Butterfly with orange background and yellow and brown lines and marks

Marsh Fritillary. Photo: Nigel Spring

A smaller, but very pretty Fritillary, declining over the country but doing quite well in Dorset, thanks to lots of work on its behalf.

There is an interesting article on surveying Marsh Fritillaries by looking for their caterpillars’ webs by Martin Warren.

Where to see

Habitat: Two different habitats: damp unimproved meadows with light grazing or dry chalk/limstone downland which is left untended or just lightly grazed. Either has to have plenty of its caterpillar's foodplant, so it either has to be lightly grazed or on poor soil to stop the Devil's-bit Scabious from becoming overgrown by other vegetation..

Caterpillar foodplants: Devil's-bit Scabious

Best places: The best ‘new’ downland sites, which were only colonised from the 1920s, can be found at Clubmens Down in the North and Cerne Giant Hill in the West. The best orthodox ‘marshy’ sites can be visited in the West at Brackett’s Coppice and at our own growing Alners Gorse reserve. Lydlinch Common in the north is a prime ‘marshy’ site where work to provide a good habitat has been ongoing for many years. It is found in lesser numbers elsewhere, though not in the East or South of Dorset.

Distribution map

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

When to see

Mainly May, but into June in lesser numbers.

Sightings by month (last 5 years)*:

Sightings this year*:

Browse the sightings archive.


Size: Medium

This is much smaller than the Dark Green or Silver-Washed Fritillary; it is around the same size as the Small Pearl-bordered, but the latter is limited to one site in Dorset.

It has more colours than any of the other Fritillaries, with cream added to the orange and brown and the colours looping in regular bands around the four upperwings. It is the only Fritillary to have a row of small dark dots within orange boxes, which are on both sides of the hindwing.

The male and female are similar in markings though the female may be slightly paler and will usually be larger.

The numbers of this species in both types of habitat fluctuate a lot from year to year due to the attentions of parasitic wasps so don’t be surprised if your visit coincides with a bad year for the butterfly!

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 Marsh Fritillary related content, including news and photos.