The Marbled White is more closely related to the 'browns' than to other white butterflies, as its subfamily Satyrinae suggests. One of the most beautiful of Britain's butterflies, despite an almost monochrome colouring, the Marbled White inhabits chalk downland and other areas of wildflower-rich unimproved grassland.
In Britain the Marbled White is most abundant in the southern parts of England and Wales, although its northern range extends almost to the Scottish Border.
This butterfly is not recorded from Ireland, but on mainland Europe it occurs in most central and southern countries (it is absent from Scandinavia). To the south its range extends into northern Africa, and to the east into several Middle Eastern countries including Iran.
The Marbled White is absent from Portugal and from southern Spain where a similar species, the Iberian Marbled White (Melanargia lachesis) occurs.
In the Balkans another similar butterfly could be confused with Melanargia galanthea, and that is the Balkan Marbled White, Melanargia larissa.
The larval foodplants include Sheep's Fescue, Festuca ovina, and Red Fescue, Festuca rubra, and several other grasses commonly associated with neutral or alkaline soils.
The Marbled White produces just a single brood, the first adults emerging in late June and emergence continuing through to the end of July. Some adults can be usually seen flying until the middle of August.
Rather than attach its eggs to a larval foodplant, the female Marbled White simply drops them from the air above rough grassland during July and early August. The whitish rounded eggs take two or three weeks to hatch, and soon after the tiny caterpillar has eaten its way out of its eggshell and began feeding on grass, it goes into hibernation until the following March. From March until June the caterpillars feed at night and rest by day. The brown-headed caterpillars take one of two forms: some have yellowish green bodies while others are pallid brown, in both cases with narrow dark-brown lines along their backs and sides. At pupation the Marbled White produces a brownish chrysalis that lies on or just below the soil surface; the pupation stage takes approximately three weeks, at the end of which the adult butterfly emerges.
This page includes pictures kindly contributed by David Adamson and James Wainscoat.
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