Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Wednesday Wildlife - Fritillaries galore

Fritillary butterflies are named after a Roman dice box – the fritillarius - the most exotic of which had a chequered pattern. The same name is used for a plant in the lily family with contrasting dark and light checks on its petals.

There may also have been some punning involved in naming the butterflies since the French word fretiller means to flutter. (There are a surprising number of puns and humorous references in the scientific names of plants and animals – not all notanists and biologists are dry and dusty!)

This is the Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, known a few centuries ago as the May Fritillary (in contrast to the Pearl-bordered which was the April Fritillary). Since both are the same size the name ‘small’ is a misnomer.

The Pearl-bordered Fritillary

The High Brown Fritillary was a common species of open woods in England and Wales but is now confined to a handful of scattered locations from Cornwall to Cumbria. The word high was not a reference to its flight habits but to the colouring; high meaning in this context rich.

The Dark Green Fritillary is also confusingly named since the green is on the underside and is not dark; the term dark referred to the upperside so the butterfly was dark and green.

The Silver-washed Fritillary is the biggest and brightest of the British fritillaries and is a beautiful sight gliding along woodland rides or old railway lines.

The Marsh Fritillary was once known as the Dishclout and like many of the fritillaries has declined rapidly in recent years. One year in the 1880s the roads and fields around Church Stretton in Shropshire were ‘blackened’ by countless spiky Marsh Fritillary caterpillars. A similar plague in Ireland was reported in parliament and people barricaded their doors with peat blocks and burned shovelfuls of the caterpillars on bonfires. In the main it is a decline in suitable habitats that has caused the drastic decline of this species.


  1. Now I know how hard it is to just take a pic (not even a good pic) of a butterfly, I really appreciate your razor sharp pics of these beautiful ones!

  2. Do I take it that this is a list of the fritillaries that you've photographed? I know that there are 5 species at Dunsford woods, but I'm not sure which 5.

  3. I am butterfly short this year a superb year last year. You seem to have them all.

  4. Yes Helen - these are just the ones I've photographed. Sadly, Adrian, they were all taken in years gone by. I don't think I've seen anything except whites and Speckled Woods so far this year.

  5. I've hardly seen any butterflies this summer either, and none that have been willing to sit still and pose for me.


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