Steven Cheshire's British Butterflies
British Butterflies: Species: Species Account - The Northern Brown Argus:
Northern Brown Argus
Aricia artaxerxes (Fabricius, 1775)

Northern Brown Argus egg.
  Northern Brown Argus caterpillar.
  Northern Brown Argus chrysalis
Northern Brown Argus
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Insecta: Lepidoptera : Family Lycaenidae: Subfamily Lycaeninae : Genus Aricia: Species artaxerxes:
The Northern Brown Argus like the Brown Argus is a small butterfly which has a silvery appearance when it flies. When basking the Northern Brown Argus is a deep chocolate brown fringed with white. Orange lunes (spots) just inside this white fringe are relatively pale on the forewings becoming clearly defined and bright orange on the hind wings.

The sexes can be distinguished by the orange spots which extend around the edges of the upper wings clearly extend to the leading edge of the forewing in the males while in the females the spots are very pale or absent at this point.

Many sub-species and variants occur. In Britain there are two main sub-species. Colonies in northern England are of the sub-species salmacis (also known as the 'Durham Argus' or the 'Castle Eden Dene Argus') where the central spot on the upperside of the forewings is dark brown or black sometimes with a pale white edge to the spot (see photo right) while those of the sub-species artaxerces have a distinctive white spot on the upperside of the forewings.

The Northern Brown Argus is a Priority Species for conservation due to the continued loss of habitat and resulting drop in population.
Well drained unimproved grassland where Common Rock-rose the larval foodplant occurs. It prefers lightly grazed or ungrazed grassy areas where bear patches of earth occur. It can be found in coastal valleys sand dunes quarries and steep grassy slopes.
The butterfly occurs mainly as small scattered colonies and has declined in northern England which has effected the sub-species salmacis.
Where to see the Northern Brown Argus in the British Isles
Cumbria: Arnside Knott
Ayreshire: Pinbain Burn
Other notes
The following areas in the UK currenty have Biodiversity Action Plans which specifically targets threatend species such as the Northern Brown Argus as a response to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. Clackmannanshire Dumfries and Galloway Lancashire and North East Scotland.
Lifecycle chart
Flight chart
The lifecycle and flight charts should be regarded as approximate guides to the Northern Brown Argus 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
Vulnerable Vulnerable

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

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

4More information about IUCN categories.
UK status
Larval foodplants
Common Rock-rose (Helianthemum nummularium).
British subspecies
Aricia artaxerxes ssp. artaxerces (Fabricius, 1793)
Occurs in Scotland only.A white spot replaces the normal black spot on the upper forewing of this subspecies.
Aricia artaxerxes ssp. salmacis (Stephens, 1728)
Occurs in northern England including Westmoreland, Yorkshire and Durham.This subspecies is also known as the Castle Eden Dene Argus.
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).
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Visit our online store for many more butterfly related books and gifts.
Population trends 1
UK Population trend 1995-2004 down by -30%
UK Population trend 1976-2004 down by -10%

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

National Biodiversity Network Gateway
National Biodiversity Network Gateway Distribution Map

Areas in and indicate a contraction in distribution of the Northern Brown Argus 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 Northern Brown Argus on the NBN Gateway web site.
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For full details of books and reports mentioned on this web site, view the references page.

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

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Photographs of the Northern Brown Argus
Image ID BB124 - Northern Brown Argus - © Steven Cheshire
Northern Brown Argus male (imago)
BB124 ©
Image ID BB123 - Northern Brown Argus - © Steven Cheshire
Northern Brown Argus female (imago)
BB123 ©
Image ID BB122 - Northern Brown Argus - © Steven Cheshire
Northern Brown Argus female (imago)
BB122 ©
Image ID BB121 - Northern Brown Argus - © Steven Cheshire
Northern Brown Argus female (imago)
BB121 ©
Image ID BB120 - Northern Brown Argus - © Steven Cheshire
Northern Brown Argus female (imago)
BB120 ©
Image ID BB118 - Northern Brown Argus - © Steven Cheshire
Northern Brown Argus female (imago)
BB118 ©
There are 6 photographs of the Northern Brown Argus in our stock photo library.
Aberrations and forms
There are 3 named aberrant forms of the Northern Brown Argus currently listed. Find out more about aberrants here.

ab. quadripuncta - Tutt 1896
ab. semi-vedrae - Harrison 1906
ab. vedrae - Harrison 1905