The meadow fritillary is restricted to
south-western Europe, where it is locally common and elsewhere
inexplicably absent. In Switzerland, for example, it flies in all the
meadows near me in Vaud but is absent from Valais, where it seems to be
replaced by the Grisons fritillary. Although all the pictures above are
spring butterflies, it actually flies in two broods at my altitude, the
first in May and June and the second in July and August. At higher
altitudes there is just one brood.
Males in particular are easy to identify. They are bright orange, with
large open areas on the hindwing and a characteristically oblique
discal mark in s.1 of the forewing. The post-discal line of markings on
the forewing upperside is thin and often peters out completely in about
s.4, so it is interrupted. In Spain, however, the markings may be
stronger on the upperside. The underside is very similar to that of
heath fritillary, and I'm not sure I can reliably tell them apart from
the underside alone when the forewing is not visible. When it is, the
lack of strong submarginal branding in ss.2-3 is distinctive. On
upperside and underside, the orange submarginal lunule in s. 3 is
barely larger than the others in sequence (distinctly larger in heath
and very much larger in knapweed). Females are less bright orange and
often two-tone in colour, rather like the nominate subspecies of
Provenšal fritillary. The spot in s.1, however, is usually (not always)
oblique, as in the male.
The caterpillars feed on species of plantain (Plantago). They hibernate gregariously.