Once widespread throughout Britain, the marsh fritillary has suffered dramatic decline, with a drop in numbers of 66% from 1990 to 2000. The wings have bright, highly variable markings consisting of bands of black and orange with paler orange spots. The wings are darker near the body.
This butterfly needs a supply of the plant devil’s bit scabious to feed its larvae, and good habitat will have an abundant supply of this. The marsh fritillary lives in areas of open grassland, chalky hillside, damp meadows and heathland. A number of colonies located close together form a larger population, and generally individuals do not move very far from where they first emerged as adults, unless they emerged late in the flight season.
Nationally scarce in the UK and protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is a UKBAP priority species.
Found in Western Scotland, Western England, Wales and many places in Ireland. Thought to be extinct in Eastern England.
When to see
May – July
- Dispersal of marsh fritillary colonies can be easily stopped by an obstacle such as a hedge or a river. They thrive in grassland grazed by cattle and ponies, but not in sheep-grazed environments as sheep eat the larval food plant, devil’s bit scabious.