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Butterfly taxonomy (classification) The skippers The swallowtails The whites The hairstreaks, coppers and blues. Includes the Duke of Burgundy. The nymphalids, fritillaries and browns. Includes the Monarch.
Heath-Fritillary- 5D38537 Southend July 2013
Wingspan
Male: 39 - 44mm
Female: 42 - 47mm
Photo © IainLeach
Heath Fritillary

Melitaea athalia
mell-it-EE-uh
a-THAY-lee-uh
Number: 59.036
B&F No.: 1613
Family:Nymphalidae (Swainson, 1827)
Subfamily:Nymphalinae (Swainson, 1827)
Tribe:Melitaeini (Newman, 1870)
Genus:Melitaea (Fabricius, 1807)
Subgenus: 
Species:athalia (Rottemburg, 1775)
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  Introduction  

The Heath Fritillary is one of our rarest butterflies and was considered to be on the brink of extinction in the late 1970s. Strange as it may sound, the extinction of the Large Blue in 1979 was to work in favour of this species, since the shock felt by many entomologists resulted in a renewed effort to conserve the Heath Fritillary. This required detailed knowledge of this butterfly's requirements and, as a result of research conducted by Martin Warren, appropriate habitat management plans were put into effect that saved this butterfly from extinction.

This butterfly is confined to a small number of sites in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall in south-west England, and in Kent in south-east England, where it has also been reintroduced into sites in Essex. It is absent from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Although very local in its distribution, this butterfly can be seen in large numbers at some sites in good years. This butterfly is widespread on the continent and can be one of the commonest butterflies seen in some regions. This butterfly forms discrete colonies and rarely strays from the main breeding grounds.

Melitaea athalia

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


Heath-Fritillary-Blean Woods 27 May 2011 03C6771
Male
Photo © IainLeach
Heath Fritillary - East Blean Woods June 25th 2012.
Male Underside
Photo © Nigel Kiteley
Heath-Fritillary- 5D30665 Southend July 2013
Female
Photo © IainLeach
Heath Fritillary (female), (Melitaea athalia), Kent (20 June 2012)
Female Underside
Photo © Mark Colvin

  Phenology  

At sites in the west country, this butterfly emerges in late May, peaking in early June. The butterfly emerges in early June elsewhere, peaking toward the end of June. 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.


  Habitat  

Colonies in south west England are found on heathland, as well as on rich grassland. Those in south east England are found in woodland. Whatever the habitat, this species requires areas that are relatively-warm. This could be a patch of heathland that has recently been burned or a newly-coppiced clearing in a wood. The butterfly will readily colonise such areas, which resulted in it being given the name of "woodman's follower" as it colonises new clearings that have been created in a wood.

Woodland colonies tend to use Common Cow-wheat and Foxglove as the larval foodplant, whereas those on other sites tend to use Ribwort Plantain and Germander Speedwell.

  Larval Foodplants  

The primary larval foodplants are Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense), Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) and Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata). Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is also used.

  Nectar Sources  

Adults feed primarily on Bramble (Rubus fruticosus). Bugle (Ajuga reptans), Buttercups (Ranunculus spp.), Heather (Calluna vulgaris / Erica spp.), Knapweeds (Centaurea spp.) and Tormentil (Potentilla erecta) are also used.

  Imago  

This butterfly is very variable in terms of both the colour and the pattern of the wings. The male is the more conspicuous of the two sexes as it patrols clearings in search of a mate. They can be seen flying close to the ground alternating a few flicks of their wings with a short glide. The female has a much more laboured flight, weighed down by her load of eggs. Having found a suitable area, she will crawl around the vegetation before laying an untidy batch of up to 150 eggs. These are typically laid close to the foodplant on the underside of a Bramble leaf, or on a dead leaf. Both sexes can often be found in the company of others as they bask on shrubs.


