Large Tortoiseshell

Nymphalis polychloros (nim-FAY-liss po-lee-KLAW-ross)

Large Tortoiseshell, Littlehampton Bridge, Sussex 26 June 2007
Photo © Neil Hulme
 

Wingspan
Male: 68 - 72mm
Female: 72 - 75mm

Checklist Number
59.029

Family:NymphalidaeRafinesque, 1815
Subfamily:NymphalinaeRafinesque, 1815
Tribe:NymphaliniRafinesque, 1815
Genus:NymphalisKluk, 1780
Subgenus:  
Species:polychloros(Linnaeus, 1758)

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Introduction

In Victorian times the Large Tortoiseshell was considered widespread and common in woodland in southern England. However, this beautiful insect has since suffered a severe decline and there have been less than 150 records since 1951. This butterfly, whose numbers were always known to fluctuate, is generally considered to be extinct in the British Isles, with any sightings considered to be migrants from the continent or accidental or deliberate releases of captive-bred stock. Several causes of its decline have been suggested - including climate change, parasitism, and the effect of Dutch Elm disease on one of its primary foodplants. The hope, of course, is that this butterfly is able to once again colonise our islands. Although previously found in many parts of England, Wales and Scotland, the greatest concentrations were in the midlands, south and east of England. This species has not been recorded from Ireland. Recent sightings have come from the south coast, in particular from South Devon, South Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and West Sussex.

Nymphalis polychloros

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

Large Tortoiseshell - male - Thatcham - 25-Jun-14 [REARED]

Male
Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Tortoiseshell - male - Thatcham - 25-Jun-14 [REARED]-4

Male Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Tortoiseshell - female - Thatcham - 25-Jun-14 [REARED]-5

Female
Photo © Pete Eeles

Large Tortoiseshell underside, Littlehampton Bridge, Sussex 26 June 2007

Female Underside
Photo © Neil Hulme

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
1699Greater TortoiseshellPetiver (1695-1703)
1742Large TortoiseshellWilkes (1742)
1795Elm TortoiseshellLewin (1795)
1832ElmRennie (1832)

Conservation Status

This species is believed to be extinct as a resident, although sightings are reported in most years which are assumed to be immigrants. As such, no conservation action is relevant.

UK BAP StatusOccurrence Change
1976-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
1976-2014 (%)
Occurrence Change
2005-2014 (%)
Abundance Change
2005-2014 (%)
Not ListedInsufficient DataInsufficient DataInsufficient DataInsufficient Data

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 primarily in woodland, especially those containing sallows whose flowers provide a primary nectar source for the adults in the spring.

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 in July and August and overwinter in this stage, re-emerging in the spring. There is one brood 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

This butterfly hibernates shortly after emerging from the pupa, finding a hibernation site in log piles or outbuildings. On emerging from hibernation in the spring, the butterfly feeds from Sallow flowers and sap runs and the adults mate soon after emerging. This powerful-flyer is often difficult to see when not feeding, as it can be difficult to approach, taking off at high speed at the least disturbance.

Adults feed primarily on Honeydew / Sap.

Nymphalis polychloros

Large Tortoiseshell - a fresh imago

Photo © traplican

Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Jul-2005

Large Tortoiseshell, Isle of Wight, 2nd April 2012

Photo © sue davies
Isle of Wight

Large Tortoiseshell - male - Thatcham - 25-Jun-14 [REARED]-3

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jun-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Ano Poroia, Greece - 10-Jun-09 (1)

Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Jun-2009

Large Tortoiseshell - male - Thatcham - 25-Jun-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jun-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (2) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
03-Jul-2005

Large Tortoiseshell underside, Littlehampton Bridge, Sussex 26 June 2007

Photo © Neil Hulme
Sussex
26-Jun-2007

Large Tortoiseshell - Woodhouse Copse, IOW 25-March-2009

Photo © Ian Pratt
Isle of Wight

Large Tortoiseshell - male - Thatcham - 25-Jun-14 [REARED]-4

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jun-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (7) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Jul-2005

Large Tortoiseshell - Litlington, Sussex 4-July-2015

Photo © trevor
04-Jul-2015

Large Tortoiseshell, Littlehampton Bridge, Sussex 26 June 2007

Photo © Neil Hulme
Sussex
26-Jun-2007

Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (4) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Jul-2005

Large Tortoiseshell - female - Thatcham - 25-Jun-14 [REARED]-4

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jun-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - female - Thatcham - 25-Jun-14 [REARED]-5

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jun-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - Lullington Heath, Sussex 06-04-2015

Photo © Gary.N
06-Apr-2015

Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (6) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
03-Jul-2005

Large Tortoiseshell - female - Thatcham - 25-Jun-14 [REARED]-6

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-Jun-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - Alpes-Maritimes - 24 February 2011

Photo © CFB
24-Feb-2011

Photo Album (21 photos) ...


