Nettle-tree Butterfly (Libythea celtis)

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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.

4702_female_Var_15Apr07 16276_sex?_Var_20Jun09 11369_male_Var_21Jun08
11387_male_Var_21Jun08 26061_male_Var_28Jun11 33918_female_Alpes-de-Haute-Provence_15Jul13

A strange insect, with unusual-shaped wings and very long palpi. It is the only one of its genus in western Europe. It appears to spend most of its time in the height of the summer trying to escape from the heat. I normally see it only briefly in high summer, but this year I visited one of its normal haunts in northern Var in June and it was flying in good numbers, so clearly this is the best time to see it. The illustration in T&L shows the male as having a more deeply scalloped hindwing, very square at the anal angle, compared to the female. In most species where the hindwing is scalloped, it seems most pronounced in the female.

It is a species often tied to its larval hostplant, Nettle Tree (Celtis australis) and females can sometimes be seen almost glued to these trees in early spring. Nettle Tree is often used as an ornamental tree in town centres in southern France and I have seen celtis on them on several occasions.

 

A superb video of the life-cycle of celtis has been produced by Filming VarWild and can be viewed on YouTube here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CEOyZN8QU4g
ref sex

observations

alt. m
4702 F

I suspect 4702 is a hibernator as it appears rather worn so early in the season. It was sitting high in a small leaf-less tree in the centre of a small village, occasionally flitting around but always returning to the same part of the tree. It was joined in this strange charade by a Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros). I subsequently discovered, thanks to Matt Rowlings, that the tree was a Nettle Tree, the larval hostplant, to which celtis is often closely tied. The body shape and behaviour suggests female.

780
16276 ?

celtis is not often seen nectaring, although I have seen it in numbers on Bramble (genus Rubus). The photograph is at a slight angle, so the wings look slightly foreshortened; 11387 shows the correct perspective. The curvature of the hindwing suggests male.

220
11369 M

I'm guessing this a male, based on its puddling behaviour, even though the hindwing shape points to female. It could just be taking moisture from the ground but, as I've commented elsewhere, it is not clear to me to what extent females actually puddle. This puddling behaviour is quite common in France, for most species, but only on one or two occasions can I say for certain that I have seen a female puddling for sure. Certainly all the puddling blues, where it is easy to identify the sexes, have all been males. Comment invited.

450
11387 M

a similar comment to 11369.

450
26061 M one of a number of celtis nectaring on Bramble. 800
33918 F I'm guessing this is a female, based on the straightness of the hindwing at the anal angle. 820

 

4702_female_Var_15Apr07

 

16276_sex?_Var_20Jun09

 

11369_male_Var_21Jun08

 

11387_male_Var_21Jun08

 

26061_male_Var_28Jun11

 

33918_female_Alpes-de-Haute-Provence_15Jul13