Little Fritillary

Melitaea asteria


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Melitaea asteria

Female, painted from a set specimen

Melitaea asteria distribution


This is one of just two Swiss species I have yet to see. It is not for want of trying: I have camped out in what I guessed to be the perfect place twice in recent years but not yet found the butterfly. More recently still, I visited a known site at the right time of year, and after a 7-hour journey spent two hours there in the rain! I know others who have stumbled upon little fritillaries when they weren't even looking for them, and it seems if you are in just the right place at the right time (and in the right weather) they can be numerous. Such places are necessarily rather separated, as the butterfly doesn't fly below 2000m.

This is a very small fritillary - significantly smaller than heath fritillary - characterised in both sexes by the extensive dark ground colour in the basal area of the wings and rather reddish post-discal spots. The male has less orange than the female shown above. Some female Grisons fritillaries approach this species in colour and markings but are bigger. Care should also be taken not to mistake small, dark individuals of the high-altitude form of marsh fritillary for little fritillary.

Little fritillaries fly over alpine tundra with grassy slopes in July and August. The caterpillars feed on alpine plantain, hibernating twice - so the full life cycle lasts two years.