Silver-washed Fritillary

Argynnis paphia (ar-GIN-iss PA-fee-uh)

Silver Washed Fritillary (male) - 22nd June 2014, Lower Woods, nr. Wickwar, Gloucestershire
Photo © David M

Male: 69 - 76mm
Female: 73 - 80mm

Checklist Number

Family:NymphalidaeSwainson, 1827
Subfamily:HeliconiinaeSwainson, 1827
Tribe:ArgynniniDuponchel, 1835
Genus:ArgynnisFabricius, 1807
Subgenus:ArgynnisFabricius, 1807
Species:paphia(Linnaeus, 1758)
Subspecies:paphia(Linnaeus, 1758)
Form:paphia (Linnaeus, 1758)
 valesina Esper, 1800

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This butterfly is our largest fritillary and gets its name from the beautiful streaks of silver found on the underside of the wings. The bright orange male is quite distinctive as it flies powerfully along woodland rides, pausing only briefly to feed or investigate anything with an orange hue that could be a potential mate. The male has four distinctive black veins on its forewings that contain special "androconial" scales that are used in courtship. These veins are known as "sex brands". The female is paler than the male, has rounder wings and more-prominent spots. In England and Wales, the Silver-washed Fritillary is found in woodlands south of a line between Montgomeryshire in the west and East Kent in the east, with a few scattered colonies elsewhere, including those in Westmorland and West Lancashire. This species is also widely distributed in Ireland, but is absent from Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.

Argynnis paphia ssp. paphia f. paphia

This species was first defined in Linnaeus (1758) as shown here (type locality: Sweden).

The nominate form is found throughout the range of this species.
Silver-washed Fritillary male - Southwater, Sussex 23-June-2010

Photo © Neil Hulme

Silver-washed Fritillary, Male, The Straits, 09/07/2013

Male Underside
Photo © Pauline

Silver-washed-Fritillary-Bentley Wood 17 July 2010 03C9894

Photo © IainLeach

Silver-washed Fritillary, Female, The Straits, 09/07/2013

Female Underside
Photo © Pauline

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Argynnis paphia ssp. paphia f. valesina

This form was first defined in Esper (1800) as shown here and as shown in this plate.

This spectacular form occurs in a small percentage of females, primarily in the larger colonies in the south of England, where the orange-brown colouring is replaced with a deep olive-green. The legendary lepidopterist, Frederick William Frohawk, was so taken with this form, that he named his only daughter after it. This form is quite distinctive in flight, looking like an overgrown Ringlet, and has the common name of the "Greenish Silver-washed Fritillary".


Male Underside

Silver-washed Fritillary female f. valesina - Snitterfield 13.07.2014

Photo © Neil Freeman

Silver-washed fritillary valezina(?) Arda Valley Bulgaria 17/6/13

Female Underside
Photo © jamesweightman

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Conservation Status

The status of the Silver-washed Fritillary in the British Isles is relatively-stable when compared with other species. However, this delightful woodland fritillary is still a species of conservation concern.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Species of Conservation Concern

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 most-commonly found in woodland where the larval foodplant, Common Dog-violet, grows on the woodland floor. The butterfly can also be found flying along lanes and more-open countryside in some areas. Both deciduous and coniferous woodland is used - the presence of this butterfly is only limited by the presence of nectar sources and larval food plant.



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 is a single generation each year, with the butterfly on the wing from late June to the end of August.

Argynnis paphia ssp. paphia f. paphia

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 spend much of their time in the woodland canopy where they feed on aphid honeydew. However, they often descend to nectar on Bramble blossom and Thistle flowers - two of their favourite nectar sources.

The courtship flight of this butterfly is one of the most spectacular of all the British species. The female flies in a straight line while the male continuously loops under, in front and then over the top of the female. With the courtship flight over, the pair lands on a convenient platform where the male showers the female in scent scales. The male then draws the female's antennae over the sex brand and mating subsequently takes place.

Adults feed primarily on Bramble (Rubus fruticosus). Fleabane (Pulicaria dysenterica), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.), Privet (Ligustrum vulgare), Ragwort (Senecio jacobaea), Thistles (Cirsium spp. and Carduus spp.) and Water Mint (Mentha aquatica) are also used.

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Egg-laying females can be seen flying over the woodland floor searching out the larval foodplant, Common Dog-violet. They will sometimes alight on the woodland floor and crawl among the vegetation to determine the suitability of the site. If a suitable location is found, then the female flies to a nearby tree trunk and lays a single egg in a chink on the tree bark and several eggs may be laid on the same tree. These are typically laid on the moss-covered north-facing side of the tree and between 1 and 2 metres from the ground. It is believed that such a location provides a suitable "microclimate" for the overwintering larva.

Silver-washed Fritillary - ovum - Pamber Forest - 19-Jul-14-2

Photo © Pete Eeles

Silver-washed Fritillary - ovum - Pamber Forest - 15-Jul-14

Photo © Pete Eeles

SWF ovum laid six feet up on the north side of an Oaktree - Wyre Forest 06.07.14

Photo © Tony Moore

SWF ovum, Oxenbourne Down, 30/07/2015

Photo © Pauline

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The egg hatches in around 2 weeks. The larva, having eaten part of its eggshell, immediately moves into a crevice in the bark and spins a silk pad on which it hibernates. The following spring, the larva descends the tree trunk to the woodland floor in search of its first meal of violets. Larvae feed intermittently during the day on the most-tender leaves and shoots.

The larva enjoys basking in sunlight and will wander away from the foodplant to find a suitable place to bask, such as on leaf litter. There are 4 moults in total.

The primary larval foodplant is Common Dog-violet (Viola riviniana).

SWF larva, Alice Holt, 24/04/2015

Photo © Pauline

SWF larva, reared, o4/05/2015

Photo © Pauline

SWF larva, Burgess Hill 26/04/15

Photo © MarkIvan

1608 - Silver-washed Fritillary Larvae 24/4/15

Photo © andy brown

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The pupa is formed head down beneath a leaf, or twig of a tree or shrub, attached by the cremaster, and resembles a shrivelled leaf. This stage lasts between 2 and 3 weeks, depending on temperature.

SWF pupa, Liphook (reared), 13/06/2015

Photo © Pauline

Silver-Washed Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 31-May-04 (2) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

Silver-Washed Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 26-May-04 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles

SWF pupa, Liphook (reared), 29/06/2015

Photo © Pauline

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Description to be completed.

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

Similar Species

Dark Green Fritillary

Description to be completed.

High Brown Fritillary

Description to be completed.

Queen of Spain Fritillary

Description to be completed.


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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.


The species description provided here references the following publications:

Duponchel (1835) Duponchel, P.A.J. (1835) Histoire naturelle des lépidoptères ou papillons de France, par M. J.-B. Godart. Continuée par P.-A.-J. Duponchel. Diurnes. Supplément aux tomes premier et deuxième.
Esper (1800) Esper, E.J.C. (1800) Die Schmetterlinge in Abbildungen nach der Natur mit Beschreibungen.
Fabricius (1807) Fabricius, J.C. (1807) Magazin für Insektenkunde, herausgegeben von Karl Illiger.
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.