Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia)

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2021 photographs highlighted in yellow. Click on any photograph to go to an enlarged picture, or simply scroll down the page.

21631_male_Alpes-Maritimes_7Jul10 21909_male_Hautes-Alpes_11Jul10 22673_male_Isère_18Jul10
24721_male_Var_13May11 33597_male_Alpes-Maritimes_9Jul13 35507_male_Var_19Jun14
35319_female_Var_7Jun14 34319_female_Var_10Sep13 30157_female_Alpes-Maritimes_1Jul12
17028_female_Var_30Jun09 48408_female_Pyrénées-Orientales_12Jul21 48296_male_Hautes-Pyrénées_10Jul21
48501_male_Lozère_15Jul21 21848_male_Alpes-Maritimes_9Jul10 15383_male_Var_23May09
11207_male_Rhône_15Jun08 45211_male_Alpes-Maritimes_2Jul18 33335_pair_Hautes-Alpes_3Jul13
a brief (38 seconds) YouTube video of two males taking salts  
34968_female_Var_27May14    

A rare and localised butterfly in England, but common and widely distributed in most of France, especially in the south, where it is often the most common species. It is also subject to considerable variation, which can make differentiation from its close ex-Mellicta cousins, especially the Meadow Fritillary (M. parthenoides) and the Provençal Fritillary (M. deione), very difficult.

 

This species was previously known as Mellicta athalia. In the new European taxonomy, the erstwhile Mellicta group of fritillaries are now included in the Melitaea genus. The undersides of the Mellicta species were very similar so in some circumstances it is convenient to refer to the ex-Mellicta group.

 

One identification clue that seems consistent, is that the black shading around both the upf and the unf marginal lunule in s2 is very noticeably heavy. This seems consistent for athalia and conversely not so for other ex-Mellicta species. Of course, enough of the unf has to be visible to see the s2 lunule for this clue to be useful.

The precise taxonomy of this species is not entirely clear. It seems generally recognised that the athalia from southern France (or at least the south-east) were of the subspecies celadussa. However, it is now being suggested by CEN-PACA (http://www.cen-paca.org/index.php?rub=3&pag=3_12_5especes&cd_nom=713029) that this is now considered as a separate species known as M. helvetica. It is certainly true that the helvetica illustrated by CEN-PACA very closely resemble those I see in Var (of which 21631 is very typical), although this revision does not yet seem to have been verified in the "official" classification.

 

In the 2017 taxonomy, celadussa was split from athalia and considered a separate species, (helpfully) renamed as nevadensis. However, in the 2019 classification, only athalia (Heath Fritillary) and celadussa (Southern Heath Fritillary) are listed. It is not clear to me where the dividing line between athalia and celadussa occurs, but it can safely be assumed that all on this page from the PACA region are celadussa.

 

One objectives of my biannual trips to the Pyrénées is to see and photograph the False Heath Fritillary (M. diamina) subspecies vernetensis (see comments on the diamina page) which flies in parts of that region and is superficially similar to athalia. In that context, I look closely at any athalia-like species in the region. 48408 and, to a lesser extent, 48292 have left me wondering; comments below.

ref

sex

observations

alt. m

21631

M

a typical male of the rather sombre high altitude athalia.

1400

21909

M

an unusually bright and rather orange athalia, considering the altitude.

1750

22673

M

another high altitude sombre athalia, even more so than 21631.

1120

24721

M

a typical male, rather lightly marked, and with an absent uph post-discal line, a feature which can sometimes lead to confusion with parthenoides where the discal line is always missing (or very faint). The absence of this line in athalia is not uncommon is this region.

140

33597

M

a male, warming up in the early morning sun.

1600

35507

M

a very typical male.

780

35319

F

a very dark female, unusual given the low altitude.

220

34319

F

a female, with quite thin and well-defined black lines, especially on the hindwing.

220

30157

F

a female, not particularly typical of athalia, but I think every other option can be eliminated.

1320

17028

F

a female which I believe had just emerged and was drying its wings before its maiden flight.  

920

48408 F this female looked so far removed from any other athalia I have seen, given that athalia is a hugely variable species, that diamina vernetensis seemed at least possible. However, the heavy shading around upf marginal s2 pointed strongly to athalia, and the upf discal s2 mark looked good for athalia and unlike the characteristic diamina mark, that athalia is strong favourite for 48408, a view shared by one of the UK's leading experts. 1360
48296 M a male, taking salts from the ground. While it had the "look" of athalia, the rather yellow-filled unh marginal band was a pointer (of sorts - compare with other athalia on this page) to diamina and therefore probably vernetensis, and it appears (though I can't be sure) that the unf lunule in s2 is just visible and shows no sign of the heavy shading that would be expected of athalia. However, there are no clear dark spots in the post-discal band which would appear to rule out diamina. This view was shared by one of the UK's leading experts. 1560
48501 M a male, rather pale in colouring, although apparently fresh. It seems that specimens of other species, not just athalia, are rather different in Lozère than elsewhere. 1540

21848

M

a male taking salts from a sheep's crotte.

1600

15383

M

a male, puddling. It seemed rather more red-orange than most athalia.

140

11207

M

a male underside.

165

45211

M

a male, puddling, with very much reduced markings.

1400

11950

F

a more typical female underside with rather more colour contrast.

1580

33335

PAIR

a mating pair.

1430

34968

F

a courting pair, female below as confirmed by a view of the uppersides.

220

 

A brief (38 seconds) YouTube video of two males taking salts.

Best viewed at 1080.

 

 

21631_male_Alpes-Maritimes_7Jul10

 

21909_male_Hautes-Alpes_11Jul10

 

22673_male_Isère_18Jul10

 

24721_male_Var_13May11

 

33597_male_Alpes-Maritimes_9Jul13

 

35507_male_Var_19Jun14

 

35319_female_Var_7Jun14

 

34319_female_Var_10Sep13

 

30157_female_Alpes-Maritimes_1Jul12

 

17028_female_Var_30Jun09

 

48408_female_Pyrénées-Orientales_12Jul21

 

48296_male_Hautes-Pyrénées_10Jul21

 

48501_male_Lozère_15Jul21

 

21848_male_Alpes-Maritimes_9Jul10

 

15383_male_Var_23May09

 

11207_male_Rhône_15Jun08

 

45211_male_Alpes-Maritimes_2Jul18

 

33335_pair_Hautes-Alpes_3Jul13

 

34968_female_Var_27May14