Species of the Month - July 2016: Marbled white

This year, Herefordshire Wildlife Trust is running a new series taking a closer look at one key species of flora or fauna each month. For July, we are looking at the marbled white butterfly…

Marbled white (image: Philip Precey)

The marbled white (Melanargia galathea)

Marbled white (image: Jim Higham)The marbled white is a beautifully marked butterfly which is unmistakeable with its black and white mottled colouring. Within the UK, it’s mostly found in central-southern England, including parts of Herefordshire, and is almost entirely absent further north than Lancashire and Yorkshire, although it’s believed that global warming might result in the marbled white colonising sites further north.

The butterflies typically form large, discrete colonies and can be seen from June to August. On a good site, in warm, sunny weather, thousands can be seen gently fluttering amongst the grass heads. Their eggs are laid on the wing or from brief perches on grass stems, and are just sprinkled down towards the ground. Upon hatching, the lime green larvae immediately enter hibernation, and only begin to feed the following spring when the fresh growth occurs. Red fescue grass is especially important to the caterpillars, as it’s thought to be their main dietary source.

Where to see them

Marbled white (image: HWT)Marbled whites are typically found on unimproved grassland (meaning that which has had no fertiliser added to it), where the grass has been able to grow up to half a metre tall but even small strips of grassland, such as road verges, field margins, woodland clearings and disused railway lines can be home to smaller colonies. Look out for them around purple flowers such as knapweed, thistles, scabious and marjoram as these are their preferred flowers!

By far the largest concentration of marbled whites in the West Midlands is in Worcestershire, although it’s spreading further north and west. Good places to see them locally include the Malvern Hills, the Doward, Ewyas Harold Common, Coppett Hill and Haugh Wood.

How to help marbled whites to thrive

The tiny number of wildflower meadows in the country – 97% of them have been lost since the 1940s – means that protecting those that remain, and creating new ones, is the best way to help the marbled white. Even a small area of wildflowers grown in your garden or local green space will help. A wealth of information on pollinators in general, including more about how to help them, can be found at www.herefordshirewt.org/pollinators.

Get in touch

If you spot a marbled white – or any other species - please do let us know! You can submit records online at www.herefordshirewt.org, email them to us at records@herefordshirewt.co.uk or write to us at Lower House Farm, Ledbury Road, Hereford, HR1 1UT

Pair of marbled whites (image: Don Sutherland)