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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.
Quite common and widely distributed in southern France, but not usually found in large numbers. It is distinguishable from other Melitaea species by the very large upf marginal lunule in s3 - other species may have a large-ish s3 lunule, but none have such a difference between s3 and adjacent ones as phoebe. The female is larger than the male and sometimes has a greyish suffusion. It has quite a wide altitude range, being found at 2000m plus, but is also widely distributed at low levels. It is an early emerger, one of the first fritillaries on the wing.
It is, in my experience, an extremely variable species, with some specimens very light orange and hardly marked, to quite dark with a large contrast between the bands (e.g. 7796), even from the same location and same time of year. It also seems to be quite prone to aberrations, two examples of which are shown on this page. It would be hard to believe that all of the specimens shown on this page are in fact the same species.
The underside pattern is typical of the Melitaea genus, as compared to those of the erstwhile Mellicta genus which bear greater upperside resemblance to phoebe. However, in 2010 a new European taxonomy was issued which groups the Mellicta fritillaries species under the Melitaea genus. A view of the underside should make identification straightforward, and the unh post-discal spaces each contain a large round centrally-positioned red spot.
In the past decade, it has been discovered that an almost-identical species Melitaea ogygia occurs in parts of eastern Europe and is believed to occur in Provence in France. Phoebe and ogygia are almost impossible to tell apart by studying the adults, but the larvae are significantly different. The only reference source I can locate is Tristan Lafranchis' recently-issued DVD-ROM.
There is also a closely-related species M. telona (known as the Sicilian Fritillary), conspecific with M. ornata (and probably synonymous) which is believed not to occur in France, but there is much about the "phoebe" group which is still not fully known. M. ornata is described in the 2019 classification as the Eastern Knapweed Fritillary.
a typical dark male, with significant colour variation between the bands.
a very red-orange specimen, with limited upf markings and very little colour contrast between the bands.
an unusual aberration in that the margins are very wide and dark, and the discal regions are almost unmarked. 21651 is the underside, so it was bizarre on both surfaces. It probably needs a view of both surfaces to feel reasonably confident that this is phoebe, and even then it is not 100% certain.
|24802||M||a very fresh male, beautifully orange such that the paler marginal lunules stand out very clearly.||280|
|26523||M||a very lightly marked male, given the high altitude. This is probably typical of phoebe from this region.||1400|
|32096||F||a particularly lightly marked female, especially on the forewings.||480|
|41117||M||a male, very similar to 7796 which is from the same altitude range.||1490|
|41129||M||a male, rather reddish and with marked colour contrast between the bands. Phoebe of this appearance are sometimes, understandably, confused with the Provenšal Fritillary (M. deione), although the extended upf lunule in s3 removes any doubt. Surprisingly, this was photographed at the same time and location as 41117 which has a completely different appearance.||1490|
|40381||F||a rather lightly marked female, not uncommon from this region, fairly deep orange-red and with heavy black borders, especially on the forewing.||220|
|24431||F||a mating pair, the lightly marked female on top with open wings as is often the case.||700|
a dusky dark female, quite dull. The left upf wingtip is slightly malformed.
|29824||F||another rather bizarre specimen, very lightly marked except that the submarginal lunules are very heavy.||220|
|26557||M||a rather unusual underside in that the discal marks are rather elongated and slightly sagittate externally. The general colouring is quite beige.||1400|
|26822||M||a male underside, slightly unusual in that it is rather white.||1700|
the underside of 21671, probably even more of an aberration than the upperside.
this male seems unaware that just behind him a crab spider has another phoebe in its grasp.
|36036||?||a typical underside, from high altitude.||2020|
|33317||F||a female underside, quite lightly marked and pale although apparently fresh.||1750|