Marbled White

Melanargia galathea (mell-uh-NAR-jee-uh ga-la-THEE-uh)

Marbled White - imago - Pamber Forest - 29-Jun-08 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
 

Wingspan
Male: 53mm
Female: 58mm

Checklist Number
59.012

Family:NymphalidaeRafinesque, 1815
Subfamily:SatyrinaeBoisduval, 1833
Tribe:MelanargiiniWheeler, 1903
Genus:MelanargiaMeigen, 1828
Subgenus:  
Species:galathea(Linnaeus, 1758)
Subspecies:serena Verity, 1913

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Introduction

Despite its name, the Marbled White is more closely related to the subfamily known as the "browns" that the "whites". This butterfly is unmistakable, its black and white markings distinguishing it from all other species found in the British Isles. This butterfly is found in distinct and often large colonies, south of a line between Glamorganshire in the west and North-east Yorkshire in the east, although it is not found in much of eastern England. It is absent from Scotland, Ireland and the Isle of Man.

Melanargia galathea ssp. galathea

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

Melanargia galathea ssp. serena

This subspecies was first defined in Verity (1913a) as shown here (type locality: England). Records from the British Isles are of this subspecies.

Marbled White Male - Woldingham, Surrey 21-June-09

Male
Photo © Vince Massimo

Marbled White male - Rewell Wood, Sussex 20-June-2014

Male Underside
Photo © Neil Hulme

Marbled White Female - Birling Gap, Sussex 13-July-06

Female
Photo © Vince Massimo

Marbled White Female - Woldingham, Surrey 28-June-10

Female Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

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
1695Our Half-MournerPetiver (1695-1703)
1710Half-mournerRay (1710)
1717Common Half-mournerPetiver (1717)
1742MarmorisWilkes (1742)
1749Marble ButterflyWilkes (1749)
1766Marbled WhiteHarris (1766)
1766MarmoressHarris (1766)
1795Marbled ArgusLewin (1795)
1819Marbled ButterflySamouelle (1819)
1841Marbled White Half-mournerWestwood (1841)

Conservation Status

This butterfly has extended its distribution over recent years and is not currently a priority species for conservation efforts.

UK BAP StatusOccurrence Change
1976-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
1976-2014 (%)
Occurrence Change
2005-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
2005-2014 (%)
Not Listed
Increase+29
Large Increase+50
Increase+26
Increase+25

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

The butterfly is found in unimproved grassland where the grass may grow up to 0.5m tall. The largest colonies are found on downland but even small strips of grassland, such as a road verge, field margins, woodland clearings and disused railway lines can contain smaller colonies.

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

Adults emerge throughout the latter part of June, reaching a peak in early July. 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.

 

Imago

Early morning is a good time to see this species, as it warms up with wings held open absorbing the sun's rays. This species can be quite conspicuous, even from a distance, as it may be the only white object among the grassland. At good sites it is not uncommon at good sites to see a flower head containing several adults all vying for space as they feed. When the weather is dull, and at night, the adults will rest on grass stems, as well as the flowerheads of any of their nectar sources, such as Thistle or Knapweed.

The Marbled White is often found with parasitic red mites, Trombidium breei in particular, attached to its thorax, although such parasitism does not appear to affect the butterfly in any way.

Adults feed primarily on Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.). Carline Thistle (Carlina vulgaris), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.), Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), Red Clover (Trifolium pratense), Thyme (Thymus polytrichus), White Clover (Trifolium repens) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) are also used.

Melanargia galathea ssp. serena

Marbled White, Hadleigh Castle Country Park,Essex. 28 June 2012.

Photo © essexbuzzard
Hadleigh Castle Country Park, Essex. 28.6.2012.
28-Jun-2012

Marbled White Female - Woldingham, Surrey 28-June-10

Photo © Vince Massimo
28-Jun-2010

Marbled White Female - Woldingham, Surrey 28-June-10

Photo © Vince Massimo
28-Jun-2010

Marbled White - Stockbridge Down - 6 July 2013

Photo © craigbirdphotos
06-Jul-2013

P1000094d, Marbled White, Oaken Wood, 30/06/2011

Photo © Pauline
30-Jun-2011

Marbled-White- 5D33397

Photo © IainLeach
Cambs, June 2015

Marbled-White- 5D33270

Photo © IainLeach
Cambs, June 2015

Marbled White - imago - Stockbridge Down - 29-Jun-11 (8)

