Hvar's Butterflies

Published in Nature Watch

Marion Podolski casts her expert artistic eye over Hvar's butterflies.

Hvar butterfly at work, July 2016 Hvar butterfly at work, July 2016 Vivian Grisogono

Butterflies always seem so fragile, so transient. So it came as quite the surprise when I read that (a) there are butterfly fossils dating back around 56 million years, and (b) the Painted Lady appears to hold the record for the longest return migration, from Africa to the Arctic circle and back!

Painted lady

Vanessa cardui ~ Painted lady ~ Stričkovac

This photograph was taken at Vorh on Hvar, altitude around 500 metres. European ivy is known for having flowers high in nectar, and was swarming with butterflies and bees in September. The Painted lady migrates from North Africa and the Mediterranean northwards in the springtime, and southwards in the autumn. The 9,000 mile round trip between tropical Africa and the Arctic circle may take as many as 6 generations! Was this butterfly on a refuelling stop for its Autumn migration?

This summer I’ve been more aware of butterflies on Hvar, possibly due to my recent interest in wildflowers. It’s a good sign, as flowers and butterflies mean a healthy ecosystem. Though sometimes they were nowhere near any flowers!

Red admiral

Vanessa atalanta ~ Red Admiral ~ Ljepokrili admiral

As I was sitting on the Soline beach near Vrboska, painting with my art group, this visitor was very interested in my paintbox! Luckily I had my phone to hand, and managed to capture the moment! And as I didn’t really feel that paints were proper nourishment, being toxic and all, I closed up the box, so it decided to try some wine instead!

Red admiral likes a glass of wine

My Red admiral likes a glass of wine!

While some (adult) butterflies live only for a few days, other species survive for almost a full year. Those living longer can feed on nectar from flowers, and they are in fact important pollinators for some kinds of plants. Although they can’t carry as much pollen as bees, they are able to take it over longer distances. They’ll also sip water (and wine!), are sometimes  attracted to dung, rotting fruit, or the salt in human sweat for other essential minerals and nutrients. Their “taste” receptors are apparently located on their feet, so they can determine whether a leaf is suitable for laying eggs on (ie the caterpillar kids can eat it!)

Red admiral underside

Red admiral underside

I spotted this Red admiral near the peak of Sv Nikola, up in the high country (628 metres). Good view of the underside of the wing. Red admirals also migrate, spending summer in northern Europe, and winter near the Mediterranean.

In Croatian, a butterfly is called a leptir, for once easy to remember as it’s clearly related to lepidoptera (from the ancient Greek  lepís=scale + pterón=wing). It’s less certain why the English saw any association with butter, though the name has been around for some time in old Dutch and German. Were there only yellow butterflies in northern Europe, I wonder?

Two-tailed pasha also going for my wine

Charaxes jasius ~ Two-Tailed Pasha ~ vještica

Another butterfly that was keen to share our wine was this Two-tailed Pasha with exceptional taste at restaurant Laganini on Palmižana! It did, in fact, take a dive headfirst into my glass and had to be rescued at the expense of the wine!

Two-tailed pasha

Two-Tailed Pasha enjoying some lemon sorbet

A fine butterfly, and a great poser with his proboscis stuck into a drop of lemon sorbet (with vodka and prosecco) for a good long drink! Two-tailed pashas produce two generations in a season, flying May/June and August/October. Clearly, they also like a drink!

Two-tailed pasha underside

Two-tailed pasha underside and clear view of head

The beautiful colour of butterfly wings is due to the scales. While the dark blacks and browns are melanin pigments, and yellows come from uric acid and flavones, the other bright blues, greens, reds and iridescence are all caused by the structure of the scales and hairs.

Cardinal

Argynnis pandora ~ Cardinal ~ Pandorin šarenac

Meanwhile, back at the popular ivy flowers, was this lovely Cardinal which is a fairly common butterfly around southern Europe from April to September. Sadly the photograph doesn’t quite do justice to the shimmer of that pale green colour. Very pretty in real life!

Cardinal in Stari Grad

Cardinal in Stari Grad

The second Cardinal was spotted in a garden in Stari Grad. Good view of the antennae, and the proboscis stuck into the flower. It looks to have only 4 legs, but that’s apparently normal for some types of butterflies, the front two legs are much reduced.

Wall brown

Lasiommata megera ~ Wall Brown ~ mali pjegavac

Hmmm, the field notes say the Wall brown is very alert and difficult to approach for taking photos – well, that’s certainly true! This guy was spotted beside the path on the way up to Sv Nikola, and this is the best photograph I could manage!

A recent (2011-13) study of butterflies on Hvar recorded 49 species, some of which are very rare within Croatia. All in all, 57 species have been recorded on Hvar, giving it 4th place among the islands for butterfly diversity. I have a long way to go to spot all those!

“Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

© Marion Podolski 2016

More about Croatia’s butterflies:

Project Noah: Butterflies and Moths of Croatia

Euro Butterflies by Matt Rowlings

Wikipedia list of butterflies and moths in Croatia

Annoted list of Croatian butterflies with vernacular names (PDF file for download)

Contribution to the knowledge of the butterfly fauna on the Adriatic island of Hvar, Croatia

This article has been reproduced with kind permission from Marion's blog Go Hvar, Ramblings about a far island. Visit the blog for all kinds of information about Hvar, from artistic to epicurean!

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