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The Butterflies and Moths of Corsavy and Montferrer

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Foreword - Introduction, Habitat, Species, Identification


In the summer of 2017, I visited the Tropique du Papillon in Elne in France. The Tropique has a wonderful tropical butterfly house, that I can recommend to visit. Outside the butterfly house, a garden has been created with plants that are attractive to butterflies. In spite of the effort put into it, not many butterflies can be found in the outside garden, not even on the ever popular Buddleja davidii (butterfly-bush). The problem is ..... the agriculture around Elne, using pecticides killing butterflies and their caterpillars.

This is the sad story. Where human “culture” is at work, the butterflies and moths disappear. They find a last resort in the mountains and in areas where not many people live. They can only survive where there are no disrupting human activities.

This website covers the mountain-villages Corsavy and Montferrer in the French Pyrénées-Orientales, that still have a rich butterfly fauna.

Corsavy, the mountain village at the foot of the Canigou (2784 m)


Butterflies need light, the sun to warm up and flowers to feed nectar from. When we speak of a primeval forest, we think of it as a dense and dark forest. On the contrary, a primeval forest contains exactly those bordered open spaces that butterflies need. This is true also for those species whose habitat is the forest. But with the destruction of primeval forests and the planting of uniform dense coniferous forests, butterflies have come to depend on bordered open spaces in cultural landscapes and on their proper management (pdf). And indeed, in Corsavy and Montferrer we find most butterflies:

• along forest paths, roughly kept open by hunters (without giving it too much attention, not treating it as a bourgeois garden)
• on fields that are grazed (but not overgrazed) like on the open and half-open spaces around the Col de la Descargue
• on rocky locations, that are naturally open or half-open
• on for example the campsite, a small terrain that has more species of butterflies (as long as the tall grass is not mowed) than all nature reserves in the Netherlands together (!)

Another factor are the clouds gathering around the Canigou (2784 m). The French Pyrenees have substantially more rain than the Spanish side has. Around Corsavy at higher altitudes, various small mountain streams can be found and a few short waterfalls.

A mountain path in the Montferrer area, roughly kept open by hunters and attractive for butterflies


Corsavy and Montferrer are located in the Pyrénées-Orientales in France. That province has 186 recorded butterfly species and 1541 recorded moth species. You will find 76 butterfly species on this website, 3 of them with a question mark attached to their identification. Furthermore, about a hundred moth species. Probably, many more species of moths live in the Corsavy and Montferrer area than I have photographed as of now. With regards to butterflies, the following species that I didn't encounter yet, have been spotted for Corsavy and Montferrer.

• Aglais urticae (Small Tortoiseshell)
• Anthocharis cardamines (Orange-tip)
• Anthocharis euphenoides (Provence Orange-tip)
• Callophrys rubi (Green Hairstreak)
• Charaxes jasius (Two-tailed Pasha)
• Cupido argiades (Short-tailed Blue)
• Cupido minimus (Small or Little Blue)
• Cyaniris semiargus (Mazarine Blue)
• Erebia triarius (de Prunner's Ringlet)
• Hamearis lucina (Duke of Burgundy)
• Melitaea celadussa nevadensis
• Nymphalis polychloros (Large Tortoiseshell)
• Plebejus argus (Silver-studded Blue)
• Pyrgus serratulae (Olive Skipper)
• Polyommatus dorylas (Turquoise Blue)
• Polyommatus thersites (Chapman's Blue)
• Zerynthia rumina (Spanish Festoon)

In Montferrer the Lesser Purple Emperor has been spotted in a garden:

• Apatura Ilia (Lesser Purple Emperor)

I saw the following species (I think) without a photo to prove it:

• Thecla betulae (Brown Hairstreak), on a walk without a camera, stupid me
• Chazara briseis (Hermit), that flew away before I could release the shutter.

Assuming all identifications are correct, for Corsavy and Montferrer this sums up to a total of 96 butterfly species. That's twice the number of butterfly species in the Netherlands !

Rocky open or half-open terrain where butterflies like to warm up in the sun


Several species on this website have a note that they

• resemble another species, or
• are difficult to distinguish from another species, or
• are indiscriminate from another species.

This concerns visual identification, like from a photo. A precise identification is always possible from DNA or by inspecting the genitals. But I will leave that to scientists.

The problem with difficult-to-distinguish species is that the natural variation in a species can be greater than the sometimes vague visual characteristics that differentiate it. The probability that the identification (based on visual characteristics only) is correct is 50 to 70 % in this field research. Even with resembling species that do have clear determination characteristics, the certainty of the identification may not be absolute. In this field research comparing the Scarce Swallowtail and the Southern Scarce Swallowtail, the certainty of the visual identification is 85 to 95 %.

An identification gains confidence when other aspects are evaluated, like:

• the date the butterfly or moth has been spotted, in relation to its known flight time
• the area where and the altitude at which it is was seen, in relation to its distribution map and known altitude range
• the kind of landscape the butterfly, moth or caterpillar was seen, in relation to its know habitats
• the visual appearance of the caterpillar
• the plant on which the female lays its eggs, in relation to its known host plant

None of these aspects alone are absolute, but together they may form a good identification.

For some species on this website, a question mark has been added to the species name under a photo, or an alternative species has been given. The author welcomes feedback. Note that a subspecies name may complete the Latin species name under a photo. The first name in the Latin nomenclature is the genus, the second the species within the genus and the optional third the subspecies within the species. For example Lycaena alciphron gordius.

Comments can be sent by email to or by posting on the Facebook page that accompanies this website.

Habitat “above the clouds”. Some butterfly and moth species are altitude specialists