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marbled White - imago - Pamber Forest - 29-Jun-08 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
29-Jun-2008

Marbled White - imago - Stockbridge Down - 08-Jul-10 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
08-Jul-2010

Marbled White (Female), Twywell Hills and Dales 14/07/2013

Photo © DerekLees

Marbled White - Larkhill - 26-06-2014

Photo © Wurzel

Marbled White - female - Woodhenge - 19-06-2014

Photo © Wurzel

Marbled White Male - Woldingham, Surrey 21-June-09

Photo © Vince Massimo
21-Jun-2009

Marbled White - imago - Farley Mount Country Park - 01-Jul-08 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Jul-2008

Marbled White sheltering. Prestbury Hill Reserve, Glos 26/7/12

Photo © jamesweightman
26-Jul-2012

Marbled White pair, Fairmile Bottom, Sussex 26-June-2014

Photo © Neil Hulme
26-Jun-2014

Marbled White Taking Flight - Wingate Quarry, Co Durham - 12th July 2012

Photo © Graham Beckwith
An unusual shot: This male was spooked by the beetle and took flight just as I hit the shutter.
12-Jul-2012

Marbled White - imago - Farley Mount Country Park - 27-Jun-04

Photo © Pete Eeles
28-Jun-2004

Marbled White mating pair, 5/07/2012, Hants

Photo © Pauline
05-Jul-2012

Photo Album (46 photos) ...


Ovum

The white spherical egg is laid in a curious manner - the female does not lay on the foodplant, but simply drops the egg while perched on a grass stem or while flying in suitable habitat. The egg stage lasts around 3 weeks.

"This butterfly has a peculiar habit of dropping its eggs among the grass without attempting to attach them to anything. It lays most freely in captivity. The eggs are laid at random, either simply dropped among the grass or jerked with considerable force, which is the usual habit; the egg is expelled sideways, i.e., it leaves the ovipositor sideways, so that the egg is at right angles with the abdomen; it there remains attached for a few seconds and is then either jerked away or simply drops to the ground among the stems of grass. The egg is 1 mm. high, and about the same in diameter, being almost spherical in shape, but rather narrower near the apex, in the centre of which is a small micropyle finely dentated; the base is flattened and sunken in the middle. It is of an opaque white with a creamy tinge, and in general structure and colouring it resembles a miniature ostrich's egg. The apex to one-fourth down is covered with extremely fine reticulations of a network pattern; these diverge into longitudinal ridges, numbering between thirty and forty, which are very slightly raised and chiefly formed of tiny projections which become broken up into numerous minute points over the basal fourth; the entire surface is finely granulated. Directly it is extruded and before it drops it is a greenish-white, but it almost immediately turns white and is then dropped. Before hatching some assume a pinkish hue and others become greyish-ashen colour. Eggs laid August 7th, 1901, commenced hatching August 27th, remaining in the egg state twenty days, which is about the normal period." - Frohawk (1924)

Marbled White - ovum - Thatcham - 01-Jul-11 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marbled White - ovum - Thatcham - 11-Jul-16

Photo © Pete Eeles
11-Jul-2016

Marbled White - ovum - Thatcham - 20-Jul-16 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
20-Jul-2016

Photo Album (3 photos) ...


Larva

The larva emerges from the top of the egg before eating the eggshell. It enters hibernation without further feeding, tucked away deep down in a grass clump. The larva emerges in the spring and early instars rest head down on a grass stem during the day, occasionally nibbling at the leaf. More mature larvae typically spend the day hidden away, head down, at the base of the stem, feeding only at night. The larva has two colour forms - being either a light green or a light brown. Prior to pupation, the larva will descend to the base of the stems.

The primary larval foodplants are Red Fescue (Festuca rubra), Sheep's-fescue (Festuca ovina), Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) and Yorkshire-fog (Holcus lanatus).

Marbled White - larva - Thatcham - 01-May-05 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
02-May-2005

Marbled White - larva - Thatcham - 17-May-05 (4) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
17-May-2005

Marbled White - larva - Thatcham - 17-May-05 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
17-May-2005

Marbled White larva, green form. 8/4/2014. Seaford. East Sussex.

Photo © badgerbob
08-Apr-2014

Marbled White larva. Green form. 8/4/2014. Seaford. East Sussex.

