Large Tortoiseshell
Nymphalis polychloros

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Switzerland, March 2012

Nymphalis polychloros

Switzerland, March 2014

Nymphalis polychloros

Switzerland, March 2014

Nymphalis polychloros

Switzerland, March 2013

Nymphalis polychloros

Switzerland, April 2013



Switzerland, March 2012

Switzerland, March 2006

Resting among leaves, March 2006

Switzerland, March 2006

Switzerland, March 2009

Switzerland, April 2005

Suffolk, 1985

The large tortoiseshell is widespread in Europe and although not normally common is sufficiently conspicuous to be a fairly regular find. Until recently I never looked for them but just came across them, usually at a rate of several per year. Since 2005 I have found them much more commonly, in the spring particularly and now make a point of an early large tortoiseshell hunt. The butterfly suddenly seems to have proliferated, for no obvious reason. My friends in other parts of Europe have noted the same phenomenon.

In Britain, by contrast, the large tortoiseshell is now an extreme rarity - often considered extinct. But it is an elusive insect, not tied to just one wood or group of woods, and has the ability to persist at low levels. The two pictures above were taken in Suffolk, near Woodbridge, in 1985, over 20 years after the last accepted previous record. The butterfly is fresh and does not appear to have immigrated. No breeders admitted releasing large tortoiseshells and it seems most probable it was indeed a native-born, wild butterfly.

Records of large tortoiseshells are , in reality, often of over-enthusiastically identified small tortoiseshells. If you get a good look, however, there should be no danger of confusion. The large tortoiseshell has 4 dark spots in the open orange of the forewing, beneath the cell. The small tortoiseshell has only 3.