Larche Ringlet (Erebia scipio)

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2022 photographs highlighted in blue. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.



48602_male_Hautes-Alpes_20Jul21 48599_male_Hautes-Alpes_20Jul21

Erebia scipio is a highly elusive and localised species. Its distribution is limited to the southern French Alpes and a small section of the Alpes-Maritimes across the border in Italy. I have only seen this species on one occasion, in July 2020 (in line with pandemic restrictions), and only one specimen. I was in a known exact location (thanks to my French friend PD for the information) but I have some serious reservations, outlined below.


It would appear that is has disappeared from a number of its former haunts. An English lepidopterist with an excellent track record of finding rare species recently spent a number of days in the accepted scipio stronghold (to use the word in its loosest sense) in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence without success.


The reason I believe it is (or could be) scipio is that I spent a minute or two studying this individual at a distance through my Papilio binoculars when it had its wings closed and the unh appeared entirely black with no mottling that would indicate the only other candidate, Marbled Ringlet (E. montana). However, repeating a mistake I have made too frequently, I spent too much time looking and failed to get a photograph of the underside. By the time I got the camera into action, all I could get were these two images, albeit reasonably clear as distance shots.

So what are/were the reasons for my doubts?

1. I would expect the uph red post-discal band to be rather wider for scipio.

2. I would expect the uph ocelli to be slightly larger for scipio.

3. I would expect the ocelli to be better aligned and not slightly offset for scipio. This is a major reservation.

4. It is said that scipio is "usually without hindwing ocelli". These are very small ocelli and located at the very outer edge of the uph post-discal band. For montana, I would expect the ocelli to be larger and more centrally located within the band, a pointer away from montana. The recently-published Atlas by CEN-PACA shows only an image of the underside hindwing. This is not very clear but does appear to show a unh reddish band with two small ocelli at the edge of the band.


However, an internet search (not that there any many useful images available anywhere) shows images of smaller ocelli, ocelli not quite aligned, and hindwing vestigial ocelli.


Despite scouring this location with binoculars for another two hours, I did not see another. The date would have been a the start of the flight period, so this fresh male may have been the first to emerge. The only other Erebia at this location were Piedmont Ringlet (E. meolans) - image 47270 on that page - and False Mnestra Ringlet (E. aethiopella), ubiquitous in this region.


I intend to make another trip to the same location in 2021 if the pandemic restrictions permit. And I will remember to get an underside photograph if the opportunity arises. 2021 update - I did - see below.




alt. m



a male. See comment above. 47260 is the same butterfly. 2021 update: the upf red post-discal band almost exactly matches 48602 (shown to be scipio beyond, I think, any doubt), so 47257 is almost certainly scipio as a coincidence would be far too unlikely.


Also, studying images of montana shows that the upf red post-discal band is "waisted" i.e. constricted in the middle, in each space between the veins, at least to some degree. 47257 does not show this to any extent, a further strong indication that 47257 is not montana.


In addition, the montana uph red post-discal band shows a similar degree of "waisting" most apparent in that the external edge is always ("always" is a risky word to use in terms of butterfly markings) concave, sometimes to a very marked degree. I feel that the evidence is sufficiently conclusive to show that 47257 is scipio.


Whenever, a rare species is involved, or a species "you want it to be", the identification criteria become more stringent and the need for objectivity is greater. Not always easy, though.




a male. See comment above. 47257 is the same butterfly.


48602 M a male, from the same location, as may be inferred from the altitude. This was the only scipio I saw and, as it was puddling quite close to me, I was able to get a good view of both surfaces. I saw enough of the uph to see that there were no ocelli, and the underside (see 48599 below) to be 100% that this is indeed scipio. 2290
48599 M a male, the underside of 48602. This clearly is solid black with no mottling or marbling that might otherwise indicate montana and a close look is needed as some male montana can appear solid black from a distance but close inspection reveals a degree of marbling (although at this degree it can hardly be called marbling, whatever "marbling" may be). 2290