Quantifying dispersal is fundamental to understanding the effects of fragmentation on populations. Although it has been shown that patch and matrix quality can affect dispersal patterns, standard metapopulation models are usually based on the two basic variables, patch area and connectivity. In 2004 we studied migration patterns among 18 habitat patches in central Spain for the butterfly Iolana iolas, using mark–release–recapture methods. We applied the virtual migration (VM) model and estimated the parameters of emigration, immigration and mortality separately for males and females. During parameter estimation and model simulations, we used original and modified patch areas accounting for habitat quality with three different indices. Two indices were based on adult and larval resources (flowers and fruits) and the other one on butterfly density. Based on unmodified areas, our results showed that both sexes were markedly different in their movements and mortality rates. Females emigrated more frequently from patches, but males that emigrated were estimated to move longer daily dispersal distances and suffer higher mortality than females during migration. Males were more likely to emigrate from small than from large patches, but patch area had no significant effect on female emigration. The effects of area on immigration rate and the within-patch mortality were similar in both sexes. Based on modified areas, the estimated parameter values and the model simulation results were similar to those estimated using the unmodified patch areas. One possible reason for the failure to significantly improve the parameter estimates of the VM model is the fact that resource quantity and butterfly population sizes were strongly correlated with patch area. Our results suggest that the standard VM modelling approach, based on patch area and connectivity, can provide a realistic picture of the movement patterns of I. iolas.