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

Male: 53mm
Female: 58mm

Checklist Number

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

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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

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

Photo © Vince Massimo

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

Female Underside
Photo © Vince Massimo

Photo Album ...

Conservation Status

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

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).


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.



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 second half of June, reaching a peak in mid-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.


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.

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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.

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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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 - 11-Jun-11 (4) {REARED}

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © badgerbob

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

Photo © badgerbob

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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.

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

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

Photo © Pete Eeles

Photo Album ...


Description to be completed.

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Similar Species

No similar species found.


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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Boisduval (1833) Boisduval, J.A. (1833) Icones historiques des Lépidoptères d'Europe nouveaux.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Meigen (1828) Meigen, J.W. (1828) Systematische Beschreibung der Europäischen Schmetterlinge: mit Abbildungen auf Steintafeln.
Rafinesque (1815) Rafinesque, C.S. (1815) Analyse de la nature ou Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés.
Verity (1913a) Verity, R. (1913) Revisione dei Tipi Linneani dei Ropaloceri Paleartici. Bollettino della Societa Entomologica Italiana.
Wheeler (1903) Wheeler, G. (1903) The butterflies of Switzerland and the Alps of central Europe.