Weaver’s Fritillary

weavers-fritillary-boloria-dia-asturias-3
Weaver’s Fritillary (Boloria dia), Asturias, Spain

It is rather ironic that this little butterfly, which was named by a 19th Century British entomologist, does not occur in the UK! Weaver’s fritillary (Boloria dia) occurs throughout mainland Europe, and is found just across the Channel in northern France (see distribution map, below).

weaver's fritillary (Boloria dia) Asturias, Spain
Weaver’s fritillary (Boloria dia) Asturias, Spain. Gallery of distribution maps of European butterflies. http://www.ufz.de/european-butterflies/index.php?en=22481

It is also called the Violet Fritillary, a name which derives from the violet, or lilac, coloration on the undersides of the hind-wings. I rather like the French name: La petite Violette; it is a small fritillary. Nevertheless, the name goes back to a certain Richard Weaver (1790-1860), who claimed to have captured – sometime in the 1820’s –  two specimens in Sutton Park,  which is now a National Nature Reserve located 6 miles north of Birmingham city centre. These and later dubious finds caused a great furore at the time, when butterfly collecting was something of a national obsession, at least among the upper middle classes in England, and particularly country parsons. The historical details of these finds and the reactions they produced are beautifully described in The Aurelian Legacy (British Butterflies and their Collectors) by Michael A. Salmom. (2)

Weaver's fritillary (Boloria dia) Asturias, Spain.
Weaver’s fritillary (Boloria dia) Asturias, Spain.

Another specimen was taken in September 1857 in the Rev. S. Hodson’s Garden, at Cookham Dean, near Maidenhead in Berkshire. It was said to have been ‘knocked down by a village lad with his cap’ and was claimed to be undoubtedly British. Unfortunately, the claim was challenged and discredited. There was it seems, a great deal of credit (and money!) to be had from discovering a species new to Britain, and fraudulent releases and captures were made.

Further finds, occurred near Tunbridge Wells, Kent (c. 1876); near Christchurch, Dorset (1887); Ipswich, East Suffolk (1899); and much more recently on the North Downs, Surrey (1984). The latter was believed to have been a release. The official verdict on all of the Weaver’s Fritillary finds in Britain is that: ‘It is believed that all examples of this species are the result of introductions, either deliberate or accidental.’ (3) Since the species is not known to migrate, I suppose we must leave it there, although if Monarch butterflies can cross the Atlantic, perhaps a little Fritillary could be blown across the Channel? Who knows.

weaver's fritillary (Boloria dia) Asturias, Spain
Weaver’s fritillary (Boloria dia) Asturias, Spain

In case anyone does come across one in Britain (!), a characteristic feature of this butterfly is the rather sharp angle of the hind-wing, as shown in the following photograph. All of these individuals were photographed in Somiedo Nation Park, Asturias, Spain, in late August/early September this year. I think they are all males.

Weaver's fritillary (Boloria dia) Asturias, Spain. Sharp-angled hind-wing highlighted.
Weaver’s fritillary (Boloria dia) Asturias, Spain. Sharp-angled hind-wing highlighted.

Links and References

  1. Gallery of distribution maps of European butterflies.  http://www.ufz.de/european-butterflies/index.php?en=22481
  2. Salmon, M. A., Marren, P., & Harley, B. (2000). The Aurelian legacy: British butterflies and their collectors. Harley Books.
  3. http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=dia

Beautiful Cleopatra

Cleopatra (Gonepteryx cleopatra) male
Cleopatra (Gonepteryx cleopatra) male

The Cleopatra is not a butterfly we see in the UK although a few individuals have occasionally appeared in southern England, perhaps as a result of hitch-hiking on a passing ship! (1) It is not markedly different from the Brimstone until the male opens his wings during flight and reveals beautiful orange patches on the yellow fore-wings. These butterflies do not bask with their wings open, so one needs to photograph it in flight to catch the lovely orange discal colours. I always seem to underestimate the necessary shutter speed; the 1/1,600th of a second in the following photograph was too slow! But on the other hand, perhaps the slight blurring suggests movement?! I love the way the butterfly starts to unfurl its proboscis before it arrives at the flower. They demonstrate remarkable dexterity – if that is the right word – in using their proboscis.

