Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Far from the madding crowds …

Mountain Ringlet (Erebia epiphron)

Seeking peace and solitude …

E. epiphron can be one of the most challenging species to see. It is univoltine, is only found in isolated colonies in remote montane locations, has an extremely short flight period and can be very difficult to locate in unsuitable weather, since the adults tend to remain sheltered deep in grass tussocks during inclement conditions. Given the right temperature and humidity the adults will take to the air, bringing a seemingly dormant landscape to life. As its vernacular name suggests, the Mountain Ringlet is found in mountainous areas, typically at altitudes between 450m and 800m AMSL - though it can be found at both lower and higher elevations. A recent trip to Scotland, to specifically find and observe this species, produced reasonable numbers from around 500m AMSL in the locations searched, including several aberrant male specimens and a mating pair.

E. epiphron is found in two main regions in the British Isles. In England, it is found in the Lake District of Cumberland and Westmorland; where the subspecies mnemon occurs. It is also found in western central Scotland, primarily in the counties of Argyllshire, West Inverness-shire and Mid Perthshire, with a few scattered colonies elsewhere. Here the subspecies scotica - illustrated - is found in damp, herb-rich Nardus grassland. The butterfly is surprisingly absent from Snowdonia and the Pennines. On the basis of four specimens in total, this butterfly is also thought to have occurred in Ireland. There is quite a lot of history associated with the Irish Mountain Ringlet as discussed in the excellent dispar article listed below. It is believed that this butterfly was one of the first to recolonise the British Isles after the last ice age. Despite this heritage, this species is a relatively recent discovery, with the Lake District population being discovered in 1809 in Ambleside, Westmorland, and the Scottish population in 1844 in Perthshire. E. epiphron is one of the more difficult species to monitor, due to the remoteness and unpredictable weather of its montane home, and is generally considered to be under-recorded. However, it is known to have declined at several low altitude sites, possibly as a result of global warming, and is therefore a priority species for conservation efforts.

The images above, in descending order, show male, female (freshly emerged and just mated) and male underside (all generally typical of most examples) and one of several aberrant male specimens. The last two pictures depict the archetypal location and herb-rich Nardus grassland in which epiphron is found.

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