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Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (2) [REARED]
Wingspan
Male: 68 - 72mm
Female: 72 - 75mm
Photo © Pete Eeles
Large Tortoiseshell

Nymphalis polychloros
Number: 59.029
B&F No.: 1594
Family:Nymphalidae (Swainson, 1827)
Subfamily:Nymphalinae (Swainson, 1827)
Tribe:Nymphalini (Swainson, 1827)
Genus:Nymphalis (Kluk, 1780)
Subgenus: 
Species:polychloros (Linnaeus, 1758)
Rare Migrant
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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 - a fresh imago
Male
Photo © traplican
Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (7) [REARED]
Male Underside
Photo © Pete Eeles
Large Tortoiseshell, Littlehampton Bridge, Sussex 26 June 2007
Female
Photo © Neil Hulme
Large Tortoiseshell underside, Littlehampton Bridge, Sussex 26 June 2007
Female Underside
Photo © Neil Hulme

  Phenology  

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.


  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.

  Larval Foodplants  

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.

  Nectar Sources  

Adults feed primarily on Honeydew / Sap ().

  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.


Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (2) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
03-Jul-2005
Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (3) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Jul-2005
Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (4) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Jul-2005
Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (6) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
03-Jul-2005
Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Thatcham - 05-Jul-05 (7) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
01-Jul-2005
Large Tortoiseshell - a fresh imago
Photo © traplican
Large Tortoiseshell - imago - Ano Poroia, Greece - 10-Jun-09 (1)
Photo © Pete Eeles
10-Jun-2009
Large Tortoiseshell, Littlehampton Bridge, Sussex 26 June 2007
Photo © Neil Hulme
Sussex
26-Jun-2007
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,Female,Walters Copse,Newtown,Isle of Wight,27th March 2012
Photo © marmari
Isle of Wight
27-Mar-2012
Large Tortoiseshell,Female,Walters Copse,Newtown,Isle of Wight,27th March 2012
Photo © marmari
Isle of Wight
27-Mar-2012
Large Tortoiseshell,Female,Walters Copse,Newtown,Isle of Wight,27th March 2012
Photo © marmari
Isle of Wight
27-Mar-2012
Large Tortoiseshell Female Walters Copse,Newtown,Isle of Wight,27th March 2012,
Photo © marmari
Isle of Wight
27-Mar-2012
Large Tortoiseshell - Alpes-Maritimes - 24 February 2011
Photo © CFB
24-Feb-2011
Large Tortoiseshell, Isle of Wight, 2nd April 2012
Photo © sue davies
Isle of Wight

  Aberrations  

Description to be completed.

  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

  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.


Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Thatcham - 10-Jun-05 (2) [REARED]
Photo © Pete Eeles
09-Jun-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 (2) [REARED] [Tom Sleep]
Photo © Tom Sleep
Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Unknown location - 1993 (3) [REARED] [Tom Sleep]
Photo © Tom Sleep
Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Unknown location - 1993 (4) [REARED] [Tom Sleep]
Photo © Tom Sleep
Large Tortoiseshell - larva - Unknown location - 1993 [REARED] [Tom Sleep]
Photo © Tom Sleep

  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

  Similar Species  

Small Tortoiseshell

Description to be completed.

  Videos  

Video © Filming VarWild
The Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros).
Video © Jos Vroegrijk
Nymphalis polychloros, Grote Vos, Large tortoiseshell, Grosser Fuchs

  Sites  

No sites found.

  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.

  Links  

The following links provide additional information on this butterfly.

  References  

The species description provided here references the following publications:

ReferenceDetails
Linnaeus (1758) Linnaeus, C.: Systema Naturae. Edn.10. 1758.

  Copyright © Peter Eeles 2002-2014
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