Scientific name: Hamearis lucina
The Duke of Burgundy is a small, springtime butterfly that frequents scrubby grassland and sunny woodland clearings and is one of the most rapidly declining butterflies in the UK. It was once classified as a Fritillary, but is now the only butterfly in the UK in the subfamily Hamearis lucina, known as the "metalmarks".
This butterfly can be confused with the Burnet Companion moth, a day-flying moth which occurs at the same time of year and is very similar in size. It has dark brown wings patterned with vivid orange spots, with white dots along the fringes of the wings, like a tiny fritillary.
The undersides of the hind wings have two rows of spots; these are white-ish in the male and cream in the female. The female is paler in colouring and the underwings have more of an orange colour that that of the male. The female has six fully-functional legs, whereas the male has only four, with the forelegs being greatly reduced. The lifespan of the butterfly is up to five days.
The adults rarely visit flowers and most sightings are of the territorial males perching on prominent leaves at the edge of scrub. The females are elusive and spend much of their time resting or flying low to the ground. After mating, if there are natural corridors allowing it, they may fly up to five kilometres looking for suitable egg-laying sites. This enables new colonies to become established, but now occurs rarely, due to modern agricultural practices.
The spherical, transparent egg is laid singly, or in batches of up to five underneath Primrose or Cowslip leaves. The egg hatching is dependant on the weather, so can happen between one to three weeks.
The hairy caterpillar eats its eggshell immediately after hatching. It spends the day at the base of the foodplant, feeding on its leaves by night. This stage of the butterfly's life lasts around six weeks, during which it moults four times.
The chrysalis hibernates during the winter months. It hides in vegetation, usually leaf debris or a grass tussock. It is a pink-cream colour and covered with fine hairs and a regular pattern of black marks.
The butterfly lives in small colonies and is only found in England, with a stronghold in central-southern areas and more isolated colonies in the southern Lake District and the North York Moors. Due to its substantial decline in recent decades, especially in woodlands, where it is reduced to fewer than 20 sites, it is a Priority Species. This coincides with the decrease in coppicing and management of woodlands in the past century.
Size and Family
- Family: Fritillaries, Duke of Burgundy
- Size: Small
- Wing Span Range (male to female): 29-32mm
- Section 41 species of principal importance under the NERC Act in England
- UK BAP status: Priority Species
- Butterfly Conservation priority: High
- European status: Threatened
- Protected under Schedule 5 of the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act (for sale only)
The main food plants are Cowslip (Primula veris) and Primrose (P. vulgaris). It occasionally uses the so-called "False Oxlip", the hybrid of these two Primula species.
The butterfly can be found on two main habitats; chalk and limestone grassland with plenty of shelter from scrub or slopes where Cowslip grows, or clearings on ancient woodland sites where Primrose grows in the dappled light.
- Countries: England.
- Much reduced over recent decades, with its remaining strongholds in central southern England. Many colonies, particularly the few remaining in North Yorkshire and around Morecambe Bay, are the subject of intense effort by conservationists to prevent this species from becoming extinct.
- Distribution Trend Since 1970’s in Britain: -52%