Marsh Fritillary

Euphydryas aurinia (you-fee-DRY-uss or-IN-ee-uh)

Marsh Fritillary - Fontmell Down 23-May-2015
Photo © Reverdin

Male: 30 - 42mm
Female: 40 - 50mm

Checklist Number

Family:NymphalidaeRafinesque, 1815
Subfamily:NymphalinaeRafinesque, 1815
Tribe:MelitaeiniNewman, 1870
Genus:EuphydryasScudder, 1872
Species:aurinia(Rottemburg, 1775)

< Previous SpeciesNext Species >


The Marsh Fritillary has the most colourful uppersides of all of our fritillaries, being a highly-variable chequered pattern of orange, brown and yellow markings. The bright colours fade after a few days and leaves the butterfly with a shiny appearance - early Lepidopterists naming this butterfly the "Greasy Fritillary" as a result. This butterfly is primarily a wetland species as its modern name suggests.

Colonies of this butterfly are known to fluctuate wildly in numbers. It may be present in some numbers one year, for the population to crash the following year before recovering as unexpectedly. This species does not do well in adverse weather conditions and also suffers greatly from larval parasitism by an Apanteles species of wasp. Unfortunately, this charming butterfly is one of our most threatened species and has suffered severe declines in recent decades.

The butterfly is found primarily in south-west England with a small population in north-west England, the islands of south-western Scotland and the adjacent mainland, and north-west and south-west Wales. It is also locally widespread in Ireland. It is not found in the Isle of Man or Channel Islands. This butterfly forms discrete colonies and even the slightest barrier will prevent dispersal - such as a hedge or a river. Colonies are typically part of a meta population with several colonies located close to one another.

Taxonomy Notes

The variability of this butterfly has historically given rise to several named subspecies and forms. These additional subspecies and forms are based primarily on differences in the contrast and melanism exhibited.

  • Birchall (1873) describes f. hibernica to represent the Irish population and Kloet (1972) elevates this form to subspecific status. It differs from the nominate form in having a greater contrast between the orange ground colour and cream markings.
  • Robson (1880) describes f. scotica to represent the populations found in Scotland and compares it with the Irish form, hibernica: "The Scotch form, Scotica, is smaller, scarcely so densely scaled, the red and yellow marks not so distinctly different, and the black, duller in hue. Both this and the Irish form often have the inner half of the red band near the hind margin, pale straw color". Huggins (1959) says that scotica is the commonest form found in Kerry, Ireland.
  • Kane (1893) describes f. praeclara which "is the one most commonly met with in Ireland, having the red and central pale series very vivid in colour, and the black reticulation darker than the type" and refers to the figures shown in Hübner (1779). praeclara was considered by Harrison (1946b) to represent the populations on Tiree, Gunna, Rhum and Eigg in the Inner Hebrides, extended to Islay, Jura and "the Oban district" by Ford (1945). Huggins (1959) says that this form is found, but uncommon, in Kerry, Ireland. Goodson & Read (1969) say "The name [praeclara] covers extremely brightly coloured and contrasting examples ... It is not a name for Irish examples only, since Kane gives English localities as well as Irish for the form". Dennis (1977), however, considers praeclara to be a synonym of hibernica.
  • Fruhstorfer (1916) describes ssp. anglicana to represent the population in England, which is characterised by individuals that are relatively light in colour and with less contrast. The variability of this butterfly is summed up by Johnson (1955) who observed differences between two populations near Guildford in Surrey "which were a mere quarter of a mile apart, being separated by only a small copse".
  • Fruhstorfer (1916) also describes ssp. acedia to represent the population in Wales, which is characterised by males that have large and regular submedian spots that are not surrounded by black bands, and females with extensive light areas on the forewings, and lacking the black and reddish-brown areas.

Euphydryas aurinia

This species was first defined in Rottemburg (1775) as shown here (type locality: Paris, France).

The population in the British Isles is represented by the nominate subspecies.

Marsh Fritillary - imago - Wiltshire - 03-May-11 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marsh-Fritillary-Aberbargoed 14 May 2011 03C2880

Male Underside
Photo © IainLeach

Marsh Fritillary - Wiltshire Hill - 13-05-2015

Photo © Wurzel

Marsh Fritillary - Wiltshire - 15-05-2014

Female Underside
Photo © Wurzel

Photo Album ...

Conservation Status

The Marsh Fritillary is declining throughout Europe to the point that the British Isles is considered one of the few strongholds for this species. Even so, this butterfly has also suffered severe declines in the British Isles, especially in eastern England and eastern Scotland and this species is therefore a priority species for conservation efforts. Although widespread in south-west England and Wales, this butterfly is declining by over 10% each decade. The declining fortunes of this species are believed to be the result of inappropriate habitat management, coupled with the need for sufficient habitat for the butterfly to form meta populations, where local extinctions can be reversed by recolonisation from neighbouring colonies.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Priority Species
Click here to access the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for this species.
Large Increase+71

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).


The butterfly uses several different types of habitat, including chalk hillsides, heathland, moorland and damp meadows. A factor common to all habitats is that they are in full sun, their higher temperature aiding larval development.



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

Adults emerge in the middle of May, reaching a peak in early June. Adults in northern Scotland emerge slightly later. There is one generation each year.

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.


As for most butterfly species, the males emerge a few days before the females and set up small territories centred on a particular plant or flower. They will dart up to investigate any passing butterfly flying nearby. They will also patrol suitable areas, in the hope of finding a newly-emerged female. Once a female is found, the male flutters around her for a short while before mating takes place. Before separating, the male seals the genital opening in the female with a substance that prevents another male from mating with her - essentially providing a "chastity belt". Both adults are avid nectar feeders and will feed from a variety of flowers, favourites including Buttercups and Thistles.

