Fritillaries (Family Nymphalidae)

Descriptions & images of the 5 Fritillary species resident in Hampshire.

The Fritillaries, like the Vanessids, belong to the family Nymphalidae. Their upper-wing colour scheme of black markings on a brown or golden brown background colour (latin fritillus meaning chequerboard) provides a common theme, although the different species vary in size, underwing markings, habitat requirements and behaviour. The larger Fritillaries, of which there are two representatives in Hampshire, are both strong fliers.

Occurrence (distribution based on 1km squares) and abundance (total population) trend data, extracted from the report "The State Of The UK's Butterflies 2015" published by Butterfly Conservation, is shown for each species and indicates the change in distribution and population during the last four decades (1976 - 2014) at UK national level. 

Dark Green Fritillary - Argynnis aglaja

Wingspan: 57-68mm

Distribution change 1976 - 2014: -33%, Population change 1976 - 2014: +186%


The Dark Green Fritillary is one of our larger fritillaries and also one of the most powerful flyers. In Hampshire the major colonies are to be found on flower-rich chalk downland, but colonies also exist (in smaller numbers) on the New Forest heaths and the butterfly will occasionally be encountered in open forest glades. The females tend to be slightly paler and larger than the males. The larvae feed on members of the viola family such as common dog violet.

When to see: There is only one generation per year, the butterflies typically start emerging towards the end of June on downland sites (a few days later on heathland sites) with the flight period lasting until early August.

Where to see: Martin Down (both main site and the Kitt's Grave area) is good  for this species. Farley Mount (Pitt Down), Oxenbourne Down and Old Winchester Hill provide alternative downland sites. In the New Forest, Dark Green Fritillaries can be found on a few heathland areas such as Beaulieu Heath and the species also frequents the open areas close to the stream within the Hawkhill Inclosure.

Marsh Fritillary - Euphydryas aurinia


Distribution change 1976 - 2014: -79%, Population change 1976 - 2014: -10%


The Marsh Fritillary is one our most attractive fritillaries, with its distinctive colouration and bold markings. Sadly it also in decline, not only in UK but also in Europe, and is now a protected species (in all life stages) at European level through the Berne Convention. It is not a marsh species, but found in damp tussocky meadows and also calcerous grassland where its larval foodplant, devils-bit scabious is abundant amongst taller grasses. There are also a few small colonies remaining in damp woodland sites. Its rapid decline is attributed to habitat loss from inappropriate grazing schemes and drainage of the damp meadows it favours. The fragmentation of habitat has also contributed to the butterfly's demise, since the long term survival of the species seems to depend on the presence of several  'metapopulations' in an area. In the UK, whilst it has been lost from many central and eastern areas, it retains strongholds on Salisbury Plain, some chalk downland and damp meadow sites in Wiltshire and Dorset, the Culm grasslands of Devon and some parts of Wales and Western Scotland. In Hampshire, it is mainly found on just one site in the extreme west of the county, although a programme is now underway to reintroduce it to suitable habitat in the NE of the county.  

When to see: The adult butterflies typically start to emerge in mid-May, however the flight period can be quite short in Hampshire, barely lasting one month.

Where to see: The butterfly is present at Martin Down (Bokerley Ditch) with numbers varying considerably from year to year. A few Marsh Fritillaries are recorded in most years from Bentley Wood (Eastern Clearing), perhaps as a result of sporadic breeding or dispersal from nearby small colonies in Wiltshire. Much larger colonies of Marsh Fritillary can be found in neighbouring counties such as Lydlinch Common in Dorset and Cotley Hill in Wiltshire. Most recently, a butterfly conservation inititive has released Marsh Fritillaries into a couple of former breeding sites in NE Hampshire, and their progress is being monitored.

