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Butterfly Conservation- Glasgow & South West Scotland Branch

Dark Green Fritillary (Argynnis aglaja)


The Dark Green Fritillary is the largest of the fritillaries found in south west Scotland (wingspan 58-68 mm). This fast-flying butterfly has beautiful orange and black patterned upperwings, while the underwings have a dark green suffusion punctuated by silvery-white spots. Females tend to have paler orange on their upperwings, especially at the edges, and have more pronounced dark markings. This is very noticeable in the Scottish subspecies scotica which are heavily marked and have darker green on the underwing: this species is found in mostly confined to the western Isles but can occur elsewhere in numbers which vary markedly from year to year.

Credit: Jim Black
Credit: Neil Gregory
Credit: Jim Black

Life Cycle

A single brood is produced each year in South West Scotland. Adults emerge in late June and begin searching for mates. The males in particular are very active flyers and can be difficult to observe unless nectaring. Mark and recapture studies have shown that adults generally stay within 1km of their breeding colony, but others may travel up to 5km in search of mates or suitable habitat. The female lays her cone-shaped yellow eggs singly on (or nearby) the leaves of common dog violet (Viola riviniana) in drier locations and marsh violets (Viola palustris) in wet locations. Areas with tall grassy vegetation with abundant violets are preferred. The black larvae have red spots along their flanks, and after hatching they immediately go into hibernation in the leaf litter. In spring the larvae start feeding on warm days and bask on top of dried bracken/leaf litter for warmth. In warmer weather the growing larvae remain concealed, feeding on the fresh growth of the food plant. The larvae pupate in leaf litter or within grass tussocks, forming a black-marked reddish-brown chrysalis with a distinctly curved abdomen.

Flight Times

The Dark Green Fritillary can be found flying in south west Scotland from June through to mid September with a peak in numbers during July. It is a highly mobile species, with fast and powerful flight

Habitat & Distribution in SW Scotland

Distribution map 2010

The Dark Green Fritillary can be found in quite a range of habitats which can be described as flower-rich grassland: coastal grasslands and dunes; chalk & limestone grassland; moorland with wet flower-rich flushes; acid grassland with bracken; and woodland glades and clearings.

In south west Scotland, the Dark Green Fritillary has a widespread, but local distribution being more common in coastal areas than inland and it is absent from most of the central belt including Glasgow. It is rarely found in large numbers, and can most commonly be found along the coast among grassy dunes with pockets of woodland or in upland wooded glens with open areas of wet south-facing grassland. The butterfly prefers lightly grazed flower-rich grassland, but such areas are becoming rarer and good sites are often at risk by encroachment of scrub, afforestation and overgrazing.

The Dark Green Fritillary is more widespread in northern Scotland than the south being found throughout the highlands away from agricultural lowland areas and it is also found on many of the islands. The normal aglaja sub species is found on Arran, Bute, Ailsa Craig, Islay & Jura whereas the scotica sub species is found on most of the western Isles including Mull, Rhum, South Rona, nortn Raasay, North & South Uist, Barra & Orkney.

Over the past 100 years there has been a substantial decline in the abundance of the Dark Green Fritillary in England, with up to 36 % of sites lost since the 1970s. In Scotland and Wales the situation appears less severe with over 500 new sites being recorded, although it is unclear how many of these relate to previous under-recording. The species appears to thrive under low intensity grazing regimes, or on ground that has been recently neglected with patchy turf and areas of scrub. The Dark Green Fritillary is currently not a species of conservation concern, however suitable breeding habitat is becoming increasingly fragmented, and isolated colonies are at increased risk of loss.


  • Barbour, D., Moran, S, Mainwood, T & Slater, B 2008. Atlas of Butterflies in Highland & Moray. Big Sky.
  • Futter, K., Sutcliffe, R., Welham, D., Welham, A., Rostron, A., MacKay, J., Gregory, N., McCleary, J., Tait, T., Black, J. & Kirkland, P. 2006. Butterflies of South West Scotland. Argyll Publishing. (see Atlas page)
  • Asher, J., Warren, M, Fox, R., Harding, P., Jeffcoate, G., Jeffcoate, S. 2001. The Millennium Atlas of Butterflies in Britain & Ireland. Oxford University Press.
  • Fox, R., Asher, J., Brereton, T., Roy, D., Warren, M. 2006. The State of Butterflies in Britain and Ireland. Pisces Publications.
  • Thomson, G. 1982. The Butterflies of Scotland. Croom Helm London.
  • Tomlinson, D. & Still, R. 2002. Britainís Butterflies. WILDGuides.

Written by Scott Shanks & Andrew Masterman

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