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A year when "lockdown" became the word of the year, for reasons we are unlikely to forget. I would normally spend the months of April to September in southern France, but of course in 2020 this was not possible. However, the virus relented in the summer and I was very fortunate to be able to spend some time in the Alpes in July. I would comment that I was very impressed at the extent of anti-Covid precautions everywhere I went, especially as my travels were mainly in the more remote and sparsely-populated parts of the Alpes. I managed to see 140 species and thus have some material with which to update this site.
These photographs were taken over 2006-2020 (a few are from earlier years) mostly in southern France, principally Var.
The website is principally for interest and to actively invite comment and feedback. The commentaries are largely based on my own observations, in particular the comparison of identification and distribution/altitude information given in leading reference books with my own experiences - which sometimes diverge.
I hope that the more people who see the beauty of these fascinating creatures, the more it will lead to an appreciation that we need to be more pro-active in protecting them against the actions of humans that seem to only be concerned with "development" and monetary profit. This is particularly true in the UK, where species are declining at alarming rates, resulting in a number of extinctions in the past two or three decades. The work of Butterfly Conservation is vital - if you feel strongly about this and are not already a member of BC (http://www.butterfly-conservation.org/), I urge you to join.
Prior to 2006, I used a Canon 500 film camera with a Sigma 105mm macro lens. At the beginning of 2006, I decided to "go digital", as it was time-consuming to scan the negatives for images, plus the loss of resolution, and bought a Canon 20D, still with the 105mm lens. At the start of 2007 I upgraded the lens to a Sigma 150mm macro, mainly because the 150mm lens does not extend when focussing (the 105mm did, and occasionally scared the subject off), it is silent when focussing (the 105mm makes a slight whirring), and greater working distance for the same size image. In 2016 I upgraded from the then-ten-year-old Canon 20D to a Canon 70D which has a much greater resolution, hence the larger photographs (1500 pixel width) from 2016 onward, and a video capability which I am just getting to grips with. Some pre-2016 photographs that are of sufficient resolution have also been expanded to 1500 pixel width.
I bought a cheap tripod in 2005 in case I found I needed it, but it stayed in its case until... I was persuaded in May 2007 to persevere with it, and to compare the results of hand-held and tripod. I am now convinced and have converted from the "why do you need a tripod, hand-held is perfectly good" camp to the "look closely and you'll see the blur caused by camera shake" camp. The cheap tripod served its purpose, and I bought a Manfrotto Neotec with a ball-joint head for 2008, as the speed of set up is vital in the field.
From an English perspective, it's hard to get your head round the fact that the Heath Fritillary (Melitaea athalia) and Adonis Blue (Polyommatus bellargus) are widespread and relatively common species.
Butterfly watching in England has been (and still is) highly enjoyable over the past four decades but you know you’re unlikely to see anything unexpected. And that’s the thing about France – there are just so many species (about 237 mainland species, plus a few Corsica endemics) that you never know what you’re going to see. Much of France is under-recorded and it is quite possible to see species in areas where they are "not supposed to be". Much of the country, especially in the mountainous or pre-mountainous areas, is undeveloped and the butterflies are as numerous as they have been for centuries.
There is, incidentally, a very good guide to the regions of France on the EIG web site: http://www.bc-eig.org.uk/countries.html. This is being enhanced as information on other regions becomes available.
T&L is the best European publication for illustrations, which include most major variations, absolutely necessary for identification purposes. Richard Lewington’s illustrations are superb - you have to look twice to realise that they are drawings, not actual photographs. This easily compensates for the text part of the book, where my experience is that the information regarding distributions, altitudes and flight periods is often unreliable. The text is very brief and seems to rely heavily on the illustrations, rather than attempting to give detailed textual guidance on identification features. It is worth buying for the illustrations alone.
The book "Les Papillons de Jour de France" (in French) by Tristan Lafranchis (on species pages referred to as "TLFr") is very thorough and is packed full of very accurate and current information on distributions by département, larval hostplants, flight periods and altitude ranges. You have to have some knowledge of French but it is worth buying for anyone planning to spend time in France. I was rather disappointed at the number and quality of photographs, but it is worth buying for the information alone. Available from the author at email@example.com.
In 2004 Lafranchis published (in English and other languages) "Butterflies of Europe", focusing on identifying European butterflies (on species pages referred to as "TLID"). At 350 pages it is generally considered to be the best European identification field guide. It is available from the author firstname.lastname@example.org. A DVD-ROM version of this book has 3-4000 photographs (imago, caterpillar, hostplants, habitats), additions and updates (three new species: Polyommatus orphicus, P. eleniae, Melitaea ogygia) and is also available from the author.
I had originally followed the taxonomy (classification) and nomenclature in Lafranchis' identification book (TLID) on this web site. The taxonomy of European butterflies is a highly contentious subject and there were numerous differences between experts until 2010, when a (hopefully) final consensus was reached among taxonomists, resulting in new scientific names for many species; as the long-established scientific names were generally well-known and understood, I retained these until 2015 when I changed all scientific names to the new taxonomy as it was by then generally recognised and in wide usage. The species list shows the new scientific names for those species that were renamed, together with their previous names for reference purposes. However... in 2016 and again in 2019 the taxonomists couldn't resist having another go, and several species were reclassified, some to their pre-2010 nomenclature. I have retained the 2010 taxonomy, as an update to reflect the new taxonomy would be a major undertaking but I have noted the 2019 changes in the species list.
Pictures and identification
Photographs are shown at the top of each species page as a grid of 400x267 pixel images for comparison purposes, with larger versions below - click on the grid image to go to the larger image. Some early (pre-2005) photographs do not have enlarged versions.
Even with the aid of enlarged photographs and many excellent reference works, it is still quite difficult to identify certain species with any degree of certainty, especially the Pyrgus genus of grizzled skippers. So the identifications are my “best guesses” in many cases and any comments are welcome – via the contact page. I am indebted to several experts on European butterflies who have knowledge about the identification of difficult species that is greater than even the more detailed books, in particular Tim Cowles, Guy Padfield and Matt Rowlings. They all have excellent web sites and there are links to them on the links page.
I have used the standard notation to describe wing-areas, e.g. upf for upperside forewing, uph for the upperside hindwing and similarly unf and unh for the underside. The areas of each wing are defined as basal, discal, marginal etc and the specific locations (especially relevant with regard to the positions of eye spots or "ocelli") by the “space” between veins e.g. s6. For simplicity, the wing diagram from Butterflies of Europe by Tristan Lafranchis can be found here. Permission has been granted by the author for the use of this diagram on this web site.
I have endeavoured to differentiate between "subspecies" and "form" as defined in H&R, in that a subspecies relates to differing populations of a species that occupy separate although often contiguous areas, and, as such, may be considered separate geographical races. A form may be any recognisable variant, e.g. female form, seasonal form i.e. different broods, local forms that co-exist with the nominate form, or a variety or aberration.
Incidentally, I would not catch any butterfly for the purposes of identification or photography. I have no problem with the use of nets for scientific purposes such as identification of species where photographs alone would not be enough. Every photograph was taken in the wild without disturbing the subject.
All photographs are copyright Roger Gibbons. I am in principle happy to grant permission for non-commercial use; contact me via the contact page.
Please do not ask me for location information. I have, in the past, given information in good faith to persons who turned out to be collectors, so I now have - of necessity - a blanket principle not to divulge locations even though the vast majority of visitors to this site share the same conservation attitudes as I have.