Black Satyr (Satyrus actaea)

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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.

33836_male_Var_13Jul13 3297_male_Alpes-Maritimes_27Jul06 3292_female_Alpes-Maritimes_27Jul06

Actaea is not particularly common and I have never seen it in good numbers. It is a butterfly of medium altitudes, usually found from 500 to 1200m, although Lafranchis gives the altitude range as 0-1600m.


Actaea is essentially an Iberian species with a distribution extending eastwards, reaching Var and the Alpes-Maritimes, whereas the closely-related Great Sooty Satyr (S. ferula) has a distribution principally in the Balkan region but extending westwards through the southern Alpes and the upland areas of southern France and into the Pyrénées.


It is quite similar to ferula which is much more common, the problems of identification being made more difficult by the variability of ferula, but ferula has two ocelli on the forewing (on both the upperside and underside) while actaea has only one, and ferula is generally larger.


The ocelli identification clue is not particularly helpful in the field because neither settle very often with open wings, and usually the forewing is lowered when the wings are closed, making it impossible to see whether a second ocellus exists. The unh of both ferula and actaea are only slightly different, with male actaea having a more jagged discal line and a distinctive white submarginal band.
However, the discal line of ferula can be quite serrated and still be within the range for ferula. The jaggedness of the line has to be really quite accentuated to be in the frame for actaea. Additionally, ferula can be quite black in ground colour, so this is not a reliable indication. The only really sure way to tell is by seeing the forewing ocelli on either the upperside or underside.

I previously had one example on this page which I had included here although not without significant doubts regarding the jaggedness of the discal line, which I am now fairly sure - thanks to input from an expert with greater experience of actaea than I have - has to be ferula.

I have concluded that the flight period, being late July and August, is the principal reason why I have not seen more actaea as I am not in Var at that time.




alt. m



a clear example of actaea, strong jagged discal line with a white post-discal band, and very dark indicating why this species has black in its name.




a typical male underside, a white irrorated post-discal band.




a weak but very jagged discal line, characteristic of female actaea, and a generally irrorated unh especially in the basal area.


42095 F a female, very much at the end of the flight period at the end of August, but opportunities to get photographs of this species are infrequent. Despite the wear, the jagged discal line is quite apparent. 680