Pearl-bordered Fritillary - Boloria euphrosyne

Wingspan: ~37-47mm

Distribution change 1976 - 2014: -95%, Population change 1976 - 2014: -71%


The Pearl-bordered Fritillary acquires its name from the outer row of 'pearly' spots on the underside wings and is the first of our fritillary species to emerge - sometimes as early as late April in warm years. There is a concern nationally over its UK status due to its rapid decline in the last few decades, particularly from eastern and central areas of England. In the south of England, including Hampshire, it is a woodland species but is dependent on the implementation of appropriate woodland management to maintain suitable habitat. This requires the creation of clearings (e.g. by coppicing) to regenerate and maintain a rich ground flora, and in particular to encourage violets on which the larvae feed, and spring flowers such as bugle for the adult butterflies. Consistent with the national trend, the Pearl-bordered Fritillary is now confined in Hampshire to a few sites in the west of the county, including the New Forest and can sometimes be found in company with its close relation, the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary. The section below on Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary provides guidance on the differences between the two species.

When to see: The butterflies normally emerge early in May (late April in hot years), the flight period lasting until early June.

Where to see: The Pearl-bordered Fritillary can be seen in Bentley Wood (Eastern clearing and also along open rides) and the large woodland complex in the New Forest, east of the Lyndhurst - Brockenhurst road,  although populations in both of these areas are significantly lower than a few years ago. Due to the woodland management operations in the New Forest, the best locations do evolve from year to year with the Parkhill and New Copse Inclosures presently being favoured. In the New Forest, the butterflies can be seen in areas of regeneration and along some of the rides.

Silver-washed Fritillary - Argynnis paphia

Wingspan: 67-77mm

Distribution change 1976 - 2014: 56%, Population change 1976 - 2014: 141% 


The Silver-Washed Fritillary is our largest fritillary and very much a broad-leaved/mixed woodland species, being widespread in suitable habitat in southern England and Wales, with its distribution becoming more local northwards as far as northern England. In Hampshire, it is found in the New Forest, as well as several of the county's other woodlands. They are sun-loving and often fly up into the trees when a heavy cloud passes, to descend like a shower of leaves when it re-appears. Another unusual characteristic occurs during courtship when the males will make "cartwheels in the air" around a flying female. Hampshire is noted for a higher proportion of an aberrant form of the female called Valezina, in which the golden brown base colour is replaced by a greenish-bronze. Like a number of the fritillaries, the larvae feed on violets.

When to see: There is one generation per year beginning in mid/late June and continuing until late August. July is probably the best month to see this species.

Where to see: This large fritillary can be seen in several of the county's major woodlands, including the New Forest. Bentley Wood, Alice Holt Forest (Straits Inclosure), Pamber Forest and Crab Wood (part of Farley Mount Country Park) are all good sites. In the New Forest, it can be found in several of the broad-leaved/mixed inclosures. The large woodland complex east of the Lyndhurst-Brockenhurst road is is one such area, with Pondhead Inclosure in particular, being worthy of specific mention.

Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary - Boloria selene

Wingspan: ~35-42mm

Distribution change 1976 - 2014:  -76%, Population change 1976 - 2014:  -58%


The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary is similar to the Pearl-bordered Fritillary to which it is closely related, but its habitat requirements are a little less restricted, facilitating an overall wider distribution at UK level. The two species have overlapping habitat requirements and geographical distribution and hence can sometimes be seen together. The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary has also suffered a serious decline in the last few decades, especially in England, and it is now mainly confined to western areas of Britain, favouring damp, grassy areas, including some woodland clearings and moorland areas. In Hampshire, it is almost completely confined to a specific woodland clearing in the west of the county, with numbers continuing to decline to the point that its foothold in Hampshire is now seriously threatened. The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary (SPBF) can be distinguished from the Pearl-bordered Fritillary (PBF) either from the underside wing colour and patterning (see images above), but also from the position of the black spot along the trailing edge of the upperside forewing, which is closer to the outer row of spots in the SPBF. The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary's flight period is also typically 2-3 weeks later than the Pearl-bordered (hence newly emerged 'Small Pearls' are likely to be in company with faded 'Pearls').

When to see: The Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary is on the wing from late May (mid-May in hot years), the flight period lasting typically 4-6 weeks.

Where to see: In Hampshire, Bentley Wood (Eastern Clearing) is currently considered to be the only breeding colony in the county for this species, and even here numbers have dwindled to very low levels in recent years.  The butterfly is now believed to have been lost from its former New Forest sites.