Butterfly with striking white and black markings

Marbled White. Photo: John Woodruff

A distinctive butterfly generally only found in the countryside, rarely in gardens.

Where to see

Habitat: Tall grass growing where there have been no recent disturbance or fertilisation. Marbled Whites have something of a preference for limestone and chalk areas, but can be found in other habitats, including roadside verges and railway embankments, woodland clearings, coastal grassland and waste ground. Look for the adult butterfly on purple flowers.

Caterpillar foodplants: Grasses: Red Fescue, Sheep's-fescue, Tor-grass, Cock's-foot and Timothy.

Best places: Widespread except in the east of Dorset, where Badbury Rings is one of your best chances of seeing it. In the south, Ballard Down and Durlston have high numbers, in the north there is Hod Hill and Cashmoor, and in the west they are numerous at Hog Cliff Southfield, Cerne Giant, Kingcombe and our Butterfly Reserve on Portland: Broadcroft Quarry.

Distribution map

Explore the Atlas to see historical distribution trends for this species.

When to see

On the wing in June and July, possibly lasting just into August

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Medium

This is a very distinctive butterfly: no other in this country has this checkered pattern on its wings. The markings can even be seen during flight, as it has a slow wing beat.

Males and females are alike on the upper wings.

Female hind underwings tend to be brownish, though the hind upperwings remain black and white, with a pale brown leading edge.

The Red Fescue grass eaten by the caterpillar has been proved to be infested by a fungus which contains a chemical making both the chrysalis and adult Marbled White obnoxious to birds.

Photo gallery

Tip: Click thumbnails to view full-size images.

*Note: The charts shown on this page are drawn only from casual sightings submitted to this website. Records from this website will be added to a lot more data collected throughout the year and used to compile the five-yearly Butterfly Atlases for Dorset and the UK.

Find more Marbled White related content, including news and photos.