Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

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L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz



Adults. Wingspan (35–)50–80(–92) mm; the fringes conspicuously light-and-dark banded, or not banded. Slender-bodied to medium built; very short-bodied, or medium-bodied (in some smaller Fritillaries); small-headed. The eyes not white-rimmed; hairy, or glabrous. Antennae reaching noticeably less than halfway to the wingtips to reaching noticeably over halfway to the wingtip (to halfway or more, save sometimes in Boloria and Nymphalis); inserted markedly less than one half the width of the head apart. The antennal clubs gradual-elongate, or abrupt; not curved; flattened, or not flattened. 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 (mostly), or pointed (e.g., in Agalais). The outer and hind margins angled at (85.5–)95–110(–115.5) degrees. The outer margins convexly curved to concavely curved, or angulated; scalloped (usually), or not scalloped (or scarcely so, e.g. Boloria, Euphydryas, Melitaea). Uppersides of the forewings light brown, or dark brown, or orange-brown, or red-orange, or purple, or black, or fuscous, or grey; contrastingly dark-veined, or not conspicuously dark-veined; eye-spotted, or without eye-spots.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly rounded, or broadly angular; tailed (but no more than slightly, in Britain), or not tailed; with the outer margins scalloped, or with the outer margins not scalloped (but usually at least somewhat so). Uppersides of the hindwings conspicuously dark-veined, or not dark-veined; conspicuously patterned (the markings often more or less resembling those of the forewings). Uppersides of the hindwings eye-spotted, or not eye-spotted. The eye-spots when present, 1, or 2; posterior towards the apex, or mid-posterior, or near the tornus.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the forewings conspicuously dark-veined (rarely), or not dark-veined; eye-spotted (Apatura, Cynthia, Issoria, Vanessa), or not eye-spotted.

Undersides of the hindwings conspicuously dark-veined, or not dark-veined; eye-spotted, or not eye-spotted; with silvery-metallic markings (conspicuously so, in most Fritillaries), or without metallic markings.

Wing venation. Forewings 12(–13) veined; without basally dilated veins. Forewings with 1 tubular anal vein (mostly), or with 2 tubular anal veins (some clearly exhibiting an upper, weaker one, e.g. Aglais urticae); the anal veins of the forewings representing 1b only, or comprising 1b and 1c; vein 1b simple (nearly always), or furcate proximally to simple. Forewings with a discal cell, or without a discal cell (the transverse vein being sometimes lacking between veins 4 and 5). Forewing veins 8 and 9 out of 7, with 3 and 4 often connate.

Hindwings 9 veined; with a praecostal spur (mostly), or without a praecostal spur (Vanessa, Cynthia); with 2 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings with a closed discal cell, or without a closed discal cell; the transverse vein complete, or incomplete (lacking between veins 4 and 5 in Ladoga, Apatura and Argynnis), or lacking (rarely). 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell. The cell-derived hindwing veins all arising independently of one another, or 3+4 proximally joined (connate only).

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs barrel-shaped to broadly conical (usually broadest near the base); more or less smooth, or densely spinulose, or reticulate, or longitudinally ribbed (but nearly always longitudinally ribbed). The larvae hairless, or hairy; without tentacles on segment 2 (but those of Apatura with horn-like appendages on the head); nearly always with rows of bristly spines, or without bristly spines (in Apatura only); exposed feeders (mostly), or concealed feeders; feeding in communal tents (e.g., Inachis io), or not feeding in communal tents. On various Dicots - Violaceae, Urticaceae, Ulmaceae, Salicaceae, Cannabaceae, Caprifoliaceae, etc.

Pupae ridged and angular; conspicuously patterned; with shining-metallic markings (commonly), or without shining-metallic markings; exposed, with no coccoon (nearly always), or concealed (ocasionally, e.g. in Euphydryas); suspended from the tail (cremaster), with no median silk girdle.

British representation. Genera 14 (4 represented only by adventives); 31 species (including 12 adventives). Aglais urticae (Small Tortoise-shell), Apatura iris (Purple emperor, Araschnia levana (Map Butterfly, adventive), Argynnis adippe (High-brown Fritillary), Argynnis aglaia (var., Dark Green Fritillary), Argynnis niobe (Niobe, adventive), Argynnis pandora (Mediterranean Fritillary, adventive), Argynnis paphia (Silver-washed Fritillary), Boloria dia (Weaver's Fritillary, adventive), Boloria euphrosyne (Large Pearl-bordered Fritillary), Boloria selene (Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary), Cynthia (Vanessa) cardui (Painted Lady), Cynthia virginiensis (huntera) (American Painted Lady, adventive), Euphydryas aurinia (Marsh Fritillary), Inachis (Vanessa) io (Peacock), Issoria aphrodite (Venus Fritillary, adventive), Issoria lathonia (Queen of Spain Fritillary, Junonia (Precis) villida (adventive), Ladoga (Limenitis) camilla (White Admiral), Melitaea athalia (Heath Fritillary), Melitaea cinxia (Glanville Fritillary), Melitaea didyma (adventive), Nymphalis antiopa (Camberwell Beauty), Nymphalis (Aglais) polychloros (Large Tortoise-shell), Nymphalis xanthomelas (Scarce Tortoise-shell, adventive), Polygonia c-album (Comma), Vanessa atalanta (Red Admiral). The adults hibernating, or not hibernating.

Distribution. Frequenting woodland and open places. Habitats calcareous and non-calcareous.

Comments. Mostly brightly colour-patterned strong fliers, sometimes gliding.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea.

Illustrations. • Apatura iris and Lodoga camilla: Newman, 1871. • Vanessa atalanta, Cynthia cardui, C. virginiensis and Aglais urticae: Newman, 1871. • Nymphalis polychloros, N. antiopa, Inachis io and Polygonia c-album: Newman, 1871. • The larger Fritillaries (1): Newman, 1871. • The larger Fritillaries (2): Newman, 1871. • The larger European Fritillaries: Kirby, 1907. • The smaller Fritillaries: Newman, 1871. • Smaller European Fritillaries (Kirby, 1907). • Fritillaries: Argynnis, Euphrosyne (Coleman, 1860). • Fritillaries: Argynnis, Boloria, Melitaea, Mellicta, Euphydryas (Coleman, 1860). • Argynnis: neuration.

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.’.