Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies
British Butterflies: Species: Species Account - The Heath Fritillary:
Heath Fritillary
Melitaea athalia (Rottemburg, 1775)

Heath Fritillary egg.
ova
  Heath Fritillary caterpillar.
larva
  Heath Fritillary chrysalis
pupa
Heath Fritillary
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Nomenclature
Insecta: Lepidoptera : Family Nymphalidae: Subfamily Melitaeinae : Genus Melitaea: Species athalia:
Description
The Heath Fritillary is one of the rarest butterflies in Britain. It is also one of our smallest butterflies. It came very close to extinction in Britain at the end of the last century. It is restricted to a few key habitats primarily coppiced woodland or sheltered heathland where it can be seen flying close to the ground in a distinctive flutter and glide pattern.

The Heath Fritillary is often known locally as the 'Woodman's Follower' because of its habit of following the cycle of wood cutting around an actively managed wood taking advantage of new parts of the wood as the habitat changes... while moving from less suitable areas.

The Heath Fritillary is a Priority Species for conservation due to the continued loss of habitat and resulting drop in population.
Habitat
The Heath fritillary requires warm sunny conditions sheltered from extream weather in coppiced (or recently felled woodland) on acidic soils where the primary larval foodplant Cow-wheat occurs in abundance or in sheltered heathland valleys (Combes) on Exmoor below 400m above sea level, again where Cow-wheat occurs as scattered plants on Bilbery dominated heath.

There are a few sites in south-west England where it can be found breeding on unimproved grassland where Ribwort Plantain or Germander Speedwell occurs.
Distribution
The Heath Fritillary is sadly one of our rarest butterflies and occurs at a very small number of locations in the UK. The end of traditional woodland management (coppicing) resulted in many colonies becoming extinct as the habitat of wooded areas became unsuitable for this butterfly. Without the continued cutting and re-growth in a wood the Heath Fritillary struggles to survive due to a lack of the larval foodplants.
Where to see the Heath Fritillary in the British Isles
The Heath Fritillary is sadly one of our rarest butterflies and occurs at a very small number of locations in the UK. The end of traditional woodland management (coppicing) resulted in many colonies becoming extinct as the habitat of wooded areas became unsuitable for this butterfly. Without the continued cutting and re-growth in a wood the Heath Fritillary struggles to survive due to a lack of the larval foodplants.

In the east of England the Heath Fritillary can only be found in woodlands in Kent and Essex but has also been artificially introduced (by a local breeder... not sanctioned by Natural England or Butterfly Conservation) to Park Wood and Copse Wood, (Ruislip, North-West London). In 2007, they were also recorded at Over disused railway cutting (Cambridgeshire). This site is unsuitable for this butterfly and it appears that these were again unsanctioned releases by a breeder.

The main natural sites in the east of England include: Thrift Wood (nr, Bicknacre, Chelmsford, Essex), Hockley Woods (nr. Hockley, Essex), East Blean Woods (Kent), Thornden Wood (Kent), Church Wood, (Kent) and Clowes Wood (Kent).

In the west of England, the Heath fritillary can be seen at Haddon Hill (Somerset, Nr. Dulverton), Lyd Valley (nr. Lydford, Devon), Lydford Butterfly Conservation Reserve (Devon), Greenscombe Wood where 1500 captive bred Heath Fritillary were released in 2006 and Deer Park Wood (nr. Luckett, Cornwall), and Blanchdown Woods, (nr. Gulworthy, Devon) where in early 2007, 130 Heath fritillary butterflies were released by Butterfly Conservation in order to re-establish a lost colony at the site.
Other notes
The following areas in the UK currenty have Biodiversity Action Plans which specifically targets threatend species such as the Heath Fritillary as a response to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992.

Cornwall Essex and Kent.
Lifecycle chart
larvaelarvaelarvaelarvaelarvaepupapupaadultovalarvaeadultlarvaelarvaelarvaelarvaelarvae
 
Flight chart
JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember
The lifecycle and flight charts should be regarded as approximate guides to the Heath Fritillary in Britain. Specific lifecycle states, adult emergence and peak flight times vary from year to year due to variations in weather conditions.
IUCN category status 2010 5   IUCN category status 2007 34
Endangered Endangered

5Fox, R., Warren, M., Brereton, T. M., Roy, D. B. & Robinson, A.
(2010) A new Red List of British Butterflies. Insect Conservation and Diversity.
Endangered Endangered

3Fox, R., Warren, M & Brereton, T.
(2007) New Red List of British Butterflies. Butterfly Conservation, Wareham.

4More information about IUCN categories.
Wingspan
39-47mm
UK status
Resident
Larval foodplants
Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense) Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys).

Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) is reported as being a secondary larval foodplant which is also used by colonies on Exmoor but this is yet to be confirmed.
Butterflies of Britain ID Chart
Your personal guide to British Butterflies. This 8-panel laminated chart is designed for speedy butterfly identification in the field. Ideal for anyone interested in identifying butterflies, perfect for children and adults and ideal for outdoor use, laminated, shower-proof and robust. Get your copy today.
Butterflies of Britain (Laminated ID Chart).
Online store
Visit our online store for many more butterfly related books and gifts.
Population trends 1
UK Population trend 1995-2004 down by -46%
UK Population trend 1976-2004 down by -73%

1Fox, R., Asher. J., Brereton. T., Roy, D & Warren, M. (2006) The State of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland, Pices, Oxford.
UK BAP status 2
UK BAP status priority species (link)

2For information about the UK Biodiversity Action Plan, visit the JNCC web site jncc.defra.gov.uk.

National Biodiversity Network Gateway
National Biodiversity Network Gateway Distribution Map



Areas in and indicate a contraction in distribution of the Heath Fritillary except in Ireland where data is only available up until 1999.

* Records shown in outside the natural distribution may be the result of illegal or accidental releases by breeders or, depending upon the species, migrant individuals from mainland Europe.

Key to map*
= 2000 to 2010 inclusive (current distribution)
= records from 1950 to 1999 inclusive
= records from 1900 to 1949 inclusive
Records prior to 1st January 1900 are not shown.

The NBN Gateway records are shown on the map right. (See terms and conditions).

More data is available on the Heath Fritillary on the NBN Gateway web site.
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References
For full details of books and reports mentioned on this web site, view the references page.

Find out more online*
Heath Fritillary can be found on Peter Eeles excellent UK Butterflies web site.
Heath Fritillary can be found on Matt Rowlings excellent European Butterflies web site.

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Photographs of the Heath Fritillary
There are 0 photographs of the Heath Fritillary in our stock photo library.
Aberrations and forms
There are 9 named aberrant forms of the Heath Fritillary currently listed. Find out more about aberrants here.

ab. alba - Rehfous 1908
ab. atrovittata - Turati 1910
ab. cymathoe - Bertolini 1829
ab. latonigena - Spuler 1901
ab. nigrathalia - Johnstone 1944
ab. permixta - Stauder 1922
ab. radiata - Eisner 1942
ab. sohana - Cabeau 1922
ab. tectensis - Cabeau 1922