Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz


Including Mellicta.

Adults. Wingspan 46–52 mm; the fringes conspicuously light-and-dark banded. Slender-bodied to medium built; short-bodied. The eyes glabrous. Antennae reaching about halfway to the wingtips, or reaching noticeably over halfway to the wingtip. The antennal clubs abrupt; in M. cinxia flattened (blunt, pale-tipped). Labial palps ascending. Having only 4 fully developed legs (forelegs with two tarsal joints and brushlike in males, those of females having 4 tarsal joints with short setae). Fore-legs without a tibial epiphysis. Tibiae of middle legs 2-spurred. Posterior tibiae 2-spurred.

Forewings. Forewings apically blunt. The outer and hind margins angled at about 95–105 degrees. The outer margins convexly curved to more or less straight; not scalloped. Uppersides of the forewings tawny, light brown, or orange-brown; contrastingly dark-veined; without a discal mark (or this obscure); dark basally, with black veins and suffused ochreous-yellowish bands or series of spots limited by blackish lines, or (in M. cinxia) 3 blackish discal bars and narrow posterior fasciae.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly rounded; not tailed; with the outer margins scalloped (somewhat). Uppersides of the hindwings tawny, light brown, or orange-brown; conspicuously dark-veined; conspicuously patterned; without a discal mark; colour-patterned more or less like the forewings.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the forewings rather conspicuously pale-banded and spotted terminally and at the apex, otherwise colour-patterned in pallid reflection of the uppersides, lacking much of the darker component; not dark-veined (the venation less conspicuous than on the upper surfaces).

Undersides of the hindwings complexly patterned in ferrugineous-orange, with yellowish bands or fasciae, black-lined and veined; M. cinxia differing from M. athalia in exhibiting a subterminal row of black dots; conspicuously dark-veined; without metallic markings.

Wing venation. Forewings 12 veined; without basally dilated veins. Forewings with 1 tubular anal vein; the anal veins of the forewings representing 1b only; vein 1b simple. Forewings with a discal cell. Forewing veins 8–10 out of 7, 11 from the front of the cell.

Hindwings 9 veined; without a praecostal spur; with 2 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings without a closed discal cell; the transverse vein incomplete (lacking between veins 4 and 5). 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell.

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs barrel-shaped to broadly conical (shortly cylindric, somewhat narrowing above to the concave apex); longitudinally ribbed (with about 18–20 ribs). The larvae with rows of bristly spines; exposed feeders; feeding in communal tents (when young, or when hibernating), or not feeding in communal tents. On Plantago, M. athalia also on Scrophulariaceae including Melampyrum and Digitalis.

Pupae ridged and angular; conspicuously patterned (whitish or brownish, marked with orange and black); without shining-metallic markings; exposed, with no coccoon; suspended from the tail (cremaster), with no median silk girdle.

British representation. 3 species (including an adventive). Melitaea athalia (Heath Fritillary), Melitaea cinxia (Glanville Fritillary), Melitaea didyma. The adults abroad May to July.

Status in Britain. Indigenous (M. athalia and M. cinxia), or adventive (the mainland-European M. didyma, recorded from Scotland in 1896, and from Essex in 1986!).

Distribution. Northern England, English Midlands, East Anglia, Wales, southeast England, central southern England, southwest England, Isle of Wight, and Ireland. Frequenting open places. Habitats calcareous and non-calcareous.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea. Nymphalidae.

Illustrations. • Melitaea cinxia (Glanville Fritillary, Isle of Wight Fritillary): photos. • Melitaea cinxia (Glanville Fritillary, Isle of Wight Fritillary): egg, larva, pupa. • Melitaea athalia (Heath Fritillary), with (Pearl-bordered Fritillary): Stephens (1828). • Melitaea athalia (Heath Fritillary: South). • Melitaea athalia (Heath Fritillary): egg, larva, pupa. • Boloria dia (Weaver's Fritillary), Melitaea didyma: Kirby, 1907. • Larvae and pupae of M. athalia, M. aurinia, M. cinxia: Duponchel (1849).

To view the illustrations with detailed captions, go to the interactive key. This also offers full and partial descriptions, diagnostic descriptions, differences and similarities between taxa, lists of taxa exhibiting or lacking specified attributes, and distributions of character states within any set of taxa.

Cite this publication as: ‘Watson, L., and Dallwitz, M.J. 2008 onwards. Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies. Version: 16th May 2016.’.