Heath Fritillary Pair (Female on left) East Blean Wood, Kent 17-June-09
Photo © Vince Massimo
17-Jun-2009
Heath Fritillary Female - East Blean Wood, Kent 17-June-09
Photo © Vince Massimo
17-Jun-2009
Heath Fritillary Female - East Blean Wood, Kent 17-June-09
Photo © Vince Massimo
17-Jun-2009
Heath Fritillary pair, East Blean Wood, Kent 6-June-2110
Photo © Neil Hulme
06-Jun-2010
Heath Fritillary Female - East Blean Wood, Kent 1-June-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
01-Jun-2011
Heath Fritillary Male - East Blean Wood, Kent 1-June-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
01-Jun-2011
Heath Fritillary Male - East Blean Wood, Kent 1-June-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
01-Jun-2011
Heath Fritillary Male - East Blean Wood, Kent 1-June-11
Photo © Vince Massimo
01-Jun-2011
Heath Fritillary  East Blean Woods, Kent  22nd May 2011
Photo © millerd
22-May-2011
Heath-Fritillary-Blean Woods 27 May 2011 03C4690
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary-Blean Woods 27 May 2011 03C4812
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary-Blean Woods 27 May 2011 03C6025
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary-Blean Woods 27 May 2011 03C6215
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary-Blean Woods 27 May 2011 03C6771
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary-Blean Woods 27 May 2011 03C9488
Photo © IainLeach
Heath Fritillary emerging. East Blean Woods. 27/5/2011.
Photo © badgerbob
27-May-2011
Heath Fritillary (female), (Melitaea athalia), Kent (20 June 2012)
Photo © Mark Colvin
20-Jun-2012
Heath Fritillary - imago - Thatcham - 10-Jun-11 (1) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
Heath Fritillary with Glanville Fritillary
Heath Fritillary - East Blean Woods June 25th 2012.
Photo © Nigel Kiteley
25-Jun-2012
Heath Fritillary - East Blean Woods June 25th 2012.
Photo © Nigel Kiteley
25-Jun-2012
Heath Fritillary - East Blean Woods June 25th 2012.
Photo © Nigel Kiteley
25-Jun-2012
Heath Fritillary Male - East Blean Wood, Kent, 27th-June-2013
Photo © Maximus
27-Jun-2013
Heath-Fritillary- 5D30665 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary- 5D32189 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary- 5D32658 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary- 5D33085 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary- 5D33399 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary- 5D36084 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary- 5D38092 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary- 5D38537 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary- 5D38726 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach
Heath-Fritillary- 5D39145 Southend July 2013
Photo © IainLeach

  Aberrations  

Description to be completed.

Unclassified Aberrations


Heath Fritillary Male (variant - 593) - East Blean Wood, Kent 19-June-07
Photo © Vince Massimo
19-Jun-2007
Heath Fritillary Female (Pale Form) - East Blean Wood, Kent 17-June-09
Photo © Vince Massimo
17-Jun-2009
Heath Fritillary Male (variant - showing underside of 593) - East Blean Wood, Kent 19-June-07
Photo © Vince Massimo
19-Jun-2007
Heath Fritillary - aberration - East Blean Wood - 23-Jun-07 (2) [Marc Heath]
Photo © Marc Heath
ab. cymathoe
Heath Fritillary - aberration - East Blean Wood - 23-Jun-07 [Marc Heath]
Photo © Marc Heath
ab. cymathoe
Heath Fritillary - aberration - Lydford Gorge, Devon - 07-Jun-07 [Jules Cross]
Photo © Jules Cross
07-Jun-2008
Heath Fritillary - aberration - Lydford Gorge, Devon - 11-Jun-07 [Jules Cross]
Photo © Jules Cross
11-Jun-2007
Heath Fritillary Aberrant - Starvelarks Wood, Essex - 140609 [Elliott Staley]
Photo © Elliott Staley
13-Jun-2009
Heath Fritillary Male (Aberrant) East Blean Wood, Kent, 27th-June-2013
Photo © Maximus
27-Jun-2013

  Ovum  

Eggs are pale green when first laid, but soon turn pale yellow in colour. Eggs hatch in around 2 weeks.


Heath Fritillary - ovum - Thatcham - 02-Jul-05 [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
02-Jul-2005

  Larva  

On hatching, newly-emerged larvae eat their eggshells before moving together to the foodplant, where they spin a loose silk web on which they bask and from which they feed. The larvae eventually divide into smaller groups, creating new webs as required, before ultimately separating to find a curled up dead leaf within which to hibernate, although they may be found together in twos and threes.

