Scientific name: Melitaea athalia
One of our smaller fritillaries, distinguished by its dusky wing colours.
The butterfly has historically been linked with the traditional practice of woodland coppicing, giving it the nick-name of the 'Woodman's Follower' as it follows the cycle of cutting around a wood.
The Heath Fritillary is distinguished by its dusky wing colours. It is restricted to a few specialised habitats where it flies close to the ground with characteristic flits and glides.
Sadly it is now one of our rarest butterflies but has been saved from the brink of extinction by the concerted action of conservationists.
Size and Family
- Family: Fritillaries
- Size: Small/Medium
- Wing Span Range (male to female): 47-50mm
- Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in England
- UK BAP: Priority Species
- Butterfly Conservation priority: High
- European status: Not threatened
- Fully protected in Great Britain.
The main foodplants are Common Cow-wheat (Melampyrum pratense), Ribwort Plantain (Plantago lanceolata), Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys), and occasionally other speedwells (Veronica spp.). Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) can be a secondary foodplant, especially on Exmoor.
- Countries: England
- A highly-threatened butterfly that would, almost certainly, have become extinct in the UK were it not for conservation efforts over the past two decades. Restricted to woodlands in Cornwall/Devon and Kent/Essex and Exmoor.
- Distribution Trend Since 1970’s = -25%.
The butterfly prefers sunny, warm and sheltered habitats of two main types; coppiced or newly felled woodland on acid soils (where Common Cow-wheat is abundant), and sheltered heathland valleys on Exmoor (where Common Cow-wheat grows as scattered plants on mineral soils amongst vegetation dominated by Bilberry).