (distribution) and abundance (population) trends, using information from The State of the UK's Butterflies 2015 (Fox, 2015). Any UK BAP status is taken from the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (2007 review).

Habitat

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.

Distribution

 

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.

Imago

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).

Celastrina argiolus ssp. britanna

Spring Brood

Holly Blue - male - Thatcham - 13-Apr-14

Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Apr-2014

Female Holly Blue. Seaford. E. Sussex.

Photo © badgerbob
05-May-2013

Holly Blue egg-laying on vetch  Bedfont Lakes CP (N) Middlesex 28th May 2016

Photo © millerd
26-May-2016

Holly Blue - imago - Ufton Nervet - 21-Apr-07 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
21-Apr-2007

Holly Blue (spring brood female) Staines Middx 30th April 2013

Photo © millerd
30-Apr-2013

Holly Blue - Alpes-Maritimes - 16 April 2012

Photo © CFB
16-Apr-2012

Holly Blue ovipositing on Dogwood - Isle of Wight - 25th - May - 2016

Photo © Maximus
25-May-2016

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

Photo © Alan Thornbury

Holly Blue (Female), Colne Valley 03/05/2013

Photo © sahikmet

Holly Blue - imago - Thatcham - 29-March-09 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles
29-Mar-2009

Holly Blue male - Solihull West Midlands 22.04.2014

Photo © Neil Freeman
22-Apr-2014

Holly Blue - female - Mill Road Cemetery -  22 May 2013

Photo © NickB

Holly Blue - imago - Thatcham - 29-March-09 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
29-Mar-2009

Holly Blue male - Solihull West Midlands 09.05.2015

Photo © Neil Freeman
09-May-2015

Holly Blue 2009 Clive Burrows [Clive Burrows]

Photo © Clive Burrows

Holly Blue Female - Ballard Down, Dorset 23-May-05

Photo © Vince Massimo
23-May-2005

Female Holly Blue 19.4.2015 Stephens Castle Down, Hampshire

Photo © jackz432r
19-Apr-2015

Holly Blue female - Hailsham, East Sussex 9-May-2015

Photo © trevor
09-May-2015

Holly Blue- Female 1st brood, Cambridge, April 2008

Photo © NickB
21-Apr-2008

Holly Blue Female (Summer) - Mountstewart, Co Down, Northern Ireland 8-May-2008

Photo © Dave McCormick

Photo Album (40 photos) ...


Summer Brood

Holly Blue female ovipositing on Ivy flowers bud - Solihull West Midlands 11.08.2013

Photo © Neil Freeman
11-Aug-2013

Holly Blue (female) 2nd brood. Watlington Hill - 03-Aug-08

Photo © Trev Sawyer

Holly Blue female - Solihull West Midlands 11.08.2013

Photo © Neil Freeman
11-Aug-2013

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

Photo © Mark Colvin
31-Aug-2012

Holly Blue - imago - Thatcham - 22-Sep-04 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-Sep-2004

Holly Blue - imago - Thatcham - 23-Sep-04 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
15-Sep-2004

Holly Blue - Magdalen Hill Down - 4 July 2010

Photo © Clive
04-Jul-2010

Holly Blue - Shipton Bellinger - 7 Aug 2010

Photo © Clive
07-Aug-2010

Holly Blue ovipositing on Hare's Foot Clover, Pound Wood, 2010

Photo © NickB
05-Jun-2010

Holly Blue - imago - Stockbridge Down - 20-Jul-10 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Jul-2010

Holly Blue, Shipton Bellinger, 19/08/2012

Photo © Pauline
19-Aug-2012

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

Photo © Mark Colvin
31-Aug-2012

Holly Blue - male - Shipton Bellinger - 14th - Aug - 2013

Photo © Maximus
14-Aug-2013

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

Photo © Neil Hulme
12-Aug-2014

Holly Blue (m) (third brood) Stanwell Moor Middlesex 5th October 2014

Photo © millerd
Third Brood
05-Oct-2014

Holly Blue (m) (third brood) Stanwell Moor Middlesex 5th October 2014

Photo © millerd
05-Oct-2014

Holly Blue summer brood female - Solihull 31.07.16

Photo © Neil Freeman
31-Jul-2016

Holly Blue male - Knepp Estate, Sussex 31July-2016

Photo © Neil Hulme
31-Jul-2016

Holly Blue (f) (third brood) egg-laying  Stanwell Moor, Middlesex  31st October 2016

Photo © millerd
31-Oct-2016

Photo Album (19 photos) ...


