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Lesser Purple Emperor in Cantabria

Teresa Farino
31/07/2010 13:31:34

Observation of this magnificent butterfly - by all accounts a rarity in the Cordillera Cantábrica - in the environs of the Picos de Europa

Posted in: Butterflies and Moths | Cantabria | Mainland Spain, Northern Spain

Lesser Purple Emperor - Apatura ilia © Teresa FarinoLesser Purple Emperor
Apatura ilia
© Teresa Farino
Curiously, this event occurred at the same little reservoir that holds the population of White-clawed Crayfish that I mentioned in my last blog, just as we were packing up to go home, at about 7pm yesterday (30 July 2010).

A large, dark butterfly dropped out of the poplars and started ‘mud-puddling’ on the overflow from the reservoir. Obviously I thought it was a ‘normal’ Purple Emperor (Apatura iris), but when I snuck up for a photo, it turned out to be a female Lesser Purple Emperor (A. ilia).

Unfortunately it didn’t hang around, so this is the only picture I managed to get before it disappeared up into the trees again, but the large postdiscal ocellus on the upper forewing – diagnostic of the species – is clearly visible.

There have been occasional records of Lesser Purple Emperor in the Picos de Europa and the surrounding valleys over the years; for example, the species is cited in Gómez-Bustillo, M.R. (1971) Los Picos de Europa, centro de la Cordillera Cantábrica. (in: Por un mejor conocimiento de los lepidópteros ropalóceros españoles. Sociedad de Ciencias Naturales Aranzadi. Publicación No. 19). Nevertheless, Verhulst, G., Verhulst, J. & Mortera, H., in Mariposas diurnas del Parque Nacional de los Picos de Europa (Lepidoptera, Rhopalocera), published by the Organismo Autónomo Parques Nacionales, Ministerio de Medio Ambiente (2005), consider the Lesser Purple Emperor to be a ‘rare butterfly in the Cantabrican region, whose presence in the national park needs to be corroborated’.

On a national scale, the 2004 Atlas de las mariposas diurnas de la Península Ibérica e islas Baleares (Lepidoptera: Papilionoidea & Hesperioidea), by García-Barros et al. (Monografía de la Sociedad Entomológica Aragonesa, 11) gives no records of Lesser Purple Emperor for the province of Cantabria whatsoever, although Las Mariposas de España Peninsular, by Redondo, V., Gastón, J. & Vicente, J.C. (2010) does mention Cantabria as a locality for this species.

Yesterday’s observation occurred about 3km outside the southern boundary of the national park, in the Natura 2000 site (Lugar de Interés Comunitario) of Liébana.

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