Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros)

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2017 photographs highlighted in yellow. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

16464_sex?_Var_22Jun09 1559_male_Var_4Jun06 37580_male_Côte-d'Or_12Jun15
19761_sex?_Var_19Apr10 43231_female?_Rhône_03Jun17 41984_male_Savoie_25Jul16

Now extinct, it is generally accepted, in the UK probably principally as a result of the impact of Dutch Elm disease on its larval hostplant, but fortunately not so in France. In fact, 2006 seemed to be a very good year for polychloros and its absence from the UK made it an extra special sight. It overwinters as an adult and hibernating adults emerge very early in March. Second generation polychloros are sometimes seen in Var but this has not been my experience with the Camberwell Beauty (N. antiopa).

It can be differentiated from its cousin the Small Tortoiseshell (Aglais urticae) mainly on size although some urticae seem quite large, but also by the light mark nearest the upf apex which is white in urticae and pale yellow in polychloros. Also the submarginal blue marks seem a lot brighter, especially on the forewing, for urticae than polychloros. It is closely related to antiopa and both overwinter in the warmer climes of Var, polychloros often being so battered it is almost unrecognisable (19761 is perhaps one of the better specimens as they are sometimes almost devoid of scales and transparent).


A superb video of the life-cycle of polychloros has been produced by Filming VarWild and can be viewed on YouTube here:

ref sex


alt. m
16464 M

a male, unusually dark it seems to me, certainly compared to 1559. This may have been an altitude effect.

1559 M

I'm guessing it's a male based on what I can see of the body shape and the rather territorial pose.

37580 M a male, with very striking blue uph marginal marks. It was about to pose nicely for a photograph on roadside gravel but I could hear a lorry approaching in the distance and got this quick snap while I could; this proved necessary as the lorry - clearly in a hurry - caused a whoosh that took the butterfly with it, and although it survived, it did not return to the same spot. 370
19761 F?

this may be a female, based on what seems to be a slightly shorter body length. It has the typically battered appearance of a hibernator.

43231 F? a female, I suspect, from what can be seen of the body shape. Assuming it is a female, it is not quite clear what it was taking from the ground, as it appeared dry and it is my belief (subject to further evidence) that females only take moisture from the ground, and only in dry conditions. This shot was quite difficult as it was a ground level, the subject was constantly moving, and it was dark whereas macro lenses prefer more light. 180
41984 M a beautiful fresh male, taking salts from the ground and constantly moving and opening and closing its wings, making an open wing shot impossible. 1400