Sooty Ringlet (Erebia pluto)

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2018 photographs highlighted in green. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

44787_male_Alpes-Maritimes_22Jul17 44793_male_Alpes-Maritimes_22Jul17 44759_male_Alpes-Maritimes_22Jul17

A very difficult species to see, as it flies at over 2000m and usually considerably above that. It also has a habit of flying non-stop over steep rocky scree, which makes photography almost impossible. It is said to stop open-winged in overcast conditions, but I have yet to see this (at least at close range).


It lives up to its English name as the nominate form is almost completely black and unmarked on the upperside, and not a lot different on the underside. It is a medium sized Erebia, and its colour, size, and the location and manner of its flight mean that it can be identified with some degree of confidence when seen in flight, mainly because there are no real alternatives.


I saw pluto for the first time in 2015 at a location at 2200m in the Hautes-Alpes but photography was impossible. I saw it again in 2016 at a different location, but here it was flying non-stop and I only managed one distance shot; this shot was hardly discernible but it was possible to make out two pin-prick ocelli on the forewing. This led me to wonder if pluto could have ocelli. On checking with all available books and web sites, it appears that there are pluto subspecies that do have ocelli, but they do not fly in France, so the specimen I photographed in 2016 could not have been pluto and I have removed the image, whatever it was, from this page.

The nominate species occurs in the Alpes-Maritimes and the southern French Alpes, whereas the subspecies oreas flies further north in Savoie, according to T&L. Oreas differs in that it has a clear upf red post-discal band, also without ocelli. It has been suggested (see below) that it is possible for oreas to have small ocelli.


H&R says the upperside of nominate pluto is unmarked, and is very specific about this. TLID unhelpfully does not reference oreas (it is a compact work and does not reference any subspecies) but describes "pluto" as having dark reddish post-discal bands (which describes oreas rather than nominate pluto) with or without black ocelli. So, it appears that H&R and Lafranchis are not in agreement on this.


As mentioned, it tends to fly up and down rocky scree, which makes it difficult and dangerous to attempt to get too close. Hence the images on this page are, by default, distance shots. It remains a priority for 2018 to achieve clearer and more definitive images.








alt. m

44787 M a distance shot of a male, nectaring. It was constantly on the move, but at least this shot shows the consistent black colouring and unmarked nature of the upperside. 2650
44793 M another distance shot but at least it had come to rest. This shows clearly that there are no upf ocelli. 2650
44759 M another distance shot, this time of the underside, showing that the underside mirrors the upperside in colour and absence of markings. 2650