Melitaea athalia

Heath Fritillary


by Matt Rowlings

copyright © 2003-2024

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Valais, Switzerland, July 2020

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N Sweden, June/ July 2010

Field notes and information

A very widespread, usually common and vary variable species found in a broad range of habitats from low to alpine levels.

Identification & Similar species: Separation from some similar species can be very difficult and even impossible for many individuals. However study of genetalia on living male butterflies is possible and gives definitive results. The following may help identification.

Heath fritillary, M. athalia, generally has clear upperside markings consisting of irregular sized bands of orange rectangles. Markings are usually strong. Upperside ground colour is usually uniform.

False heath fritillary, M. diamina, heavy black markings particularly on the upperside hindwing.

Provencal fritillary, M. deione, local and sporadic from south Switzerland through to Spain and Portugal and northwest Africa. Brighter orange (male) and variegated (female) upperside ground colour. More uniform bands. The underside hindwing post discal orange-red spots are often bright and round and the submarginal line may bulge between veins (a constant feature of the subspecies berisalii). The basal area of the upperside forewing contains a figure of 8 which is usually large and bright with a line almost reaching it from the base of the wing.

Grisons fritillary, M. varia, at high altitude only from the Alps and central Italy. Small. Regular upperside markings. Females usually dusky and variegated.

Meadow fritillary, M. parthenoides, France, Spain and Portugal, west Switzerland and northwest Italy. Generally with a relatively broad post discal band and a poorly marked upperside hindwing discal area.

Nickerl's fritillary, M. aurelia, central and eastern France and eastwards to north Greece and Poland. A fairly dark species with uniform upperside makrings and a dusky orange underside hindwing ground colour. Extremely similar to the next species which may be even duskier. Colour of palpi has been disproven as reliable separation from similar species.

Assmann's fritillary, M. britomartis, very restricted in north Italy and Slovenia, more widespread in central eastern Europe. Also from southeast Sweden and Bulgaria. Very similar to the previous species. Colour of palpi has been disproven as reliable separation from similar species.

Distribution & Flight: Widespread across most of Europe. Absent from central and southern Spain and extremely local in south UK .

Habitat & Behaviour: Diverse. Often associated with bushes or trees. Usually grassy and flowers. From low levels to high alpine meadows. Generally flies in a single brood from May into the summer, occasionally seen in the early autumn in a partial second brood or delayed emergence.

Variation: Highly variable in size, colouration and extent and detail of black markings.

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Sierra Nevada, Spain, July 2013

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Geneva, Switzerland, June 2021

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Vaud, Switzerland, June 2017

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Valais, Switzerland, May 2021

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N Sweden, July 2022

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Vaud, Switzerland, June 2017

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Geneva, Switzerland, June 2010

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Vaud, Switzerland, August 2018

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Vaud, Switzerland, June 2017

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Valais, Switzerland, August 2019

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Geneva, Switzerland, June 2010

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Valais, Switzerland, June 2018

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Sierra Nevada, Spain, July 2013

Subspecies nevadensis.

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Asturias Mts, Spain, July 2011

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Valais, Switzerland July 2014

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Vaud, Switzerland, September 2013

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N Sweden, June/ July 2010

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Valais, Switzerland, June 2018