Insects of Britain and Ireland: butterflies

DELTA home

L. Watson and M. J. Dallwitz



Adults. Wingspan 68–88 mm; the fringes conspicuously light-and-dark banded (N. polychloros), or not banded (N. antiopa). Slender-bodied to medium built; very short-bodied. The eyes hairy. Antennae reaching noticeably less than halfway to the wingtips, or reaching about halfway to the wingtips. The antennal clubs abrupt; flattened (and blunt, in N. polychloros), or not flattened (and pale- and shortly point-tipped in N. antiopa). 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 pointed. The outer and hind margins angled at about 95–100 degrees. The outer margins angulated; scalloped. Uppersides of the forewings dark purple (N. antiopa), or orange-brown (N. polychloros); without a discal mark; velvety dark purple in N. antiopa, with a creamy terminal band preceded by a row of blue spots; in N. polychloros orange-brown, with 3 costal black blotches,3 large black spots in the disc posteriorly and a narrow blackish terminal band - less bright than those of A. urticae, and lacking the apical white spot and the marginal blue dots of that species.

Hindwings. Hindwings broadly rounded; slightly tailed; with the outer margins scalloped. Uppersides of the hindwings conspicuously patterned; without a discal mark; colour patterned more or less like the forewings, but the marginal band of N. polychloros includes blue spots.

Undersides of wings. Undersides of the forewings cryptically patterned in buff, browns and fuscous in N. polychloros, and in shades of charcoal with a sharply contrasing pale margin in N. antiopa.

Undersides of the hindwings with a pattern mirroring that of the upper surface, but with long bristles and cryptically coloured in buff, browns and fuscous in N. polychloros and in charcoal shades with a sharply contrasting pale margin in N. antiopa; with a conspicuous discal mark (this small, whitish, located where the “missing” transverse vein would normally be).

Wing venation. Forewings 12 veined, or 13 veined; without basally dilated veins. Forewings with 1 tubular anal vein (N. antiopa), or with 1 tubular anal vein (N. polychloros, the upper one relatively weak); the anal veins of the forewings representing 1b only, or comprising 1b and 1c; vein 1b simple. Forewings without a discal cell (the transverse vein lacking between veins 5 and 6 in N. polychloras, or 4 and 5 in N. antiopa). Forewing veins 8 and 9 out of 7, 10–12 separate.

Hindwings 9 veined; with a praecostal spur; with 2 anal veins; exhibiting vein 1a; the anal veins comprising 1a and 1b. Hindwings with a closed discal cell; the transverse vein incomplete (vestigial between veins 4 and 5). 7 veins arising from the hindwing cell. The cell-derived hindwing veins 3+4 proximally joined (connate at the discal spot).

Eggs, larvae, pupae. Eggs barrel-shaped (shortly cylindric); longitudinally ribbed (with 6–7 ribs). The larvae hairy; with rows of bristly spines; feeding in communal tents. On deciduous trees: N. antiopa on Salix, Populus and Betula, N. polychloros on Ulmus, Populus, Prunus, etc.

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

British representation. 3 species. Nymphalis antiopa (Camberwell Beauty), Nymphalis (Aglais) polychloros (Large Tortoise-shell), Nymphalis xanthomelas (Scarce Tortoise-shell). The adults abroad May to October, or October to April; hibernating (but probably never successfully, in Britain).

Status in Britain. Variously rare ocurrence representing occasional, genuine immigrants, or adventive, or rare ocurrence representing occasional, genuine immigrants and formerly indigenous but now extinct. N. antiopa and N. polychloros both now have the status of non-resident, sporadic immigrants in Britain. N. antiopa may never have been resident, but the Large Tortoise-shell constitutes yet another example of a formerly indigenous species rendered extinct. N. xanthomelas is a central-European vagrant species which was first recorded in Britain in 1953, and may re-appear from time to time in southeast England.

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

Comments. Strong fliers, sometimes gliding.

Classification. Superfamily Papilionoidea. Nymphalidae.

Illustrations. • Nymphalis antiopa (Camberwell Beauty): photos. • Nymphalis antiopa (Camberwell Beauty: B. Ent. 96). • Nymphalis antiopa: B. Ent. 96, legend+text. • Nymphalis antiopa: B. Ent. 96, text cont.. • Nymphalis antiopa (Camberwell Beauty): egg, larva, pupa. • Larvae of A. urticae, Inachis io, Nymphalis antiopa: Duponchel (1849). • Nymphalis polychloros (Large Tortoise-shell): photos. • Nymphalis polychloros (Large Tortoise-shell): egg, larva, pupa. • Larvae and pupae of N. polychloros and Polygonia c-album: Duponchel (1849). • Nymphalis polychloros (Large Tortoise-shell: Hübner/Curtis). • Nymphalis xanthomelas (Scarce Tortoiseshell): From Hübner, 1805.. • Nymphalis xanthomelas (Scarce Tortoiseshell): Kirby, 1907.

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.’.