Friday, August 5, 2011

Those Challenging Satyrs

If a group of butterflies comprises 2400 species, we can expect some identification challenges! In the Spanish Pyrenees, I found plenty.

The upper Hecho Valley is rife with puzzling satyrs.

Satyrs are a subfamily of nymphalids, or brush-footed butterflies. These are the pearly-eyes, the wood nymphs, the heaths, the arctics, the alpines. Most of them haunt shady woodlands or alpine fellfields. Tropical satyrs like Pierella can be spectacular.

Great Banded Grayling (Kanetisa circe)

The first Great Banded Grayling I saw looked so much like a big admiral that I initially skipped over the satyrs in trying to identify it. Like many of the other local butterflies, it was nectaring on Pyrenean Eryngo.

Okay, let's try some browns.

The Meadow Brown seems pretty straightforward––although in the Land of Satyrs, that's no guarantee I got it right! We had previously seen it in Poland as well.

Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina)

This Large Wall Brown doesn't quite match the field guide pictures, but it's close. A big part of the problem is that many species are variable across their large ranges. Very focused local field guides are hugely helpful, where they exist.

Large Wall Brown (Lasiommata maera)

The heaths are lovely small satyrs. Dusky and Pearly Heaths are similar. I'm basing this ID on the very indistinct eyespot on the forewing, even though most Pearly Heaths sport a wider white flash on the hindwing. Their larvae feed on grasses.

Pearly Heath (Coenonympha arcania)

Now we come to the ringlets (which in North America we call the alpines)––genus Erebia, with no fewer than 13 plates in the field guide! In North America we have a hefty 7 species; in Europe, 46 species, plus a wide array of subspecies. That's an astonishing radiation for one genus of butterflies!

I've always liked the alpines, in part because I love the alpine regions where they live. And how lucky is this? The ringlet which allowed the best photography appears to have been a distinctive one, the Piedmont Ringlet, with its very dark under hindwing and bright topside.

A Piedmont Ringlet (Erebia meolans), below shown probing a shoe which must have wandered through something especially delectable.

But the graylings were at the top of the heap for confusing, and especially the choice between Rock or Woodland Grayling. I'm going with Rock Grayling here, based on matches with photos at websites such as The bold white band on the hindwing seems broader and the outer border of that band doesn't mirror the irregularities of the inner border. I welcome comments from lepidopterists!

Rock Grayling (Hipparchia alcyone)

Grayling (Hipparchia semele)

The Grayling is the most widespread of Europe's big Hipparchia satyrs. And it is one that isn't too hard to identify... maybe.

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