The larvae emerge in the spring and recommence feeding and can be seen basking in full sun as they absorb the sun's rays, when their higher body temperature aids digestion. There are 5 moults in total.


Heath Fritillary - larva - Thatcham - 20-May-04 (4) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
19-May-2004
Heath Fritillary - larva - Thatcham - 20-May-04 (5) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
19-May-2004
Heath Fritillary - larva - Thatcham - 24-Apr-05 (2) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Apr-2005
Heath Fritillary - larva - Thatcham - 24-Apr-05 (3) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Apr-2005
Heath Fritillary - larva - Thatcham - 24-Apr-05 (5) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
24-Apr-2005
Heath Fritillary - larva - Thatcham - 01-Jun-11 (1) {REARED}
Photo © Pete Eeles
Heath Fritillary - larva - Thatcham - 20-Apr-11 (5) {REARED}
Photo © Pete Eeles
Heath-Fritillary-Blean Woods 27 May 2011 03C9359
Photo © IainLeach
Heath Fritillary (early instar larva) - East Blean Wood, Kent 22-March-2012 [Richard Roebuck]
Photo © Richard Roebuck
22-Mar-2012
Heath Fritillary (early instar larva) - East Blean Wood, Kent 22-March-2012 [Richard Roebuck]
Photo © Richard Roebuck
22-Mar-2012
Heath Fritillary (larva on cow-wheat) 14.6.12 East Blean Woods, Kent. Downland boy
Photo © downland boy
Heath Fritillary larva - East Blean Woods, Kent 3-April-2014
Photo © Marc Heath
Heath Fritillary larva - East Blean Woods, Kent 3-April-2014
Photo © Marc Heath
Heath Fritillary larva, East Blean Woods, Kent, 31st May 2014
Photo © Lee Hurrell
Heath Fritillary larva, East Blean Woods, Kent, 31st May 2014
Heath Fritillary larva, East Blean Woods, Kent, 31st May 2014
Photo © Lee Hurrell
Heath Fritillary larva, East Blean Woods, Kent, 31st May 2014

  Pupa  

The pupa is formed among ground debris, attached upside-down to a dead leaf or twig. This stage lasts around 2 weeks.


Heath Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 10-Jun-06 (0252) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Jun-2006
Heath Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 11-Jun-08 (1) {REARED}
Photo © Pete Eeles
11-Jun-2008
Heath Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 11-Jun-08 (2) {REARED}
Photo © Pete Eeles
11-Jun-2008
Heath Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 20-May-04 [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
19-May-2004
Heath Fritillary - pupa - Thatcham - 28-May-05 [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
28-May-2005

  Similar Species  

Glanville Fritillary

The Glanville Fritillary and Heath Fritillary are easily distinguished in the British Isles since the Glanville Fritillary is generally only found on the Isle of Wight, with a small colony on the mainland, where Heath Fritillary do not occur. Where these two species do occur together on the continent, they are most easily distinguished from their undersides. The Glanville Fritillary has several spots on the underside that are not present in the Heath Fritillary.


Glanville Fritillary (left) and Heath Fritillary (right)

The spotting is also a distinguishing feature when looking at the upperside, where the Glanville Fritillary has spots on the upperside of the hindwing that are absent in the Heath Fritillary.


Glanville Fritillary (left) and Heath Fritillary (right)
  Videos  

Video © John Chapple
Heath Fritillary.

  Sites  

Click here to see the distribution of this species overlaid with specific site information. Alternatively, select one of the sites listed below.

Sites
Bin Combe, East Blean Wood, Greenscombe Woods, Haddon Hill, Hadleigh Great Wood, Hockley Woods, Lydford Old Railway, Thrift Wood

  Conservation Status  

This butterfly has suffered a long-term decline and requires targeted habitat management. This species continues to be a priority species for conservation efforts.

UK BAP StatusDistribution Trend (%)Population Trend (%)
Priority Species
Click here to access the Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) for this species.
Stable+8Decrease-34

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).


  Links  

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

  References  

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Rottemburg (1775) von Rottemburg, S.A.: Der Naturforscher. 1775.

  Copyright © Peter Eeles 2002-2014
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