Saturday, 9 January 2016

Butterflies in the Touraine, 2015

Although the official figures aren't yet out, my impression of 2015 in terms of butterfly populations in the Touraine is that it was patchy at best. I suspect the problem was caterpillar host food plants and a sort of general lack of synchronisation of emergences and food plants. The year was hot but dry and although butterflies like to be warm, a dry year will reduce succulent young leaves on caterpillar host plants. You can't have good numbers of adult butterflies if the caterpillars are not thriving.

Map Araschinia levana, April, on damp soil in our potager.

Three species stand out for me as having bucked the trend: Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus, the earliest of the blue species to emerge had a good long season; likewise Long-tailed Blue Lampides boeticus turned up in July and continued migrating through into the early autumn (never in large numbers, but there were some very excited reports coming from Britain, where the species is a very rare vagrant); and the black and white summer generation of Map Araschinia levana, which was absolutely ubiquitous and abundant in July.

Grizzled Skipper Pyrgus malvae, May, on dung, Puys du Chinonais.
Once again I only managed to survey my Chaumussay sites, where the transects are either chalk grassland or arable crop margins. Here are the numbers (remember these figures only reflect what I saw survey sites and dates, not what I was seeing in the orchard and on other outings):

11 Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus Hesperiidae
12 Essex Skipper Thymelicus lineola Hesperiidae
2 Grizzled Skipper Pyrgus malvae Hesperiidae
2 Dingy Skipper Erynnis tages Hesperiidae
7 Large White Pieris brassicae Pieridae
8 Small White Pieris rapae Pieridae
6 Orange-tip Anthocharis cardamines Pieridae
7 Brimstone Gonepteryx rhamni Pieridae
10 Wood White Leptidea sinapsis Pieridae
2 Clouded Yellow Colias croceus Pieridae 
2 Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius Papilionidae
1 Ilex Hairstreak Satyrium ilicis Lycenidae Lycaeninae
1 Holly Blue Celastrina argiolus Lycenidae
11 Provencal Short-tailed Blue Everes alcetas Lycenidae
2 Adonis Blue Polyommatus bellargus Lycenidae
17 Common Blue Polyommatus icarus Lycenidae
1 Brown Argus Aricia agestis Lycenidae
4 Pearly Heath Coenonympha arcania Nymphalidae
20 Small Heath Coenonympha pamphilus Nymphalidae
2 Wall Lasiommata megera Nymphalidae
15 Gatekeeper Pyronia tithonus Nymphalidae
4 Comma Polygonia c-album Nymphalidae
1 Speckled Wood Parage aegeria Nymphalidae
2 Map Araschinia levana Nymphalidae
49 Marbled White Melanargia galathea Nymphalidae
45 Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina Nymphalidae
5 Silver-washed Fritillary Argynnis paphia Nymphalidae Heliconiinae
7 Marbled Fritillary Brenthis daphne Nymphalidae
1 Violet Fritillary Clossiana dia Nymphalidae
1 Glanville Fritillary Melitaea cinxa Nymphalidae

Large Skipper Ochlodes venatus,  
June, on Baneberry Actaea spicata, La Bourgoterie (Chaumussay).
As well as the numbers themselves being poor, the National Natural History Museum survey struggled with getting recorders to send their records in this year. Poor Luc Manil, who runs the scheme, sent several rather sad emails to everyone this year begging them to submit their records and asking what the problem was. This year was the first year we have been asked to submit all records online instead of having a choice between that and sending in a spreadsheet. On top of that, even the online recording site was new, and Luc came to the conclusion that recorders were having problems with it. I'm not so sure. I found it easy to use, but I was nevertheless late with my records. I think something about the peculiar season set up a zeitgeist effect and we all delayed sending our records in for no reason we could put a finger on.

Marbled Fritillary Brenthis daphne,  
June, on Blackberry Rubus fruticosus agg, La Bourgoterie (Chaumussay).
In the orchard I am pleased to say that my colony of Glanville Fritillary Melitaea cinxa has not died out, and I have at least two nests of caterpillars overwintering. Also obviously breeding in the orchard are Swallowtail Papilio machaon and Provencal Short-tailed Blue Everes alcetas.

Long-tailed Blue Lampides boeticus, July, in our orchard.
To see posts on previous year's butterfly surveying click on 2011 (joining project), 2011 (April), 2011 (my records), 2012 (June), 2012 (my records), 2012 (project overview), 2013 (July). To see a description of the project go to my page about it on Loire Valley Nature.

Common Blue Polyommatus icarus, July, in our orchard.


  1. Your photos are wonderful. Had to stop myself from going down the list and looking at every one. I'd never get my day underway. The rare swallowtail is
    a beauty.

    1. Thanks Sheila, and thank you for the article on saffron you sent. I would have emailed you but couldn't work out how to do it. The message doesn't show me your email address. The article was very interesting, a mixture of things I knew already and some new information.

      Btw, the Scarce Swallowtail isn't scarce in France, only in Britain, hence its English name.

  2. grizzled skipper sure is cute.

    1. Yes, I always think they have real personality.