Cleopatra butterfly (Gonepteryx cleopatra) male in flight
Cleopatra butterfly (Gonepteryx cleopatra) male in flight

The Cleopatra butterfly is found throughout southern Europe and across all of Spain, from north to south. There are a number of subspecies. These photographs were taken in the village of Pola, in Somiedo National Park, Asturias, Spain. This is a location where minimum temperatures fall to zero (0 deg C) in the winter. The butterflies were however, enjoying the evening sunshine in August of this year, nectaring on these flowers.

cleopatra-gonepteryx-cleopatra-male-4

The uppersides of the male wings, particularly the fore-wings, of this species strongly reflect light in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum. (2)  Unlike us, butterflies can see UV light and males often use it to show off to females or to discourage would be rivals.  The wings of these butterflies also contain pterin pigments – xanthopterin and erythropterin – which create the bright wing colours. There are also cover scales on the wings, which create structural colours by back-scattering the incident light when it hits a series of microscopic ridges – called nanostructures – on the scales. (3) There is an awful lot more to this structural colour story than I have alluded to here, but it certainly makes for a lovely butterfly.

References

  1. http://www.ukbutterflies.co.uk/species.php?species=cleopatra
  2. Wilts, B. D., Pirih, P., & Stavenga, D. G. (2011). Spectral reflectance properties of iridescent pierid butterfly wings. Journal of Comparative Physiology A, 197(6), 693-702.
  3. Wijnen, B., Leertouwer, H. L., & Stavenga, D. G. (2007). Colors and pterin pigmentation of pierid butterfly wings. Journal of insect physiology, 53(12), 1206-1217.

Pretty little Anthomyiid flies

Anthomyia species fly on flower
Anthomyia species fly on flower

I am very fond of these tiny little black and white flies, which go by the rather unattractive name of Root-maggot flies. Their Latin family name sounds a bit more appealing: Anthomyiidae. There are some agricultural pests in the family, like the cabbage root fly and the onion fly, which give the others a bad name.

Anthomyia species fly on a leaf
Anthomyia species fly on a leaf

I found all of these flies close to water; by the lago San Martiño, near the Playa Morouzos at the mouth or the Ria Ortigueira. There were two main species that I came across in August at this location: Anthomyia procellaris and Eustalomyia hilaris. At least I think that’s what they were!

San Martino lagoon, Morouzos beach, Ortigueira
San Martino lagoon, Morouzos beach, Ortigueira

These little anthomyiid flies are very widely distributed across Asia and Europe and vary considerably: a taxonomist’s dream or nightmare, I’m not sure which! The first one I saw had quite large black spots and seemed to match the descriptions and photographs of Anthomyia procellaris, but I cannot be certain.

Anthomyia procellaris
Anthomyia procellaris

When I looked closely at the photograph of ‘Anthomyia species fly on a leaf’ (above) I noticed that there was a little bubble of liquid below the head. Had it been drinking or was it blowing bubbles?!

Anthomyia procellaris blowing bubbles or liquid!
Anthomyia procellaris blowing bubbles or liquid!

The next species I came across in the same location,  Eustalomyia hilaris (below), has a very pronounced black stripe running down the middle of the thorax, as well as black spots. Reportedly, this species is a parasite and its larvae develop within the larvae of bees (1). But another expert (Richard A. Jones) reports that it is “a nationally rare fly [in the UK] that breeds in the stores of dead flies collected by solitary wasps that nest in tunnels made in dead timber”. (4) Even more amazing!

Eustalomyia hilaris
Eustalomyia hilaris

I had the impression it was looking at me in the following photograph!

Eustalomyia hilaris
Eustalomyia hilaris

I relied on these excellent sites for my identifications (1, 2, 3).

  1. http://www.tuin-thijs.com/vliegen-bloemvliegen-engels.htm
  2. http://www.diptera.info/photogallery.php?photo_id=8237
  3. http://www.naturespot.org.uk/taxonomy/term/19445

Tachina grossa – a big black fly!

Tachina grossa, Galicia, Spain.
Tachina grossa, Galicia, Spain

The Yellow-faced fly or giant tachinid fly, Tachina grossa, is the largest European tachinid fly, between 1.5 and 2 cm in length. It is widespread in Europe, including the British Isles and is supposed to be a bumblebee mimic, but I am not sure which one it is copying. Probably an imperfect mimic of generally dark bumblebees. This species lays its eggs on the larvae of moths like the oak eggar (Lasiocampa quercus), on which they bore into and devour, eventually emerging as adults from the host pupa. (1) I think the yellow-buff coloured head and black body makes for a very attractive insect.

