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Two Rare Butterflies of Italy

Updated on May 3, 2014

Two of the National parks in Central Italy

Alcon Blue Butterfly

Alcon Blue Butterfly (Maculinea Alcon).

This lovely butterfly is again rare and known to be endangered(IUCN 3.1) for much the same reasons as The Apollo, habitat destruction, over collecting, but also with this species because of its dependency on another insect.

They are a fairly large as butterflies go, being around 20mm across the wingspan when fully grown..i.e. once they have emerged and dried out.

The underside of their wings is brown with small black spots with are bordered in white. In the male the upper-side is a beautiful violet-blue, whilst the less gaudy female is a rather limited basal-blue.

Both adults are seen flying in mid to late summer when they feed on nectar from flowers and mate. And then the unusual life cycle starts.

The Alcon Blue is a species of The Lycaenidae Family, this means that once it reaches caterpillar stage it needs the support of a certain type of ant. In this case it is a red ant.(Myrmecophile) .

The eggs are initially laid by the female Alcon on Marsh Genetian because that is almost the only plant they will eat, however sometimes if that is not available the Willow Genetian will be used. Once the caterpillaer is of a good size it drops to the ground and there waits to be discovered by the host ants. The caterpillar emits a surface chemical that fools the ants into thinking they are ant larvae and therefore the ants carry the caterpillars into their nests and place them in the brood chambers. Here the ants feed the alien larvae and also these frauds eat the ant larvae.

Once fully-grown they pupate and here they rest until they emerge as butterflies. But that is not the end of their story because they have to run the gauntlet of angry ants who recognise them as intruders. Most will escape unharmed as the ants can't get a grip on the new butterfly which is covered in a thick coating of loosely attached scales.

Apollo or Mountain Apollo Butterfly

Apollo or Mountain Apollo Butterfly (Parnassus apollo)

This stunning butterfly can now only be found in Italy and then only at altitudes above 1000metres.

The reasons for this are 3 fold. Firstly there has been over-collection of them in both Italy and Spain. Secondly, habitat destruction insomuch that the places that they prefer to live and breed have been replaced with evergreen forestry. And thirdly there is the problem of climate change and acid rain.

Their wings are creamy- white with 2 red eye marks which are edged in black on their fore-wings and red eye-spots on their back wings,which are 5-8cm in length. The spots are supposed to resemble animals eyes and therefore deter their predators which are generally birds. The Apollos head has small eyes and 2 long tentacles which they use for smell and taste. They suck up nectar through a tube like protuberance. They can be seen in their favourite habitat which is high mountain meadows and pastures.

Adult Apollos are seen on the wing in mid-summer when they feed on nectar from the mountain flowers. The Females lay their eggs on thick leaves in the Autumn and these "over-winter" and then hatch in the following spring.

The resulting caterpillars feed on stonecrop and houseleek and will shed their skins a number of times before they are fully grown. Then they drop to the ground to pupate. These hatch after 3 months. They weave a loose cocoon, but being on the ground can cause them problems as it is known that some are unwittingly trampled by animals and passing walkers and hikers.

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    • clairemy profile image
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      Claire 4 years ago

      thankyou for that added information. It is good to keep learning, and thankyou for reading and commenting

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      Rick C 4 years ago

      Nice article. Just a minor correction: the Lycaenidae family is large, and not all members depend on ants.

    • clairemy profile image
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      Claire 4 years ago

      I of course give you the credit for the photo! But I would also like to add that the plight of these beautiful butterflies is the thing that was uppermost in my mind.

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      Darlyne Murawski 4 years ago

      Claire, my photo of the Myrmica ant feeding the Alcon blue caterpillar is copyrighted. I don't know how you got a hold of it, but either give me credit, or delete it. Thank you.

    • clairemy profile image
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      Claire 5 years ago

      I Love them too, and thankyou so much for leaving a comment

    • angela_michelle profile image

      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      These are very gorgeous photos. I absolutely love butterflies.

    • clairemy profile image
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      Claire 5 years ago

      yes, you are of course right, and oneday when I am settled back in my home in Egypt I shall take a good look at what needs help there and do something about it.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      I'm pleased to hear that they are perpetuating the species. As far as I know, I think that can be done for a number of those species endangered/threatened, as long as the host plant(s) are available.

    • clairemy profile image
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      Claire 5 years ago

      I haven't simply because I am no longer there, however, my closest neighbours......3kms away from where the house was are doing just that. They are an older Italian couple now retired and love that they can give back what the countryside has given them...they were farmers.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Ever think about raising the apollo? It might help the species if they are easy to raise.

    • clairemy profile image
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      Claire 5 years ago

      bebege, Thankyou so much for reading and leaving a comment. They are always welcomed.

    • clairemy profile image
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      Claire 5 years ago

      Aviannovice, thankyou, thankyou. Best bit for me is that I saved the Apollo out of the swimming pool more than once. Yes, I lived up in the Italian mountains.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Voted awesome and up. I enjoyed this story about these very unusual butterflies. Go nature! These are the kinds of stories that I really like,

    • bebege profile image

      bebege 5 years ago from indonesia

      nice Butterflies