The Large Tortoiseshell was once widespread across Britain and most common in the woodlands of central and southern England but while its numbers were always known to fluctuate, it declined to extinction by the 1960s. This butterfly has not been recorded from Ireland.

It is still common in some parts of Europe, but declining in others. There continue to be sporadic records in Britain, the majority from the south coast but some are considered to be of specimens released from reared stock rather than genuine immigrants.

There have been several suggested causes for its decline - including climate change, parasitism, and the effect of Dutch Elm disease on one of its primary foodplants.

Size and Family

  • Family: Nymphalids
  • Size: Large
  • Wing Span Range (male to female): 68-75mm

Conservation Status                  

  • Butterfly Conservation priority: Presumed Extinct 
  • European status: Declining

Caterpillar Foodplants

Caterpillars feed primarily on Elms (Ulmus ssp) but can also found on Aspen (Populus tremula), Birch (Betula), Poplars (Populus) and Willows (Salix).

Habitat

Historically in the British Isles, the Large Tortoiseshell inhabited woodland, especially those containing sallows whose flowers provide a primary nectar source for the adults in the spring.

Distribution

  • Countries: England, Wales and Scotland (Presumed Extinct)
  • Previously widespread in England, Wales and Scotland, their strongholds were in the midlands, south and east of England. Recent sightings from the south coast, in particular from Devon, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and Sussex.
Large Tortoiseshell - Adam Gor

Large Tortoiseshell

Large Tortoiseshell - Adam Gor

Large Tortoiseshell

Large Tortoiseshell - Adam Gor

Large Tortoiseshell

Large Tortoiseshell - Pete Withers

Large Tortoiseshell

Large Tortoiseshell - Adam Gor

Large Tortoiseshell

Large Tortoiseshell (underwing) - Adam Gor

Large Tortoiseshell (underwing)

Large Tortoiseshell (caterpillar) - Tamás Nestor

Large Tortoiseshell (caterpillar)

Large Tortoiseshell (caterpillar) - Marcell Kárpáti

Large Tortoiseshell (caterpillar)


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