Ovum

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 - ovum - Hartslock - 28-Aug-04

Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Aug-2004

Holly Blue - ovum - Unknown location - 2004 [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

Holly Blue egg on Hares Foot Clover, Pound Wood, 2010

Photo © NickB
05-Jun-2010

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

Photo © Pete Eeles
15-Aug-2013

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

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Aug-2013

Holly Blue ovum

Photo © Tony Moore
Stafford. 20.05.14.
18-May-2014

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

Photo © millerd
10-Jun-2014

Holly Blue - ovum - Thatcham - 24-Aug-15-3

Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Aug-2015

Holly Blue - ovum - Thatcham - 24-Aug-15-4

Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Aug-2015

Holly Blue - ovum - Thatcham - 24-Aug-15

Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Aug-2015

Photo Album (10 photos) ...


Larva

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.

Listrodomus nycthemerus - Worthing, Sussex 11-Sept-2012

Photo © Neil Hulme
11-Sep-2012

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 01-Oct-08 (7)

Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Oct-2008

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 30-Aug-15-4

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Aug-2015

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

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Sep-2008

Holly Blue - 2nd instar larva - Thatcham - 05-Sep15

Photo © Pete Eeles
05-Sep-2015

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 30-Aug-15-5

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Aug-2015

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 22-Oct-15

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-Oct-2015

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 26-Aug-12

Photo © Pete Eeles

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 01-Oct-08 (6)

Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Oct-2008

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 22-Sep-10 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Sep-2010

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

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Sep-2008

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 30-Aug-15-6

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Aug-2015

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 17-Aug-13-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
First instar
17-Aug-2013

Holly Blue larva -Worthing, Sussex 10-Sept-2012

Photo © Neil Hulme
10-Sep-2012

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 17-Aug-13

Photo © Pete Eeles
First instar
17-Aug-2013

Holly Blue Larva - Solihull 15.09.2012

Photo © Neil Freeman
15-Sep-2012

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 04-Oct-15

Photo © Pete Eeles
04-Oct-2015

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 22-Sep-10 (2)

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Sep-2010

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 30-Aug-15

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Aug-2015

Holly Blue - larva - Thatcham - 22-Sep-10 (3)

Photo © Pete Eeles
30-Sep-2010

Photo Album (28 photos) ...


1st Instar

Description to be completed.

2nd Instar

Description to be completed.

3rd Instar

Description to be completed.

4th Instar

Description to be completed.

Pupa

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 - Thatcham - 10-Aug-08 (8) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles
08-Oct-2008

Holly Blue - pupa - Unknown location - 2004 [REARED] [Reg Fry]

Photo © Reg Fry

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

Photo © Tony Moore
18-Jun-2014

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

Photo © Coopera

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

Photo © Coopera

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

Photo © Coopera

Holly Blue - pupa - Thatcham - 28-Oct-15 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Oct-2015

Photo Album (7 photos) ...


Aberrations

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.

Videos

No videos are currently available for this species.

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Fuchs (1880) Fuchs, A. (1880) Lepidopterologische Mittheilungen aus dem unteren Rheingau. Entomologische Zeitung.
Harris (1775b) Harris, M. (1775) The English Lepidoptera: or, The Aurelian's Pocket Companion.
Leach (1815) Leach (1815) In Brewster: The Edinburgh Encyclopaedia.
Lewin (1795) Lewin, W. (1795) The Papilios of Great Britain.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Morris (1853) Morris, Rev.F.O. (1853) A History of British Butterflies.
Newman & Leeds (1913) Newman, L.W. and Leeds, H.A. (1913) Text Book of British Butterflies and Moths.
Petiver (1717) Petiver, J. (1717) Papilionum Britanniae Icones.
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.