Spanish Flutter-Bys

At the end of March, with the new Odonata season approaching but not yet with us in England, we were off to Spain for a 2½-week house-and-dog-sitting engagement. “Goody”, I thought, “being further south I’ll get a jump on the season and see some earlier Odos”. Wrong! I didn’t see a single one. They must be out in Spain ‘cos I’ve since discovered that the southwest of England reported Large Red Damselflies in late March, which I think is particularly early, so I can only assume that I was not looking at suitable bodies of water. Fussy little critters.

IMG_9021_Geranium_BronzeIMG_9066_Geranium_BronzeDay 1 began well with an interesting non-blue “blue” butterfly flitting about some potted geraniums the garden. At first sight it looked very similar to the Lang’s Short-tailed Blue that we had recently encountered for the first time in Madeira. It didn’t look quite right, though, from what we could remember and not having our books available, we’d have to wait to see what it might be. It, or more accurately they – there were at least two individuals – returned to the potted Geraniums almost daily. This behaviour could be something to do with the fact that they turned out to rejoice in the name of Geranium Bronze (Cacyreus marshalli). I’d certainly never heard of them before but they have apparently been imported into the UK. Interestingly, the first person to spot them in England also initially thought them to be Lang’s Short-tailed Blues.

After our initial success in the garden, the area of Spain we were visiting, the Jalon Valley, actually seemed a bit of a desert on the wildlife front. We had a hard time finding very much at all considering I was expecting a spring flush. There were plenty of wild flowers around the valley but we spotted relatively few butterflies, just the occasional individual zooming past in a frequently stiff breeze.

IMG_9080_Panoptes_BlueIMG_9095_Panoptes_BluePersistence paid off, though, and we eventually drove up to the base of a mountain called the Bernia. On this day, Easter Sunday, it seemed as though half of the walkers in Spain had had the same idea. We found somewhere to park, though, and confined our activity to the scrub at the base of the Bernia. Eventually, Hawk-eyes (a.k.a. Carol) spotted a flitting movement on the stony ground. It was the tiniest of blue butterflies which certainly looked new to us. Happy campers! It was another critter I’d never heard of, a Panoptes Blue (Pseudophilotes panoptes). There is a confusingly similar alternative species but good ol’ iSpot seems to think my suggested id. was correct.

IMG_9087_Green_HairstreakHawk-eyes struck again and spotted someone with whom we were familiar flitting about some vegetation, a Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi). Green Hairstreaks don’t stand out against leaves very well but this one eventually settled on the ground and offered me a clear shot. Most frustratingly, a strange species of Orange Tip whizzed past and settled only briefly – too briefly for me to catch up and bring a camera into focus. It was an Orange Tip with a yellow background which I’m pretty sure must have been a Morocco Orange Tip (Anthocharis belia). Darn!

IMG_9109_SwallowtailTowards the end of our trip we tried another mountain, this time behind Senija and on foot. Once again, on our way up to the cross on its summit, we were struck by an almost complete lack of wildlife. All we spotted were a few bees. Uncultivated land, plenty of wild flowers and few people to cause disturbance but no critters. Curious! Once we got to the summit, though, things changed dramatically. A Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) whizzed past. It was quickly followed by another Swallowtail. There seemed to be at least three tussling aerobatically for the high ground. Eventually we managed to catch them settled in a favourable position for a picture. Even though this one is in slightly less than perfect condition, it shows that they really are the most spectacular creatures.

Then the fun really started. I spotted another pair which looked more like my beloved Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) with stunning black tiger-stripes. These, however, looked as if the stripes were on a white background as opposed to the more familiar (to me) cream background. I snapped a couple of shots and waded into iSpot back at home base. We’d hit a bit of a naming conundrum. The white version is most frequently called the Spanish Swallowtail or Spanish Scarce Swallowtail. Some authorities regard it as a subspecies and refer to it as Iphiclides podalirius feisthamelii whereas others regard it as a separate species and refer to Iphiclides feisthamelii. Finally back chez nous, my latest French language book, Guide des Papillons d’Europe et d’Afrique du Nord does refer to I. feisthamelii and notes the following:

I. feisthamelii est considéré comme une sous-espèce par certains auteurs. Cependant, les genitalia des deux sexes sont bien distincts.

… which I think is accurately translated thus:

I. feisthamelii is considered a subspecies by certain authors. However, the genitalia of both sexes are very different.

IMG_9113_Spanish_SwallowtailThere’s something comforting about being back in the realms of different insect genitalia. 😀 I think I’ll enter the I. feisthamelii camp. Anyway, after all that, here is the fabulous creature.

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