Black Satyr (Satyrus actaea)

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2018 photographs highlighted in green. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

44368_male_Var_16Jul17 33836_male_Var_13Jul13 44254_female_Bouches-du-Rhône_16Jul17
44286_female_Var_16Jul17 44291_female_Var_16Jul17 44632_female_Alpes-Maritimes_19Jul17

Actaea is not particularly common and I have rarely 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 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 usually in Var at that time. However, in 2017 I made travel plans to ensure that I was at two known sites in mid-July. Even that might have been a little late, as females were preponderant at the time I was there, hence the selection of photographs on this page. 

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sex

observations

alt. m

44368 M a male (above) courting the female below. It appears that there may be a second lower ocellus (which would indicate ferula rather than actaea) on the forewing, as there is a small white mark. On an expanded view, it is clear that this is just a reflection on a vein, maybe where it catches the sun. In any event, a second ocellus would in the space between the veins, not on a vein. Additionally, it is courting what is clearly a female actaea. 680

33836

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.

680

44254 F a female. All of the females on this page are very similar, indicating that there is relatively little variation in the female underside - contrast with the female ferula underside, which is really quite variable. 640
44286 F another female underside, from the same location as 44254. 680
44291 F another female underside, from the same location as 44254. 680
44632 F another female underside, but this time from the same location as 44254. 1000

 

44368_male_Var_16Jul17

 

33836_male_Var_13Jul13

 

44254_female_Bouches-du-Rhône_16Jul17

 

44286_female_Var_16Jul17

 

44291_female_Var_16Jul17

 

44632_female_Alpes-Maritimes_19Jul17