Sunday, 21 October 2007

Les Papillons de Jour

The area around Preuilly, with its mosaic of habitats, abounds with butterflies. The best butterfly spots are the flowery chalk grasslands, the heaths and the woodland glades. There are about 125 species of butterfly in France (compared to about 60 in Britain and 420 in Australia). I have recently purchased Les Papillons de jour de France, Belgique et Luxembourg et leurs chenilles by Tristan Lanfranchis, and a quick trawl through this excellent volume reveals that in Indre et Loire we could expect to get 94 species. Of those, 18 are species for which our départment is clearly a refuge, as they are extinct in the surrounding départments. Only 2 species have gone extinct in Indre et Loire, and there are another 8 rare species that it might be possible for us to get occasionally.

Here are some of the beautiful butterflies that are easily seen on a summer visit to Preuilly and surrounds:

Red Admiral Vanessa atalanta (in French le Vulcain ie the Roman god of fire). These can be seen anywhere at any time of year, but are particularly noticeable in the autumn coming to the ivy flowers on sunny days.

Painted Lady V cardui (in French la Belle-Dame ie the Beautiful Lady). This species is cosmopolitan, and very similar to the Australian Painted Lady V kershawii. The French Painted Ladies are well known for migrating to England in large numbers most years, presumably to provide an element of bon gout to the English countryside.

Comma Polygonia c-album (in French le Robert-le-Diable ie Robert the Devil). Robert le Diable is a vicious and cruel character in a French medieval tale. In the story he undergoes an epiphany and performs many acts of penitance. The name has become associated with Duke Robert of Normandy, father of William the Conqueror. I have no idea what the association between Robert le Diable and the butterfly is though. The English name refers to a feature that you mostly will not even notice - a tiny silver comma shaped mark on the underwing. Fortunately, this is a distinctive butterfly, easily identifiable by its deeply scalloped wing margins. Often to be found sunning itself on bare ground, and quite obligingly easy to photograph in this situation. This one is near le Chameau at Chaumussay. Le Chameau is supposedly the most beautiful natural rock formation in all of the Touraine - I'm afraid it doesn't say much for the others if it is true. Le Chameau does provide an amusing fountain head for la source St Marc though, and the box (Buxus) covered hillside above is an orchid hotspot.

Lesser Purple Emperor Apatura ilia (in French le Petit Mars changeant ie the small changeable Roman god of war). 'Changeant' refers to the way the irridescent blue of the males upperside changes with movement and light conditions. This one is female. The species can be distinguished from lookalikes by the yellow tips to the antennae. These are surprisingly obvious, but curiously none of my books mention the feature. This species does not occur in Britain.

Marbled White Melanargia galathea (in French le Demi-deuil ie the Half-Mourning). The French name smacks of the 19th century, and presumably refers to the fact that the butterfly is only half black (half mourning dress was usually grey or pale lavender - subdued and respectful but not as gloom-ridden as black. You switched to half morning at some suitably discreet time after the death of a loved one to indicate that you were no longer paralysed by grief and were returning to society and could be invited to parties, so long as they weren't too much fun. Queen Victoria famously never managed the transition into half mourning.) These butterflies are very much a species of flowery chalk grassland.

Adonis Blue Lysandra bellargus (in French le Bel-Argus or l'Azuré bleu-céleste ie the Heavenly Blue, with two different words for blue, just to make sure you understand how very blue it is). Argus was a 100 eyed monster in Greek mythology and his name is often applied to butterflies - I suppose because they very often have a pattern of 'eyes'. These are another species of chalk grasslands and certainly are 'heavenly blue'. They are quite large as Lycaenid (ie blue) butterflies go and utterly, stunningly beautiful with their intensely blue uppersides. These were photographed, with some frustration at their reluctance to sit with open wings, at the utterly, stunningly beautiful Angles sur l'Anglin.

Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis phaphia (in French Le Tabac d'Espagne ie the Spanish Tobacco). A large and common Fritillary, often seen at flowers such as Hemp Agrimony on the river bank. This one is a male, distinguishable by the heavy dark radiating lines on the upper wing.

Marbled Fritillary Brenthis daphne (in French le Nacré de la ronce ie the Lustre on the Bramble). This one was photographed on the edge of a heathy wood, sitting on a bramble leaf. It was extremely unobliging - nervous and difficult to get a good shot of. There was a lot of cow wheat in the vicinity, which is the host plant for a number of Fritillaries - but not this one. This one's catepillars eat Brambles Rubus spp (Woolly Blackberry/Ronce cendrée, European Blackberry/Mure, Elm-leafed Blackberry).

Clouded Yellow Colias crocea (in French le Souci ie the Marigold). Another grassland species, and another that can come trooping over from France to Britain in good years. I love the touches of pink - very frivolous.

Wall Lasiommata megera (this is a male, so in French he is le Satyre - the Satyr. Females are called les Mégères - Shrews!) This one was photographed at la Réserve Naturelle de Chérine, in la Brenne and owned by la Ligue pour le Protéction des Oiseaux (LPO). I think the rather curious English name must come from the species having a liking for sunning itself on walls.

Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus (in French l'Amaryllis - no idea why). This species is very much associated with hedgerows and undisturbed gardens. Also photographed at la Réserve Naturelle de Chérine. This one is male.

Speckled Wood Pararge aegeria (in French le Tircis. Tircis is a character in a la Fontaine fable.) I fear this one bears a rather striking resemblance to the photographer and co-author of this blog. (Click on the image for full size and best effect.)

BTW, did I mention how amazingly blue Adonis Blue's are?



Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your thoroughly interesting and entertaining blog. We are now back in Preuilly and were sitting outside yesterday eating lunch and looking at a butterfly and a lizard on our wall, so thanks for the butterfly pictures. Today it's bright but cold - my husband is installing a heater in the bedroom. Best wishes, Jill and John Elton-Wall

Susan said...


Nice to hear from you. I'm glad you liked les papillons. Hope the heater installation proceeded without too much bad language being necessary. Regards Susan.

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