The Butterflies of the Pyrenées


The Pyrenees is a mountain range which runs right the way along the border between Spain to the south and France to the north, from the Atlantic in the west to the Mediterranean in the east.

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Up to date Ariege wildlife news available here.

As far as I am concerned this is one of the greatest places in Europe. I like hill-walking, Rock Climbing and Mountain biking as well as the pursuit of lepidoptera and this place has everything.

I have been to the Pyrenees a couple of times, in the busy Hautes Pyrenees near Gavarnie and in the much quieter areas further east. The red triangles above indicate areas I have been, and clicking on that department will go to a species list for that area.

The description below applies to a visits I made in 1996 and 2001.

Gavarnie and Gèdre

Near to the Spanish border are some of the highest and most spectacular mountains in the Pyrenean chain. Gavarnie is very commercialised and attracts many thousands every day. However continuing past Gavarnie up to 2000m at the Col des Tents is a road which makes access to the high alpine grassland easy. Ringlets such as Gavarnie ringlet, Erebia gorgone, False dewy ringlet, Erebia sthennyo, Spanish brassy ringlet, Erebia hispania and Lefebvre's ringlet, Erebia lefebvrei were widespread. A range of additional high altitude species were also present, a list is available in the Hautes Pyrenees link above.

Gavarnie ringlet, Erebia gorgone False dewy ringlet, Erebia stythenno Spanish brassy ringlet, Erebia hispania

Turquoise blue, Plebicula dorylas Yellow-spotted ringlet, Erebia manto.

Lower down the valley was the town of Gèdre, much quieter with some very nice walks through mixed habitat. Species of note included, Turquoise blue, Plebicula dorylas and Yellow-spotted ringlet, Erebia manto.

Axat

In the foothills of the Pyrenees we stopped for a couple of days in a forest campsite near a place called Axat. There was a good range of species in the nearby woodland. The following paragraphs describes a few of them.

Immediately above the campsite a track lead into the woodland proper. Along the side of the track were Provençal short-tailed blue, Everes alcetas a delicate species. In the longer vegetation beside the forest ride were Pearly heath, Coenonympha arcania and much less frequently Dryad, Minois dryas.

Provençal short-tailed blue - Everes alcetas (28K) Pearly heath - Coenonympha arcania (45K) Dryad - Minois dryas (56K)

False ilex hairstreak - Satyrium esculi (48K) Pale clouded yellow - Colias hyale (42K)

The track split into two after a short while, one fork went up and became a little more open. Lining the sides of the track were flower heads covered with 4,5 or even 6 False ilex hairstreak, Satyrium esculi at a time. Also along the track were Large blue, Maculinea arion and the occasional Pale clouded yellow, Colias hyale. At this time of year in the Pyrenees C. hyale was the only Colias to be seen. Completely replacing C. crocea, Clouded yellow.
The lower branch of the track opened out into a flowery area. In this area was a sea of blue butterflies. Included amongst them Escher's blue, Agrodiaetus escheri and Lang's short-tailed blue, Leptotes pirithous together with Chalk hill blues Lysandra coridon and this slightly odd one Unsure, Lysandra species.

Escher's blue - Agrodiaetus escheri (30K&24K) Unsure - Lysandra spp. (28K)

Woodland Grayling - Hipparchia fagi (44K) Spotted fritillary - Melitaea didyma (35K & 43K)

The track continued with Woodland Grayling, Hipparchia fagi feeding on dung before coming to end of the woodland where Spotted fritillary, Melitaea didyma were flying along the edge of the fields.

Mount Canigou

The slopes of Mount Canigou were our next stop. We camped in an enormous campsite at the bottom of a track leading up the mountain. There were butterflies everywhere, including in the campsite itself.

The first part of the track was through forest with Scarce and Purple-shot copper, Lycaena alciphron. Many fritillaries including Weaver's, Marbled (Brenthis daphne), Heath and Spotted. Satyrids included the Great sooty satyr, Satyrus ferula.

Marbled fritillary - Brenthis daphne Purple-shot copper (50K) Great sooty satyr - Satyrus ferula (48K)

Apollo - Parnassius apollo (42K) Lefèbvre's Ringlet - Erebia lefebvrei Dewy ringlet (41K)

The Apollo, Parnassius apollo flew illusively along the hillsides beside the track, seldom stopping for photographs. At about 2200m the track emerged onto the high mountainside. Inevitably there were the usual Erebia species, including Lefèbvre's Ringlet, Erebia lefebvrei and the Dewy ringlet, Erebia pandrose. I didn't realise there were so many different species until I looked through the pictures back at home!

For full species lists see the map at the top of the page.

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© All pictures in these pages copyright to Simon Coombes. Permission must be sought and obtained for any use.