Knapweed Fritillary (Melitaea phoebe)

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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.

7796_male_Alpes-de-Haute-Provence_2Jul07 12038_male_Alpes-de-Haute-Provence_6Jul08 21671_male_Alpes-Maritimes_7Jul10
24802_male_Var_15May11 26523_male_Alpes-Maritimes_07Jul11 32096_female_Var_8May13
41117_male_Hautes-Alpes_8Jul16 41129_male_Hautes-Alpes_8Jul16 40381_female_Var_8May16
24431_female_Alpes-de-Haute-Provence_02May11 10456_female_Alpes-Maritimes_9May08 29824_female_Var_10Jun12
26557_male_Alpes-Maritimes_08Jul11 26822_male_Alpes-Maritimes_09Jul11 21651_male_Alpes-Maritimes_7Jul10
21309_male?_Alpes-Maritimes_3Jul10 36036_sex?_Hautes-Alpes_13Jul14 33317_female_Hautes-Alpes_2Jul13

Quite common and widely distributed in southern France, but not usually found in large numbers. It is distinguishable from other Melitaea species by the very large upf marginal lunule in s3 - other species may have a large-ish s3 lunule, but none have such a difference between s3 and adjacent ones as phoebe. The female is larger than the male and sometimes has a greyish suffusion. It has quite a wide altitude range, being found at 2000m plus, but is also widely distributed at low levels. It is an early emerger, one of the first fritillaries on the wing.

 

It is, in my experience, an extremely variable species, with some specimens very light orange and hardly marked, to quite dark with a large contrast between the bands (e.g. 7796), even from the same location and same time of year. It also seems to be quite prone to aberrations, two examples of which are shown on this page. It would be hard to believe that all of the specimens shown on this page are in fact the same species.

The underside pattern is typical of the Melitaea genus, as compared to those of the erstwhile Mellicta genus which bear greater upperside resemblance to phoebe. However, in 2010 the new European taxonomy was issued which groups the Mellicta fritillaries species under the Melitaea genus. A view of the underside should make identification straightforward, and the unh post-discal spaces each contain a large round centrally-positioned red spot.

 

In the past decade, it has been discovered that an almost-identical species Melitaea ogygia occurs in parts of eastern Europe and is believed to occur in Provence in France. Phoebe and ogygia are almost impossible to tell apart by studying the adults, but the larvae are significantly different. The only reference source I can locate is Tristan Lafranchis' recently-issued DVD-ROM.

 

There is also a closely-related species M. telona (known as the Sicilian Fritillary), conspecific with M. ornata (and probably synonymous) which is believed not to occur in France, but there is much about the "phoebe" group which is still not fully known.

ref sex

observations

alt. m
7796 M

a typical dark male, with significant colour variation between the bands.

1470
12038 M

a very red-orange specimen, with limited upf markings and very little colour contrast between the bands.

1550
21671 M

an unusual aberration in that the margins are very wide and dark, and the discal regions are almost unmarked. 21651 is the underside, so it was bizarre on both surfaces. It probably needs a view of both surfaces to feel reasonably confident that this is phoebe, and even then it is not 100% certain.

1400
24802 M a very fresh male, beautifully orange such that the paler marginal lunules stand out very clearly. 280
26523 M a very lightly marked male, given the high altitude. This is probably typical of phoebe from this region. 1400
32096 F a particularly lightly marked female, especially on the forewings. 480
41117 M a male, very similar to 7796 which is from the same altitude range. 1490
41129 M a male, rather reddish and with marked colour contrast between the bands. Phoebe of this appearance are sometimes, understandably, confused with the Provenšal Fritillary (Melitaea deione), although the extended upf lunule in s3 removes any doubt. Surprisingly, this was photographed at the same time and location as 41117 which has a completely different appearance. 1490
40381 F a rather lightly marked female, not uncommon form this region, fairly deep orange-red and with heavy black borders, especially on the forewing. 220
24431 F a mating pair, the lightly marked female on top with open wings as is often the case. 700
10456 F

a dusky dark female, quite dull. The left upf wingtip is slightly malformed.

1000
29824 F another rather bizarre specimen, very lightly marked except that the submarginal lunules are very heavy. 220
26557 M a rather unusual underside in that the discal marks are rather elongated and slightly sagittate externally. The general colouring is quite beige. 1400
26822 M a male underside, slightly unusual in that it is rather white. 1700
21651 M

the underside of 21671, probably even more of an aberration than the upperside.

1400
21309 M

this male seems unaware that just behind him a crab spider has another phoebe in its grasp.

1320
36036 ? a typical underside, from high altitude. 2020
33317 F a female underside, quite lightly marked and pale although apparently fresh. 1750

 

7796_male_Alpes-de-Haute-Provence_2Jul07

 

12038_male_Alpes-de-Haute-Provence_6Jul08

 

21671_male_Alpes-Maritimes_7Jul10

 

24802_male_Var_15May11

 

26523_male_Alpes-Maritimes_07Jul11

 

32096_female_Var_8May13

 

41117_male_Hautes-Alpes_8Jul16

 

41129_male_Hautes-Alpes_8Jul16

 

40381_female_Var_8May16

 

24431_female_Alpes-de-Haute-Provence_02May11

 

10456_female_Alpes-Maritimes_9May08

 

29824_female_Var_10Jun12

 

26557_male_Alpes-Maritimes_08Jul11

 

26822_male_Alpes-Maritimes_09Jul11

 

21651_male_Alpes-Maritimes_7Jul10

 

21309_male?_Alpes-Maritimes_3Jul10

 

36036_sex?_Hautes-Alpes_13Jul14

 

33317_female_Hautes-Alpes_2Jul13