Southern Marbled Skipper (Carcharodus baeticus)
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2016 photographs highlighted in green. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.
This is quite a rarity, easily the most elusive of the four Carcharodus species that occur in France. It is essentially an Iberian species, the distribution "spilling" into the far south of France.
It is quite similar to the Mallow Skipper (C. alceae) in terms of size and colouring, although the spring brood of baeticus is rather more greyish than the brown autumn brood. The uph discal series of white spots is highly indicative, being more extensive than the white marks of the Tufted Marbled Skipper (C. flocciferus) and the uph submarginal series of marks of baeticus is described in books as sinuous, usually only visible in fresh specimens e.g. 30082) and only just about apparent in the rather battered 23634. The underside holds the key to its identification in that it is pale brown and the white discal series is complete, and the key diagnostic feature is the prominent lighter veins; this is not the case for the other Carcharodus species. The sub-marginal unh series of markings also rather reflects the sinuous series of the uph.
I saw baeticus for the first time in 2010, the only one I saw at that location. Curiously, and as is often the case, I saw another in a different location only a few days later. In 2012 a location was discovered in northern Var at around 1000m altitude, where the baeticus was restricted to the region where the larval hostplant, Marrubium vulgare, was growing.
This species was previously widely known as Carcharodus boeticus but in the new European taxonomy, this species now has the scientific name Carcharodus baeticus.
|30082||M||a fresh male showing the sinuous wavy line in the submarginal region of the hindwing.||1020|
|30090||M||a rather worn male.||1020|
|29788||M||a rather worn male on the larval hostplant, Marrubium vulgare.||1020|
I am not 100% certain that this is baeticus. It is rather worn but the series of uph discal spots clearly precludes alceae. It cannot be a Marbled Skipper (C. lavatherae) for a variety of reasons, so the only remaining option (of the four Carcharodus species that occur in France) is flocciferus which can have a series of uph white discal spots. However, these marks are "trademark" baeticus, and clearly different to any flocciferus I have seen. Having seen it in the field, there are three reasons why I believe it is baeticus:
1) size - flocciferus is large, noticeably large, and baeticus is smallish, about the same size as alceae. 34376 was small.
2) flight - flocciferus is a powerful flyer, usually in a straight line, whereas 34376 had a rather short buzzy flight.
3) underside colour - flocciferus is usually greyish or yellowish-grey, and 34376 was a definite pale yellow-brown.
A senior conservation figure in PACA thought it was baeticus, although a Var expert with experience of baeticus thought it was more likely to be flocciferus. Baeticus had not been recorded within 30km of this location, but then 23634 and 30082 were seen at sites of a similar distance from any previously-known location. Possibly the key is whether the larval hostplant Marrubium vulgare (or the alternative Ballota nigra) grows in the region. These plants are normally found in calcareous soils, which is the case for central and northern Var but possibly not for south-eastern Var where 34376 was seen.
2014 post-script: 34376 was seen on the banks of a river which in 2014 had become largely dried up, allowing access which showed that M. vulgare was growing there in profusion, adding considerable circumstantial evidence supporting 34376 being baeticus.
|39279||M||this male was seen in the far west of Var, in a location where I had not seen this species before although it had been historically recorded from there. However, its stay on this planet was short-lived as moments later it had been taken by a Robber Fly.||680|
|40561||M||a first brood male as can be seen from the rather greyish colouring and the male's hair tuft at the end of the abdomen.||420|
the white marks are still clearly in evidence despite 23634 being very much at the end its flight period.
|40552||F||a first brood female, as indicated by the end of the abdomen.||420|
|40559||F||the same female as 40559, egg-laying on Marrubium vulgare.||420|
|40570||F||a couple engaged in courtship, which entailed a curious process of repeated antenna touching. The female on the left is quite fresh and the reticulated underside pattern, characteristic of this species, is clearly visible.||420|
the underside of 23634 demonstrating how important a view of both surfaces can be for positive identification; with just the upperside view, it might not be 100% conclusive to identify this as baeticus.