Tachina grossa, Galicia, Spain
Tachina grossa, Galicia, Spain

I came across it on elevated habitat, of heather and gorse, in hills behind Ortigueira, Galicia, Spain, on 3rd September this year.

Heather and gorse habitat in Galicia, Spain, where T. grossa was seen.
Heather and gorse habitat in Galicia, Spain, where T. grossa was seen.

 

  1. http://tachinidae.org.uk/blog/?page_id=343&q=Tachina+grossa&t=name

Saddle-backed Bush-cricket

 Saddle-Backed Bush Cricket, probably Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, male .
Saddle-Backed Bush Cricket, probably Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, male .

I came across this magnificent insect walking along a path through some pine woodland, with an under-story of heather and gorse, in Galicia, NW Spain. It is The Saddle-backed Bush-cricket. I was very excited to see one; it is absent from Britain and I had never seen one before. The closest relative we have in England, is probably the Wart-biter, which is rare. It has also been called the Mediterranean katydid, or the European bush-cricket, and is a member of the Family Tettigoniidae.

Heather and gorse habitat in Galicia, Spain, where the Bush-cricket was seen.
Heather and gorse habitat in Galicia, Spain, where the Bush-cricket was seen.

The colour patterns of insects in the so-called Ephippiger ephippiger complex, vary with geographical region as well as with rearing density. The denser the colony, the darker the brown or black markings on the tergites – or segments – on the back of the abdomen. Adults also become darker after they mature and after they have met a member of the opposite sex! (1) Some of the different sub-species have also hybridised in some areas of Europe! This makes identification problematical to say the least and as a consequence the taxonomy of this ‘complex of species’ is a bit unclear (2).

 Saddle-Backed Bush Cricket, probably Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, male.
Saddle-Backed Bush Cricket, probably Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, male.

The sexes are easy to tell apart because the female has a long, sword-like ovipositor, whilst the male (shown here) has two short appendages called cerci at the rear of the abdomen. They are flightless, with tiny atrophied wings which are used by the male to make sounds to call mates (stridulation). Not surprisingly perhaps, the songs or chirps made by these bush-crickets vary according to region; called ‘song races’ (3). The tiny wings can be seen poking out from beneath the light green saddle-back, or pronotum, in the following photograph.

 Saddle-Backed Bush Cricket, probably Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, male. Dorsal view.
Saddle-Backed Bush Cricket, probably Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, male. Dorsal view.

The subspecies which exists to the east of the Pyrenees, and I think in northern Spain, is Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, also called Ephippiger cunii. But given the taxonomic uncertainty, I cannot be sure, so if any bush-cricket experts read this, please correct me if I am wrong.

 Saddle-Backed Bush Cricket, probably Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, male
Saddle-Backed Bush Cricket, probably Ephippiger ephippiger cunii, male

A remarkably large breathing hole, or spiracle, can be seen on the thorax – just behind the fore-leg – of the Bush-cricket in the photograph below. The insect was about 25 mm in length.

ephippiger-ephippiger-cunii-male-4

The individual I came across was probably basking in the sunshine; they are nocturnal and feed at night. Going out with a torch would therefore, be a good way to find them at night. This individual was found on the hills south of Ortigueira (Galicia, Spain) on 27th August 2016.

A nice photograph of the female can be seen on this website (5).

References and Links

  1. Hartley, J. C., & Bugren, M. M. (1986). Colour polymorphism in Ephippiger ephippiger (Orthoptera, Tettigoniidae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 27(2), 191-199.
  2. Spooner, L. J., & Ritchie, M. G. (2006). An unusual phylogeography in the bushcricket Ephippiger ephippiger from Southern France. Heredity, 97(6), 398-408.
  3. Ritchie, M. G., Racey, S. N., Gleason, J. M., & Wolff, K. (1997). Variability of the bushcricket Ephippiger ephippiger: RAPDs and song races. Heredity,79(3), 286-294.
  4. Kidd, D. M., & Ritchie, M. G. (2000). Inferring the patterns and causes of geographic variation in Ephippiger ephippiger (Orthoptera, Tettigoniidae) using geographical information systems (GIS). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 71(2), 269-295.
  5. http://www.biodiversidadvirtual.org/insectarium/Ephippiger-ephippiger-cunii-img402931.html