Alpine Amble - Fritillaries
I’ve been meaning to post some more photos from Switzerland for a while, but one thing and another has worked to stop me getting round to it. Unlike the lycaenids, the fritillaries didn’t yield any new species for me, but it was nice to re-acquaint myself with old friends in a different context.
My favourite Fritillaries have always been Marshies, and so after the initial heart in mouth moment when I thought I’d found Cynthia’s, I was delighted to catch up with the diminutive locals, termed glaciegenta in this groovy new paper: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1 ... 7/abstract
, basically suggesting that in different regions of Europe Marsh Fritillaries partition into a low and high altitude form, and splitting a few of these into new species. For example, in Spain, Euphydryas aurinia beckeri (or Euphydryas beckeri if you prefer) flies at low altitudes, while E. aurinia pyrenes-debilis takes the high ground. Pyrenes-debilis is illustrated as the same thing as glaciegenta in Tolman and Lewington, but apparently they’re quite different on the gene and genital front, having just arrived at the same dwarfism and dark colours by convergent evolution (since they face similar altitude-related problems in the Alps and Pyrenees). Anyway, the gritty little glaciegentas were toughing it out by one of our campsites at 2000m towards the end of the walk, apparently they feed on gentians and fly much later in the year than ours, between June and August depending, like many things in the Alps, on the altitude.
A variety of other high Alpine species were flying alongside these at our campsite, including Shepherd’s Fritillaries and Mountain Fritillaries, leading to a not unwelcome ID headache, since the two are ones I’ve wanted to get a better look at for quite some time. This ambition extended particularly to female Mountain Fritillaries, which have a unique ice-queen blue suffusion, fortunately one obliged.
These flew alongside their close, and equally similar-looking relatives, Small Pearl-Bordered and Pearl-Bordered Fritillaries, providing a strange lepidopteran anachronism as I found many mud-puddling companionably alongside Silver-Spotted Skippers and Chalkhill Blues – the ultimate species of heady late summer days on the chalk back here, with the orange emperors of the spring woodlands and meadows – weird!
Other classic summer species flying alongside these early emergers were the Argynnis species, High Brown, Silver-Washed, Niobe and Dark Green Fritillaries. Dark Green was the commonest by some distance, blazing around the flowery meadows, and remaining as ever, largely unattainable.
High Brown was encountered only rarely in some of the small woodland clearings, while Niobe was slightly commoner in some of the rockier grasslands towards the end of the trip.
I actually only managed one Silver-Washed Fritillary, nectaring companionably alongside a High Brown in a small meadow on the last day of the walk. Generally speaking, woodland butterflies were the poorest represented of the butterflies on the walk, with no Hairstreaks, White Admiral or Purple Emperor either, probably because we spent most of our time at high altitudes where all the deciduous trees had given way to conifers.
The commonest fritillary from the trip was undoubtedly Titania’s, tending to pop up hand in hand with the Purple-Edged Coppers in the bistort-rich meadows. In previous trips to the Alps, it’s always been joined by the Lesser Marbled Fritillaries (yet another Bistort feeder), yet these were strangely absent this time, and the second most abundant species was the False Heath Fritillary. Other Meliteas clocked up were Spotted, Grisons, Meadow, Heath and Knapweed Fritillaries.
Generally, I managed to pick my way through this group and the majority of the ID disasters were saved for Pyrgus (with a handful helpfully set aside for Erebia too, in the interests of fairness), such disasters (I’ve convinced myself), are a natural part of getting to grips with the awe-inspiring variety of butterflies in the Alps, and well worth the effort.