Large Heath (Coenonympha tullia)

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2022 photographs highlighted in blue. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

37607_male?_Doubs_13Jun15 37625_sex?_Doubs_13Jun15



A species of the wetlands of the northern areas of Europe, with very limited distribution in north-eastern France. It occurs in the UK only in parts of the north of England and in Scotland (where the subspecies scotica occurs). I have only seen it in one location, and only for the first time in 2009, revisited in 2015, so my experience is very limited. It is also very difficult to photograph as it flies almost constantly and when it does settle, it is low in short grass.


T&L says that variation, even within small colonies, may be quite marked in terms of the unh ground colour, ocelli, and discal line. Even in my limited experience of one location, this has been shown to be true, as all four photographs on this page are from the same location. It is, however, quite noticeably large in flight.


It is widespread but localised across Europe, with several distinct subspecies. For simplicity, the various subspecies that occur (or could occur) in the UK and France (I have ignored the rest of Europe, for simplicity) are tabulated below in order to compare the information given in various publications and trusted web sites.


According to T&L, the subspecies that occurs in France is tiphon which H&R says has unh ocelli which are well-developed, although the photographs on this page suggest that this is not constant. H&R only refers to the Jura, and does not mention any other localities in France for this or any other subspecies. The Lafranchis distribution map (link below) shows it as occurring in a few small and separated colonies in eastern France, confirming its highly localised distribution.

I suspect that the black crosses show former locations.

In the UK, according to H&R, three subspecies exist, the nominate tullia, rothliebi, and scotica.


However, a much more recent analysis of the UK subspecies is given on the excellent UK Butterflies (UKB) page for tullia,

It refers to three subspecies: davus, scotica, and polydama, the last of which is said to be intermediate between davus and scotica. It says that the nominate form tullia does not occur in the UK. This is clearly at odds with H&R and T&L.


The distribution map for the UK is given here:

Davus appears to correspond most closely to rothliebi in terms of description of colouring and ocelli. This may just be the same species under a different name. Taxonomists are wont to do this.


There is also the page for tullia on the UK Butterfly Conservation web site:

which mirrors the subspecies information on UKB (and/or vice versa).


It could be confused with the more widespread Chestnut Heath (C. glycerion) with which it sometimes flies, but the distinguishing characteristic is that the white discal line reaches the unh costa in tullia but not in glycerion. Also, looking at 15717 below, the discal line looks remarkably like that of the Small Heath (C. pamphilus), perhaps not surprisingly as they are closely related. Pamphilus can occasionally be quite large, so the capacity for confusion is not diminished on the grounds of size, but the well-developed ocelli of tullia means that there is no doubt about 15717.

subspecies: referenced in: what they say (distribution and description of uph):
tullia UKB, H&R, T&L UKB: does not occur in the UK.

H&R: occurs in northern England and southern Scotland. Does not occur in France. unh grey, irregular white band usually broken in s2/3, ocelli in s1-6 often very small in s4/5.

T&L: distribution agrees with H&R. The subspecies is illustrated but the text does not specifically say anything about colour and ocelli, other than that it is transitional to tiphon in some localities.

rothliebi H&R, T&L H&R: occurs in northern England, with locations in Shropshire, Lancashire and Westmoreland; this may have been true at the time of publication (1970) but it appears that its distribution has dramatically shrunk since. unh grey-brown with six large ocelli. This seems to equate to davus.

T&L: distribution agrees with H&R, but states "very local". The subspecies is illustrated but the text does not specifically say anything about colour and ocelli.

tiphon T&L H&R: occurs in the Jura in France and elsewhere in central Europe; unh grey but often with brown flush, ocelli usually well developed.

T&L: refers to localities in eastern and north-eastern France. The subspecies is illustrated but the text does not specifically say anything about colour and ocelli.

scotica UKB, BC, H&R, T&L BC: restricted to northern Scotland; almost no ocelli.

UKB: northern Scotland; unh paler than polydama and with very small, often absent, ocelli.

H&R: northern Scotland; unh grey, ocelli small or absent.

T&L: distribution agrees with H&R. The subspecies is illustrated but the text does not specifically say anything about colour and ocelli, other than that the ocelli are often vestigial or absent.

davus UKB, BC BC: large ocelli, lowland England.

UKB north-west and central England adjacent to Welsh border, darkest and most colourful subspecies.

polydama UKB, BC BC: intermediate between scotica and davus, occurs elsewhere in the UK.

UKB: occurs in northern England, Wales and southern Scotland. Considered as intermediate between davus and scotica, paler than davus and with fewer ocelli which are smaller and often blind.





alt. m



I suspect I considered this to be a male based on the fact that it appeared darker in flight, the female upperside being distinctly paler than the male, a factor that seems to hold true to a greater or lesser extent for all Coenonympha species. The unh ocelli are quite weak.




I don't recall seeing this in flight, so cannot say whether it is male or female, given that the two sexes have identical undersides. The unf ground colour seems to have rather a chestnut hue.




a complete absence of ocelli, but the unh discal line reaches the costa, thus confirming tullia.




quite well-developed ocelli, but still some way short of most illustrations in books and on websites.