Sooty Ringlet (Erebia pluto)

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2023 photographs highlighted in green. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

44787_male_Alpes-Maritimes_22Jul17 44793_male_Alpes-Maritimes_22Jul17 46682_male_Alpes-Maritimes_18Jul19 46686_male_Alpes-Maritimes_18Jul19
47413_male_Alpes-Maritimes_16Jul20 44759_male_Alpes-Maritimes_22Jul17 49581_male_Alpes-Maritimes_3Jul22  

A very difficult species to see, as it flies at over 2000m and usually considerably above that. It also has a habit of flying non-stop over steep rocky scree, which makes photography almost impossible. It is said to stop open-winged in overcast conditions, but I have yet to see this.


It lives up to its English name as the nominate form is almost completely black and unmarked on the upperside, and not a lot different on the underside. It is a medium sized Erebia, and its colour, size, and the location and manner of its flight mean that it can be identified with some degree of confidence when seen in flight, mainly because there are no real alternatives.


I saw pluto for the first time in 2015 at a location at 2200m in the Hautes-Alpes but photography was impossible. I saw it again in 2016 at a different location, but here it was flying non-stop and I only managed one distance shot; this shot was hardly discernible but it was possible to make out two pin-prick ocelli on the forewing. This led me to wonder if pluto could have ocelli. On checking with all available books and web sites, it appears that there are pluto subspecies that do have ocelli, but they do not fly in France, so the specimen I photographed in 2016 could not have been pluto and I have removed the image, whatever it was, from this page.


The nominate species occurs in the Alpes-Maritimes and the southern French Alpes, whereas the subspecies oreas flies further north in Savoie, according to T&L. Oreas differs in that it has a clear upf red post-discal band, also without ocelli. However, 46686 looks suspiciously like oreas, or at least transitional to it, and it was seen as far south as the Alpes-Maritimes. It has been suggested (see below) that it is possible for oreas to have small ocelli.

H&R says the upperside of nominate pluto is unmarked, and is very specific about this. TLID unhelpfully does not reference oreas (it is a compact work and does not reference any subspecies) but describes "pluto" as having dark reddish post-discal bands (which describes oreas rather than nominate pluto) with or without black ocelli. So, it appears that H&R and Lafranchis are not in agreement on this.


As mentioned, it tends to fly up and down rocky scree, which makes it difficult and dangerous to attempt to get too close. The next photographic opportunities arrived in 2017 and 2019 when the steep rocky scree was below the track, rather than above it, as would normally be the case. Both pluto and the Silky Ringlet (E. gorge) were flying at this spot. they could be seen flying up and down the rocky scree and very occasionally came over the top to settle briefly on the track. They were still very difficult to approach, so these shots from 2019 are only marginally better than earlier ones.


Persistence is sometimes rewarded by the powers that control photographic opportunities to enthusiastic lepidopterists and another visit to the same location was made in 2020 (in line with pandemic restrictions). This male was engaged in a courtship ritual with the female in shot, a rare venture above the rocky scree and settling on the track. The opportunity to get a photograph had to be taken quickly as they do not stop for long on the track, the more so that a number of motorcycles, which plague this part of the world, passed by. It may not be a great shot, but in the context of my other rather inadequate black smudges, it was at least a definite improvement.




alt. m

44787 M a distance shot of a male, nectaring. It was constantly on the move, but at least this shot shows the consistent black colouring and unmarked nature of the upperside. 2710
44793 M another distance shot but at least it had come to rest. This shows clearly that there are no upf ocelli. 2710
46682 M more distance shots from 2019. This looks to be nominate pluto albeit with a the suggestion of a red upf post-discal band which would be indicative of oreas (see notes above), which allegedly (see 46682 below) flies only in Savoie and Haute-Savoie. Maybe it can be "transitional to" oreas in the regions of the Hautes-Alpes that border Savoie. However, 46682 was seen at a location in the centre of the Hautes-Alpes and nowhere near Savoie. 2710
46686 M if 46682 had a suggestion of a red upf post-discal band indicative of oreas, then 46686, from the same location, looks to be a midway between nominate pluto and oreas, demonstrating that the stated distributions of many subspecies (see also the notes on E. meolans ssp. bejarensis) are not as definitive as often stated in the books. 2710
47413 M a male of the nominate form. There are only the merest traces of a red post-discal band, so 47413 can be considered, to all intents and purposes, as the nominate form. It was engaged in a courtship ritual (see comment above) and the female target of its affections is visible in front of it. 2710
44759 M another distance shot, this time of the underside, showing that the underside mirrors the upperside in colour and absence of markings. 2710
49581 M  a male, very similar to 44759 but a little clearer. It is the nature of pluto that these are often the best shots it is possible to get. 2710