Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia)

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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.

21631_male_Alpes-Maritimes_7Jul10 21909_male_Hautes-Alpes_11Jul10 22673_male_Isère_18Jul10
24721_male_Var_13May11 33597_male_Alpes-Maritimes_9Jul13 35507_male_Var_19Jun14
35319_female_Var_7Jun14 34319_female_Var_10Sep13 30157_female_Alpes-Maritimes_1Jul12
17028_female_Var_30Jun09 21848_male_Alpes-Maritimes_9Jul10 15383_male_Var_23May09
11207_male_Rhône_15Jun08 33335_pair_Hautes-Alpes_3Jul13 34968_female_Var_27May14

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.

ref sex

observations

alt. m
21631 M

a typical male of the rather sombre high altitude athalia.

1400
21909 M

an unusually bright and rather orange athalia, considering the altitude.

1750
22673 M

another high altitude sombre athalia, even more so than 21631.

1120
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
17028 F

a female which I believe had just emerged and was drying its wings before its maiden flight.  

920
21848 M

a male taking salts from a sheep's crotte.

1600
15383 M

a male, puddling. It seemed rather more red-orange than most athalia.

140
11207 M

a male underside.

165
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

 

21631_male_Alpes-Maritimes_7Jul10

 

21909_male_Hautes-Alpes_11Jul10

 

22673_male_Isère_18Jul10

 

24721_male_Var_13May11

 

33597_male_Alpes-Maritimes_9Jul13

 

35507_male_Var_19Jun14

 

35319_female_Var_7Jun14

 

34319_female_Var_10Sep13

 

30157_female_Alpes-Maritimes_1Jul12

 

17028_female_Var_30Jun09

 

21848_male_Alpes-Maritimes_9Jul10

 

15383_male_Var_23May09

 

11207_male_Rhône_15Jun08

 

33335_pair_Hautes-Alpes_3Jul13

 

34968_female_Var_27May14