Male, subspecies vernetensis (with small pearl-bordered fritillary on left), Spanish Pyrenees, July 2011
Male, subspecies vernetensis (with small pearl-bordered fritillary above), Spanish Pyrenees, July 2011
Male Switzerland, July 2006
Male, Switzerland, July 2006
Male, Switzerland, July 2006 (melanic individual)
Switzerland, July 2006 (underside of same individual)
Male, subspecies vernetensis, Spanish Pyrenees
This is a widespread and locally common
species found in various subspecies and forms throughout most of
Europe. Its actual distribution is more scattered and localised than
the broad strokes of the map above suggests and the species has known
some extinctions in places where it formerly flew. In Switzerland,
where I have most experience of it, it is common in June and July and I
have also found it quite commonly in North Spain, in the Pyrenees.
In much of its range, the false heath fritillary is easy to identify,
being largely suffused dark, especially on the hindwings. In flight, it
looks very little like any other Melitaea
species. The underside is also distinctive, with black central points
in the orange post-discal spots. In North Spain, however, a quite
different form flies, usually treated as subspecies vernetensis.
This has much more orange above, so it looks like a rather heavily
marked heath fritillary. It also lacks (most of the time) the dark
points in the post-discal spots beneath. The undersides also show less
richness of colour - a lot of silver-white in females and more uniform,
pale yellowish in males. A similar subspecies, wheeleri,
flies in Italy, though natural variation may produce individuals at
either end of the darkness spectrum just about anywhere. I have seen
'normal' specimens in North Spain and relatively bright individuals in
The foodplants are various species of Valerian - principally Valeriana officinalis.
Small larvae hibernate gregariously in a silken web before completing
their development in the spring. There is a single brood in much of
Europe, including Switzerland, but two broods at lower altitudes in the
southern Alps and Spain.