Photo © badgerbob
08-Apr-2014

Marbled White larva, brown form. 11/4/2014. Seaford, East Sussex.

Photo © badgerbob
11-Apr-2014

Marbled White larva, brown form. 11/4/2014. Seaford, East Sussex.

Photo © badgerbob
11-Apr-2014

Marbled White larva, green form. 11/4/2014. Seaford, East Sussex.

Photo © badgerbob
11-Apr-2014

Marbled White larva. Seaford. Sussex. 29/4/2014.

Photo © badgerbob
29-Apr-2014

Marbled White larva. Seaford. Sussex. 29/4/2014.

Photo © badgerbob
29-Apr-2014

Marbled White larva. Seaford. Sussex. 3/6/2014.

Photo © badgerbob
03-Jun-2014

Marbled White larva. Seaford. Sussex. 3/6/2014.

Photo © badgerbob
03-Jun-2014

Photo Album (12 photos) ...


1st Instar

"The young larva eats round the crown of the egg, cutting out a large circular lid, which it pushes off upon emergence; directly it has emerged it starts feeding on the empty shell, sometimes devouring all but the base. Directly after emergence the larva measures as much as 3.12 mm. long while crawling. The head is large, with a granulated surface of a pale ochreous colour, beset with white tubercles, each bearing a cream-coloured hair directed forwards; eye spots and mouth parts outlined with brown. The body gradually tapers posteriorly. The ground colour is pale straw-yellow, with longitudinal rust-coloured stripes running the entire length; one is medio-dorsal and sharply defined, then a very narrow and indistinct sub-dorsal one, followed by a broad band above the spiracles, and a fine and indistinct spiracular line; the spiracles are amber-brown and prominent, so much so that the first and last form small tubercles. There are four longitudinal rows of long hairs, each having a bulbous base; the first row is sub-dorsal and consists of two on each segment, that on the anterior half of the segment is the longest with a large tubercular base and curves backwards; the second one is of remarkable formation, having a short strong stem which ends abruptly as if broken off just above the tine, which branches off at almost a right angle, and directed backwards; on the band immediately above the spiracle is a long curving hair pointing forwards and upwards, and below the spiracle are two similar hairs, both curving slightly backwards, and on each clasper are two much smaller ones, both curving downwards and backwards; all these hairs are simple and of milk-white colour; the feet hooks are rust-red, the anal points terminate in a simple fine hair, the legs and claspers are the same colour as the body. The whole surface is granular. It is particularly slow in its movements. After eating the empty egg-shell they apparently at once enter into hibernation, and take up their position without attempting to feed, and only rest on the dead, withered, buff-coloured grass stems and blades, which they closely resemble in colouring, the stripes of the larvae harmonizing with the ribs on the grass blades and the fine hair-like blades of fescue grass; it is a remarkable fact that the author has not seen one out of a very large number of larva: resting on any of the green stems or blades, but only on the buff or ochreous ones, although both the dead and living are intermingled. The larvae have obviously some sense enabling them to select only the grass similar to their own colouring as a protective resemblance. If the weather is mild during January they start feeding, and seem to prefer Festuca ovina (sheep's fescue grass). They feed by day, at times on the tips of the blades, and while resting do not hide themselves at the base of the stems, but merely rest in a straight position on the blades. Shortly before first moult, 210 days old, it measures 4.20 mm. long. The ground colour is similar to when first hatched, but the longitudinal lines are darker drab colour and the dorsal surface is more or less tinged with green, caused by the food consumed." - Frohawk (1924)

Marbled White - larva (1st instar) - Thatcham - 17-Aug-16 [REARED]-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
17-Aug-2016

Marbled White - larva (1st instar) - Thatcham - 17-Aug-16 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
17-Aug-2016

Marbled White - larva (1st instar) - Thatcham - 13-Mar-17 [REARED]-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
13-Mar-2017

Marbled White - larva (1st instar) - Thatcham - 24-Feb-17 [REARED]-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Feb-2017

Photo Album (4 photos) ...


