Heath Fritillary

Melitaea athalia


The Heath Fritillary is one of Britain’s rarest butterflies and was considered to be on the brink of extinction in the late 1970s. It is restricted to a few key habitats primarily coppiced woodland or sheltered heathland where it can be seen flying close to the ground in a distinctive flutter and glide pattern. This butterfly is confined to a small number of sites in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall in south-west England, and in Kent in south-east England, where it has also been reintroduced into sites in Essex. Although very local in its distribution, this butterfly can be seen in large numbers at some sites in good years.This butterfly forms discrete colonies and rarely strays from the main breeding grounds.

How to identify

This butterfly is very variable in terms of both the colour and the pattern of the wings but in most instances have an orange and brown chequered pattern to their wings. The male is the more conspicuous of the two sexes as it patrols clearings in search of a mate. Being relatively weak fliers they can be seen flying close to the ground alternating a few flicks of their wings with a short glide. Eggs are typically laid close to the foodplant on the underside of a Bramble leaf, or on a dead leaf. Both sexes can often be found in the company of others as they bask on shrubs.

Where to find it

Colonies in South East England can be found close to its larval foodplant Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense) in new clearings such as coppiced woodland, woodland glades and along sunny Rides. Colonies in South West England can be found close to its larval foodplant Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata) and Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) in sheltered heathland and species rich grassland. Habitats: Can be found growing in woodland, heaths and upland moors


When to find it

  • May
  • June
  • July

How can people help

Get involved by volunteering at your local woodland and support the coppice works which take place throughout the South East. The Wildlife Trust own and manage such reserves in Essex. By joining your local wildlife Trust you can help them to continue this work.

Species information

Common name
Heath Fritillary
Latin name
Melitaea athalia
Butterflies and moths
Wingspan Male: 39 - 44mm Female: 42 - 47mm