Heath fritillary

Heath Fritillary butterfly

©Jim Higham

Heath Fritillary butterfly

©Jim Higham

Heath fritillary

Scientific name: Melitaea athalia
The rare heath fritillary was on the brink of extinction in the 1970s, but conservation action turned its fortunes around. It is still confined to a small number of sites in the south of England, however.

Species information


Wingspan: 3.9-4.7cm

Conservation status

Protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. Priority Species under the UK Post-2010 Biodiversity Framework.

When to see

May to July


The heath fritillary is a rare butterfly that 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. It is confined to a small number of sites in Somerset, Devon, Cornwall and Kent, and has also been reintroduced into sites in Essex. Although very local in its distribution, this butterfly can be seen in large numbers in good years. It forms discrete colonies and rarely strays from its main breeding grounds.

How to identify

The heath fritillary is variable in terms of both the colour and the pattern of the wings, but it mostly displays a dusky, orange-and-brown chequered pattern.


Restricted to parts of South West and South East England.

Did you know?

Colonies in South East England are found in woodlands where the larval foodplant, common cow-wheat, grows. Colonies in South West England are found on heathlands that are home to the larval foodplants ribwort plantain and germander speedwell.

How people can help

The Wildlife Trusts manage many heathland and woodland habitats sympathetically for the benefit of all kinds of butterflies, including the heath fritillary. Careful grazing with traditional breeds, scrub clearance and coppicing are just some of the ways heathlands and woodlands are kept in good condition - supporting invertebrates and, in turn, the larger animals that prey on them. By volunteering for your local Trust you can help too, and you'll make new friends and learn new skills along the way.