2nd Instar

"After the first moult, 251 days (May 5th, 1902), it is 8.5 mm. in length. The whole surface is finely granulated and beset with numerous slightly curved, simple, buff-coloured hairs, varying in length, some very small; the ground colour is cream, with a medio-dorsal lilac-brown stripe running the entire length; also a very fine sub-dorsal line of the same colour and a darker sub-spiracular stripe bordering a slightly darker ground colouring, forming the spiracular band, which is reticulated with lilac-red; the lateral line is bright cream-yellow; the spiracles are very inconspicuous, of the same colour as the body, excepting the aperture, which is pale-brown, they are prominent, forming short tubercles; legs and claspers same colour as the body. The head is pale ochreous, with black eye spots and central line dark; it is covered with hairs similar to the body. If disturbed they quickly contract themselves into a hook shape, curving the anterior half of the body, and with further disturbance they fall to the ground, rolling into a compact ring. They frequently feed by day, and rest on the grass blades in a straight attitude. After first moult, there are two forms of colouring, one as above, and one with the ground colour whitish-green, the head and anal points ochreous, lines dull olive-green, and a drab spiracular band." - Frohawk (1924)

Marbled White - L2 - Thatcham - 27-Mar-17 [REARED]-3

Photo © Pete Eeles
27-Mar-2017

Marbled White - L2 - Thatcham - 10-Apr-17 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Apr-2017

Marbled White - L2 - Thatcham - 27-Mar-17 [REARED]-4

Photo © Pete Eeles
27-Mar-2017

Marbled White - L2 - Thatcham - 27-Mar-17 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
27-Mar-2017

Photo Album (4 photos) ...


3rd Instar

"The second moult on May 21st, 1902. After second moult, 283 days old (on June 6th), it measures 13 mm. long; excepting the spiracles, which are now dark brown and fairly distinct, and the general colouring clearer, it is similar to the previous stage in both forms. The green form closely resembles E. tithonus in the same stage." - Frohawk (1924)

Marbled White - L3 - Thatcham - 24-Apr-17 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Apr-2017

Marbled White - L3 - Thatcham - 24-Apr-17 [REARED]-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Apr-2017

Marbled White - L3 - Thatcham - 10-Apr-17 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Apr-2017

Photo Album (3 photos) ...


4th Instar

"The third moult occurred June 12th, 1902. After the third and last moult, fully grown, the larva averages about 28 mm. long. It tapers at each end; the head is rather large and globular, thickly studded with minute white warts, each bearing a fine pale hair; the segments are distinctly marked and each abdominal segment is sub-divided into six transverse wrinkles, the largest being anterior; the anal segment terminates in two diverging points, which are furnished with fine hairs; the lateral ridge is prominent and undulatory; the ventral surface very flat. The ground colour is variable, varying from pale yellowish-flesh to pale green, and occasionally a full green. A dark medio-dorsal, longitudinal stripe, bordered on each side by a pale creamy-white line, then a sub-dorsal lilac line bordering a broad whitish band above, and a darker band below; immediately above the spiracle is a very faint double line of pinkish and white, which is duplicated below the spiracle along the lateral ridge and much more distinct, forming a rather conspicuous sub-spiracular line. The ventral surface, including the legs and claspers, ochreous. The head pinkish-ochreous; the anal points are lilac-red and continuous with the sub-dorsal line; spiracles dark. The body is densely studded with white warts, each emitting a rather long, spinous white hair; these cover the entire surface of the body, including the claspers. The larvae became fully grown during the latter part of June up till the middle of July. One larva, which hatched August 27th, 1901, was fully grown July 20th, 1902, and pupated about July 23rd, remaining in the larval state 340 days, and the imago emerged August 8th, the pupal stage lasting fifteen days. During the last stage the larva when disturbed falls from its food plant and rolls up in a ring for a long time. It crawls with a slow, gliding, slug-like motion, and feeds chiefly at night. When about to pupate it crawls to the base of the grass stems and lies simply on the surface without making any further preparation for pupation than concealing itself in the grass and any other substance on the ground, such as moss, fibre, etc., found at the roots of the grass; after lying for a few days, usually three or four, it pupates." - Frohawk (1924)

Marbled White - larva - Thatcham - 10-Jun-06 (0254) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Jun-2006

Marbled White - larva - Thatcham - 10-Jun-06 (0255) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Jun-2006

Marbled White - larva - Thatcham - 11-Jun-11 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marbled White - larva - Thatcham - 11-Jun-11 (2) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marbled White - larva - Thatcham - 11-Jun-11 (4) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marbled White - larva - Stockbridge Down - 07-Jun-15

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jun-2015

Marbled White - larva - Stockbridge Down - 11-May-15-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
11-May-2015

Marbled White - larva - Stockbridge Down - 11-May-15

Photo © Pete Eeles
11-May-2015

Marbled White - larva - Stockbridge Down - 17-May-15-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
17-May-2015

Marbled White - larva - Stockbridge Down - 17-May-15

Photo © Pete Eeles
17-May-2015

Marbled White - L4 - Thatcham - 21-May-17 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
21-May-2017

Photo Album (11 photos) ...