The female will search out large foodplants when egg-laying, typically choosing one of the larger leaves on which to lay. She is quite conspicuous as she makes her slow flight looking for suitable plants on which to lay, no doubt weighed down by her load of eggs.

Neither sex wanders far from where it emerged, although those emerging later in the flight season are often seen some distance from the main breeding grounds; this dispersal may be a mechanism by which this species colonises new sites.

Adults feed primarily on Betony (Stachys officinalis), Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Cuckooflower (Cardamine pratensis), Dandelion (Taraxacum agg.), Hawkweeds (Hieracium/Hypochoeris), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.), Ragged Robin (Lychnis flos-cuculi), Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) and Tormentil (Potentilla erecta).

Photo Album ...


Eggs are laid in large batches on the underside of a leaf of the foodplant and, although the average batch contains around 300 eggs, some batches have been known to contain an incredible 600 eggs. Not surprisingly, the whole process can take several hours. Having laid their initial batch of eggs, additional eggs develop inside the female and these are subsequently laid in smaller batches.

Eggs are laid in neat formations, and typically in 3 or 4 neat layers. Eggs are a pale yellow when first laid, but turn dark grey just before hatching. This stage lasts between 3 and 4 weeks.

Marsh Fritillary ova. Christchurch May 1997

Photo © Mikhail

Marsh Fritillary - ovum - North Bull Island, Dublin, Ireland - 13-Jun-13-6

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marsh Fritillary - ovum - Thatcham - 05-Jul-13 (7) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marsh Fritillary - ovum - North Bull Island, Dublin, Ireland - 13-Jun-13-5

Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...


On emerging from their eggs the larvae spin a silk web, by binding together leaves of the foodplant, in which they live and feed. Larvae build new webs as they grow and even move to a new plant if necessary. In later instars, the webs can be quite conspicuous on the foodplant. Larvae will also bask on the outside of the tent absorbing the sun's rays, where their increased temperature aids digestion.

After the third moult the larvae build a dense nest of silk low down in vegetation in which they hibernate. Larvae will emerge from their nest with the onset of spring and can be seen basking in warm sun as early as February. Larvae eventually split into smaller groups, continuing to build silk webs where they bask together to keep their body temperature relatively high, even on cool days. More-mature larvae tend to feed alone and are often found wandering across open ground looking for their next meal or, eventually, a pupation site. If there is a shortage of foodplant, the larva is known to feed on alternative food sources, such as Honeysuckle growing in hedgerows. There are 5 moults in total.

The primary larval foodplant is Devil's-bit Scabious (Succisa pratensis). Field Scabious (Knautia arvensis) and Small Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) are also used.

Marsh Fritillary - larva - Strawberry Banks - 22-Mar-11 (5)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marsh Fritillary - larva - North Wiltshire - 12-Mar-15

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marsh Fritillary - larva - Strawberry Banks - 22-Mar-11 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marsh Fritillary - larva - North Bull Island, Dublin - 18-Feb-14-33

Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...


The pupa is formed head down, attached to a twig or plant stem by the cremaster. The pupa is essentially white, with a beautiful mix of black, brown and orange markings. This stage lasts between 2 and 4 weeks, depending on temperature.

Marsh Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 14-May-04 (2) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marsh Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 28-Apr-11 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marsh Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 26-May-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marsh Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 31-May-04 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...


Description to be completed.

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

Similar Species

No similar species found.


Watch Video
Watch Video
Watch Video
Watch Video
Watch Video
Watch Video
Watch Video
Watch Video
Watch Video
Watch Video
Watch Video

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Birchall (1873) Birchall, E. (1873) The Lepidoptera of Ireland. Entomologist's Monthly Magazine.
Dennis (1977) Dennis, R.L.H. (1977) The British Butterflies - Their Origin and Establishment.
Ford (1945) Ford, E.B. (1945) Butterflies.
Fruhstorfer (1916) Fruhstorfer, H. (1916) Neue Rhopaloceren aus der Sammlung Leonhard. Archiv für Naturgeschichte.
Goodson & Read (1969) Goodson, A.L. and Read. D.K. (1969) Aberrational and Subspecific Forms of British Lepidoptera (unpublished work, British Museum of Natural History) .
Hübner (1779) Hübner, J. (1779) Sammlung europäischer Schmetterlinge.
Harrison (1946b) Harrison, J.W.H. (1946) The Geographical Distribution of Certain Hebridean Insects and Deductions to be made from it. Entomologist's Record and Journal of Variation.
Huggins (1959) Huggins, H.C. (1959) A Naturalist in the Kingdom of Kerry. Proceedings of the South London Entomological and Natural History Society.
Johnson (1955) Johnson, E.E. (1955) Differences between adjacent colonies of Euphydryas aurinia Rott.. Entomologist's Record and Journal of Variation.
Kane (1893) Kane, W.F. de Vismes (1893) A catalogue of the Lepidoptera of Ireland. The Entomologist.
Kloet (1972) Kloet, G.S. and Hincks, W.D. (1972) A check list of British insects: Lepidoptera. Handbooks for the identification of British insects. Edition 2.
Newman (1870) Newman, E. (1870) An Illustrated Natural History of British Butterflies.
Rafinesque (1815) Rafinesque, C.S. (1815) Analyse de la nature ou Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés.
Robson (1880) Robson, J.E. (1880) British Butterflies, 19. The Greasy Fritillary. The Young Naturalist.
Rottemburg (1775) von Rottemburg, S.A. (1775) Der Naturforscher.
Scudder (1872) Scudder, S.H. (1872) Annual Report of the Trustees of the Peabody Academy of Science.