The earlier pictures were taken on my wee compact Canon ixus 970IS, which involved sneaking up on the butterflies. This can be very frustrating when they fly off, but very rewarding when they don't!

Since 2012 I have been using a Panasonic Lumix FZ150, which allows me to zoom in to the butterflies from a couple of metres away.



Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Scotch Argus - Erebia aethiops

The Scotch Argus, Erebia aethiops, is a butterfly that has a reputation for flying in dull weather. However, I was surprised to find it flying in the rain back in August. I had been visiting my father who was in hospital at the time and I knew that a couple of miles from the hospital was an area with a colony of Scotch Argus. I was disappointed that the weather was bad, but as with my previous visit to this site, I thought I should take a look as I was passing.
Digital cameras always make things look brighter than they really are, so this picture doesn't give a very good idea of how dull it really was.

There must have been about 30 of 40 of them in this small area. They were sheltering down in the grass, and they seemed to be easily disturbed. When I approached they would fly off for quite a distance and drop back down into the grass.


You can see the raindrops on the wings of the butterflies.

The caterpillars feed on grasses, and it is thought that Purple Moor-grass is its favoured food. I have read that they only occur in areas where the grass is not mown or grazed.


I have read that the caterpillars feed at night and rest up during the day. If they are disturbed they play dead and drop to the ground. I discovered that the adult butterflies do the same if they are not able to fly off when disturbed.


In the UK, I think there is only one area outside Scotland where this butterfly is found. It occurs over a wide area of eastern Europe, though. Recent research has shown that it is expanding northwards, possibly in response to climate change. This could be a bit of a worry for the colonies here in southern Scotland, which are being carefully monitored.


I am sorry about the quality of the pictures. They reflect the poor light that there was that day. Next year I want to return to the site in late July or early August, hopefully on a sunny day! I imagine that early in the morning would be good when the butterflies are warming themselves up in the early sunshine.

26 comments:

  1. I think your lighting was just fine. That second photo is my favorite.

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    1. Thank you Michelle. It is a lovely little butterfly. The white spots on the wings really stand out and I am sure they would do more so in the sun!

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  2. Hello Nick!:) Sorry to hear your father is in hospital, and hope he will soon be well. The Scotch Argus is a beauty with such dramatic colouring, which shows even on a dull day, and by looking at the outer wings I would never have guessed what depth of colour lay within. I have not been out with my camera for a week now as the sunny autumn days have been replaced by heavy rainfall. The south of Portugal has had flooding,particularly in Albufeira where the streets were under two meters of water, lives were lost and properties destroyed. Here,it's not as bad, and rather nice to stay in by an open fire and catch up on reading for a change.
    Best Regards

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    1. Thank you Sonjia. My father is enjoying being back home now.
      The contrast of the dark brown wings and orange markings is striking and the little white spots in the black spots contrast well. I would love to see them in bright weather!
      I am sorry to hear about the weather in southern Portugal. That sounds awful. Glad to hear you haven't been affected so badly. We are in a period of fog and drizzle just now, having had six weeks of beautiful weather (by Scottish standards). The log stove is on here, too!

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  3. I have lived all these years and have never heard of the Scotch Argus. I guess it never ventured as far North as Aberdeen where we spent all of our life until two years ago.

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    1. Alistair,
      I have had a look at the distribution maps and it appears that the Scotch Argus doesn't occur on the east of Scotland. Maybe it is just too sunny in Aberdeen!!

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  4. such lovely butterflies
    it will be so long until they are here again

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    1. Thank you Tammie Lee. Yes, it is always a little sad for me at this time of year. However, I always look forward so much to seeing the first butterfly of the year in the spring.

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  5. Hi Nick,
    I find you brave to go go out and take pictures in such conditions!
    Considering, I think you did great.
    I still see many butterflies here and even dragonflies, but we are enjoying temperatures up to 24°C and bright sunshine.
    Thanks for your kind words, blogger friends are precious when you feel so blue.
    Enjoy your weekend :)

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    1. Thanks Noushka, You have to make the most of any opportunity to see butterflies here in Scotland. They were still flying here until about a week ago, but I doubt I will see any more now until next year. I will have to search for hibernating butterflies to keep me occupied!

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  6. You said the pictures are dull, for me they aren't. I love taking photos during overcast days. They are easier to shoot too in that weather as they cannot fly freely because of the air saturated with moisture. That condition is seldom seen here in our hot tropics, and when it is about to rain those butterflies can't be seen anymore hiding in areas very secret to me!

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    1. Thanks Andrea. I would have liked to have had better light to show the colours and make the pictures sharper. Much of our summer this year was overcast, so I am not a fan, I am afraid!! However, I can imagine in a hot country it is nice to have some relief from the heat of the sun. I remember noticing how the butterflies disappeared in St Lucia when it was just about to rain. I would see them flying into a bush, but they would be completely camouflaged.

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  7. Interesting entry Nick,particularly on this butterflies distribution.I have one photo of this species taken some years ago,no idea where the location was.As I holiday a lot in the Greek Islands maybe it was there.

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    1. Thanks Peter, it is strange to think that this butterfly that is so scarce here is widely distributed elsewhere. I believe that there are many, very similar species in that part of Europe. I suppose that one advantage of having so few species here in Scotland that it is easier to identify what they are!

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  8. I love these images Nick, specially the last one.

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    1. Thanks Maria. They are lovely butterflies. I will try hard to get some better pictures next year a little earlier in the year when they will be a little brighter.

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  9. Nice pictures! I'm intrigued by their behaviour of plaving dead and dropping down. It does make them difficult to spot or reach... but maybe makes them more vulnerable to passing armies of predatory ants?

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    1. Hi Jonny,
      Yes, maybe this behaviour explains why their numbers are declining in the UK! On the other hand I certainly didn't notice any ants in the area. I usually consider ants as living in dry areas and the Scotch Argus tends to like damp grassland. The next time I go and look for them I will also see if I can find any ants in the area.

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    2. go for it! Perhaps they only display this behavior due to the absence to predators on the ground.

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  10. Hi Nick, nice of you to drop by. That part regarding the caterpillar and adult butterfly playing dead is interesting. I've come across them in this state and was wondering what has happened to them.

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    1. Yes, it is an interesting strategy, but I suppose that if they stay completely still they just look like a dead leaf.

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  11. Sorry to read about your father, Nick. I hope he is better now?
    Such a pretty butterfly, Nick! And I find its habit of 'playing dead' quite endearing.
    It is interesting that they prefer areas where the grass has not been mown. What a great incentive to return the land to its wild state!

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    1. Thank you Sunita. Dad is back home, so I hope he stays out of hospital for a while.
      It would be nice to think that people would leave space for these butterflies. Sadly I don't think most people care that much about them. I think that the area these ones were in is protected, but it would be lovely to be able to provide more areas for them to live in.

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