Pupa

The pupa is formed loose on the ground, or under soil or moss, without attachment to any surrounding vegetation. This stage lasts around 3 weeks.

"The pupae vary considerably in size, the males averaging about 12 mm. long and the females 15 mm. Dorsal view: The head is rounded; at the base of the wings the black, rough, granulated spiracles project prominently, resembling little back horns; it is swollen across the middle of the abdomen, which acutely tapers to the anal segment and terminates in a conical point, furnished with a bunch of straight, somewhat clubbed spines in place of cremastral hooks. Lateral view: Head projecting and rounded; meso-thorax swollen; meta-thorax sunken; abdomen full and rounded, terminating in a point; ventral surface rounded, forming a continuous curve from head to anal point. The entire surface is finely granulated; the eyes and limbs are outlined with brown. Colouring: Dorsally it is yellow-ochre, head and pro-thorax slightly flesh-tinted, wings cream-coloured, anal point red-brown and the spines at the tip amber, wings finely reticulated transversely with pale brown. In some specimens there are minute brown rings of various sizes irregularly dotted over all parts of the surface. On approaching emergence the colouring darkens over the whole of wings, head and thorax to a dull brown, and the abdomen deep ochreous; upon maturing the whole pattern of the imago shows clearly through the pupal skin. The pupal state lasts from about fifteen to twenty-five days according to temperature. A larva which hatched from the egg August 27th, 1901, became fully grown on September 24th, 1902, when it then prepared for pupation; it pupated on the 28th, having been in the larval state just thirteen months (397 days), a very abnormal period." - Frohawk (1924)

Marbled White - pupa - Thatcham - 22-Jun-06 (0347) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-Jun-2006

Marbled White - pupa - Thatcham - 22-Jun-06 (0348) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
22-Jun-2006

Marbled White - pupa - Stockbridge Down - 23-Jun-90 [REARED] [Tim Norriss]

Photo © Tim Norriss

Marbled White - pupa - Thatcham - 08-Jul-11 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marbled White - various - Thatcham - 08-Jul-11 (1) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

Marbled White - pupa - Stockbridge Down - 02-Jul-15-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
02-Jul-2015

Marbled White - pupa - Stockbridge Down - 02-Jul-15

Photo © Pete Eeles
02-Jul-2015

Photo Album (7 photos) ...


Aberrations

Description to be completed.

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

Similar Species

No similar species found.

Videos


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References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Boisduval (1833) Boisduval, J.A. (1833) Icones historiques des Lépidoptères d'Europe nouveaux.
Frohawk (1924) Frohawk, F.W. (1924) The Natural History of British Butterflies.
Harris (1766) Harris, M. (1766) The Aurelian. Edition 1.
Lewin (1795) Lewin, W. (1795) The Papilios of Great Britain.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Meigen (1828) Meigen, J.W. (1828) Systematische Beschreibung der Europäischen Schmetterlinge: mit Abbildungen auf Steintafeln.
Petiver (1695-1703) Petiver, J. (1695-1703) Musei Petiveriani centuria prima-decima, rariora naturae continens.
Petiver (1717) Petiver, J. (1717) Papilionum Britanniae Icones.
Rafinesque (1815) Rafinesque, C.S. (1815) Analyse de la nature ou Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés.
Ray (1710) Ray, J. (1710) Historia Insectorum.
Samouelle (1819) Samouelle, G. (1819) The Entomologist's Useful Compendium.
Verity (1913a) Verity, R. (1913) Revisione dei Tipi Linneani dei Ropaloceri Paleartici. Bollettino della Societa Entomologica Italiana.
Westwood (1841) Westwood, J.O. (1841) British Butterflies and their Transformations.
Wheeler (1903) Wheeler, G. (1903) The butterflies of Switzerland and the Alps of central Europe.
Wilkes (1742) Wilkes, B. (1742) Twelve New Designs of English Butterflies.
Wilkes (1749) Wilkes, B. (1749) The English moths and butterflies: together with the plants, flowers and fruits whereon they feed, and are usually found.