Ovum

Eggs are laid in a cluster around a terminal twig of the foodplant, usually 3 metres or more above the ground and on the sunny side of the tree. They are yellow when first laid, but turn brown just before hatching. Eggs hatch in about 3 weeks.

Large Tortoiseshell - ovum - Unknown location - 1993 [REARED] [Tom Sleep]

Photo © Tom Sleep

Photo Album (1 photos) ...


Larva

The larvae are gregarious in all of their instars, living in a communal web, although they disperse prior to pupation. When disturbed the entire group will jerk in unison, which is clearly designed to deter predators. Early collectors often obtained this species by collecting the conspicuous larval webs and rearing the offspring through. This stage lasts around a month.

The primary larval foodplant is Elms (various) (Ulmus spp.). Aspen (Populus tremula), Birches (various) (Betula spp.), Poplars (various) (Populus spp.) and Willows (various) (Salix spp.) are also used.

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 31-May-05 (2) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
31-May-2005

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 31-May-05 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
31-May-2005

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 31-May-05 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
31-May-2005

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Rode - 05-May-93 [Graham Smith]

Photo © Graham Smith

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Unknown location - 1993 (3) [REARED] [Tom Sleep]

Photo © Tom Sleep

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 04-May-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
04-May-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 08-May-14 [REARED]-8

Photo © Pete Eeles
08-May-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 08-May-14 [REARED]-11

Photo © Pete Eeles
08-May-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 15-May-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
15-May-2014

Photo Album (9 photos) ...


1st Instar

Description to be completed.

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Unknown location - 1993 (2) [REARED] [Tom Sleep]

Photo © Tom Sleep

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Unknown location - 1993 [REARED] [Tom Sleep]

Photo © Tom Sleep

Photo Album (2 photos) ...


2nd Instar

Description to be completed.

3rd Instar

Description to be completed.

4th Instar

Description to be completed.

5th Instar

Description to be completed.

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 10-Jun-05 (2) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
09-Jun-2005

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Unknown location - 1993 (4) [REARED] [Tom Sleep]

Photo © Tom Sleep

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 15-May-14 [REARED]-2

Photo © Pete Eeles
15-May-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 25-May-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
25-May-2014

Photo Album (4 photos) ...


Pupa

The pupa is suspended head-down, attached by the cremaster to a twig or other platform. This stage lasts around 2 weeks.

Large Tortoiseshell - pupa - Thatcham - 29-Jun-05 (3) [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
29-Jun-2005

Large Tortoiseshell - pupa - Thatcham - 29-Jun-05 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
29-Jun-2005

Large Tortoiseshell - pupa - Thatcham - 07-Jun-14 [REARED]-3

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jun-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - pupa - Thatcham - 07-Jun-14 [REARED]-4

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jun-2014

Large Tortoiseshell - pupa - Thatcham - 07-Jun-14 [REARED]

Photo © Pete Eeles
07-Jun-2014

Photo Album (5 photos) ...


Aberrations

Description to be completed.

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

Similar Species

Small Tortoiseshell

Description to be completed.

Videos


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The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

References

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Kluk (1780) Kluk, K. (1780) Zwierzat domowych i dzikich osobliwie kraiowych historyi naturalney poczatki i gospodarstwo.
Lewin (1795) Lewin, W. (1795) The Papilios of Great Britain.
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C. (1758) Systema Naturae. Edition 10.
Petiver (1695-1703) Petiver, J. (1695-1703) Musei Petiveriani centuria prima-decima, rariora naturae continens.
Rafinesque (1815) Rafinesque, C.S. (1815) Analyse de la nature ou Tableau de l'univers et des corps organisés.
Rennie (1832) Rennie, J. (1832) A conspectus of the butterflies and moths found in Britain, with their English and systematic names, times of appearances, sizes, colours, their caterpillars, and various localities.
Wilkes (1742) Wilkes, B. (1742) Twelve New Designs of English Butterflies.