Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies
British Butterflies: Species: Species Account - The Large Tortoiseshell:
Large Tortoiseshell
Nymphalis polychloros (Linnaeus, 1758)

Large Tortoiseshell egg.
ova
  Large Tortoiseshell caterpillar.
larva
  Large Tortoiseshell chrysalis
pupa
Large Tortoiseshell
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Nomenclature
Insecta: Lepidoptera : Family Nymphalidae: Subfamily Nymphalinae : Genus Nymphalis: Species polychloros:
Description
The Large Tortoiseshell is similar in appearance to the Small Tortoiseshell although it is less brightly coloured and as the name suggests is somewhat larger. The undersides are dark with cryptic patterns, again similar to the undersides of a Small Tortoiseshell.

Large Tortoiseshell's are seen mainly in spring after they have emerged from hibernation. They are often seen feeding on the flowering catkins of Willow trees. They are also seen in late summer before they hibernate for the winter. During the main summer months the species lives as larvae feeding on a wide variety of shrubs and trees.
Habitat
The Large Tortoiseshell generally occurs in clearings and around the edges of mature deciduous woodland where Willow is abundant. The flowers in early spring are an important food source for Large Tortoiseshell butterflies following hibernation.
Distribution
The Large Tortoiseshell has been officially recognised as being extinct in Britain since c1953 although there are still regular sightings (confirmed by photographs) and these seem to be increasing raising the hope that this butterfly may have survived in small numbers and is slowly making a come back.

IMPORTANT NOTE
Due to unofficial or accidental releases by butterfly breeders who import eggs and larvae from dealers from outside the UK, it is impossible to tell at present if there are self sustaining breeding colonies present in Britain or if the reported sightings are of released captive bred individuals. Sadly this practice makes the possible conservation of this species if if does persist in very low numbers very difficult and understanding the true nature of the distribution and habitat requirements of the Large Tortoiseshell in the UK almost impossible. Some sightings are also thought to be of naturally occuring migrants from mainland Europe.
Where to see the Large Tortoiseshell in the British Isles
The Large Tortoiseshell has been officially recognised as being extinct in Britain since the early 1980's although there are still regular sightings (confirmed by photographs) and these seem to be increasing raising the hope that this butterfly may have survived in small numbers and is slowly making a come back.
Other notes
Reported sightings of the Large Tortoiseshell in Britain during 2007:
14-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen Brownsea Island Dorset.
14-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Gosport and Stokes Bay Golf Course (Grid Ref: SZ613981).
14-07-07 - Two probable Large Tortoiseshell seen at Gosport and Stokes Bay Golf Course (Grid Ref: SZ606978).
10-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Shortwood Common Devon (Grid Ref: SY849052).
09-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen in the grounds of Bicton College, Devon.
09-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen Brownsea Island, Dorset.
08-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen Tout Quarry, Portland, Dorset.
07-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen in Clanfield, north of Waterlooville, Hampshire.
07-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen in Church Knowle, Dorset.
07-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen in Arne, Dorset.
06-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Peak Hill, Sidmouth, Devon (Grid Ref: SY114869).
05-07-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen in the New Forest, Hampshire.
29-06-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Shortwood Common, Budleigh Salterton, Devon (Grid Ref: SY849052).
29-06-07 - Large Tortoiseshell at Herstmonceux Castle, Sussex.
26-06-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Littlehampton Bridge, Sussex.
20-06-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Musbury Castle, Devon (Grid Ref: SY289939).
21-06-07 - Large Tortoiseshell at Crouch Gardens, Seaford, Sussex.
04-05-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen in a garden in Lydd-on-Sea, Kent.
06-04-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen in Portland Bill flying in from sea.
03-04-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen near Sugarloaf Hill, Kent.
03-03-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Portland Bird Observatory, Dorset.
27-01-07 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Portland Bird Observatory, Dorset.

Reported sightings of the Large Tortoiseshell in Britain during 2006:
05-05-06 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Aylesbeare, Devon.
05-05-06 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Branksome Dene Chine, Poole, Dorset.
05-05-06 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Boscombe Cliffs, Bournemouth, Dorset.
08-04-06 - Large Tortoiseshell seen at Worth Matravers, Dorset.
Lifecycle chart
adultadultadultadultovalarvaelarvaepupaadultadultadultadultadultadult
 
Flight chart
JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJuneJulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember
The lifecycle and flight charts should be regarded as approximate guides to the Large Tortoiseshell 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
Regionally Extinct Regionally Extinct

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

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

4More information about IUCN categories.
Wingspan
68-75mm
UK status
Resident
Larval foodplants
The Large Tortoiseshell feeds on variety of shrubs and trees including the leaves of Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra) Willow (Salix spp.) Aspen (Populus tremula) Poplar (Populus spp.), and Birch (Betula spp.).
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 not applicable
UK Population trend 1976-2004 not applicable

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 not applicable (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 Large Tortoiseshell 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 Large Tortoiseshell 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*
Large Tortoiseshell can be found on Peter Eeles excellent UK Butterflies web site.
Large Tortoiseshell can be found on Matt Rowlings excellent European Butterflies web site.

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Photographs of the Large Tortoiseshell
There are 0 photographs of the Large Tortoiseshell in our stock photo library.
Aberrations and forms
There are 2 named aberrant forms of the Large Tortoiseshell currently listed. Find out more about aberrants here.

ab. cassubiensis - Heinrich 1910
ab. testudo - Esper 1777