Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia)
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2017 photographs highlighted in yellow. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.
A rare and localised butterfly in England, but common and widely distributed in most of France, especially in the south, where it is often the most common species. It is also subject to considerable variation, which can make differentiation from its close ex-Mellicta cousins, especially the Meadow Fritillary (M. parthenoides) and the Provençal Fritillary (M. deione), very difficult.
This species was previously known as Mellicta athalia. In the new European taxonomy, the erstwhile Mellicta group of fritillaries are now included in the Melitaea genus. The undersides of the Mellicta species were very similar so in some circumstances it is convenient to refer to the ex-Mellicta group.
One identification clue that seems consistent, is that the black shading around both the unf and the unh marginal lunule in s2 is very noticeably heavy. This seems consistent for athalia and conversely not so for other ex-Mellicta species. Of course, enough of the unf has to be visible to see the s2 lunule for this clue to be useful.
The precise taxonomy of this species is not entirely clear. It seems generally recognised that the athalia from southern France (or at least the south-east) were of the subspecies celadussa. However, it is now being suggested by CEN-PACA (http://www.cen-paca.org/index.php?rub=3&pag=3_12_5especes&cd_nom=713029) that this is now considered as a separate species known as M. helvetica. It is certainly true that the helvetica illustrated by CEN-PACA very closely resemble those I see in Var (of which 21631 is very typical), although this revision does not yet seem to have been verified in the "official" classification.
In the 2017 taxonomy, celadussa was split from athalia and considered a separate species, (helpfully) renamed as nevadensis.
a typical male of the rather sombre high altitude athalia.
an unusually bright and rather orange athalia, considering the altitude.
another high altitude sombre athalia, even more so than 21631.
|24721||M||a typical male, rather lightly marked, and with an absent uph post-discal line, a feature which can sometimes lead to confusion with parthenoides where the discal line is always missing (or very faint). The absence of this line in athalia is not uncommon is this region.||140|
|33597||M||a male, warming up in the early morning sun.||1600|
|35507||M||a very typical male.||780|
|35319||F||a very dark female, unusual given the low altitude.||220|
|34319||F||a female, with quite thin and well-defined black lines, especially on the hindwing.||220|
|30157||F||a female, not particularly typical of athalia, but I think every other option can be eliminated.||1320|
a female which I believe had just emerged and was drying its wings before its maiden flight.
a male taking salts from a sheep's crotte.
a male, puddling. It seemed rather more red-orange than most athalia.
a male underside.
|11950||F||a more typical female underside with rather more colour contrast.||1580|
|33335||PAIR||a mating pair.||1430|
|34968||F||a courting pair, female below as confirmed by a view of the uppersides.||220|