Butterfly Bonanza (How to identify butterfly families)

The Five Butterfly Families of Crete
If you want to know a little more about the fascinating world of insects then you can't do better than to start with butterflies. They're colourful, reasonably easy to tell apart and they don't bite. What is more there are only six families, at least five of which are present here on Crete and if you are lucky, as I was recently, you can see representatives of all five in one day. So here's my guide to the five butterfly families of Crete.

1 The Whites and Sulphurs (Pieridae family)

The Cleopatra Gonepteryx cleopatra

I guess that we're all familiar with the Cabbage White (Pieris brassicae) and its little sibling the Small White (Pieris rapae) but next time take a closer look; you may be observing a Bath White (Pontia edusa) which has a mottled green underwing. On my trek around the hills near Tylissos to the west of Heraklion I came across two of the sulphurs: The Clouded Yellow (Colias croecus) and this one, the Cleopatra (Gonepteryx cleopatra) with its very distinctive wing shape.

2 The Swallowtails (Papilionidae family)

Scarce Swallowtail, Iphiclides podalirius

The Old World Swallowtail (Papilio machaon) is a common sight of spring and summer here in Crete with its bold, bright black and yellow markings and its trailing tails, like those of the swallow but look out also for this one; the Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) with the zebra stripes.

3 The Four Footed Butterflies (Nymphalidae family)

Meadow Brown, Maniola jurtina

These are easy to recognise at rest as they appear to only have four legs. The front two are foreshortened; a bit like those of a Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaur. Painted Ladies (Vanessa cardui) and Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) are in this group along with the vast majority of the brown butterflies that you are likely to come across (particularly the medium and large ones) such as this Meadow Brown (Maniola jurtina).

4 The Gossamer Winged Butterflies (Lycaenidae family)

Common Blue, Polyommatus icarus

Another easy group to recognise on the whole as many of them are small and blue like this Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus) but you have to be quick to photograph them with their wings spread as they prefer to hold them closed above their backs. This is a good thing however as often, the only way to tell them apart is from the markings on their underwings. There are some brown butterflies in this group too such as the Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) and the female gossamer wings have a tendancy to be a bit on the brown side but they are easy to tell apart from the Nymphalidae because of their diminutive size and rapidly flitting flight patterns.

5 The Skippers (Hesperiidae family)

Lulworth Skipper, Thymelicus acteon

Now these, I'll admit, you could get confused with the Lycaenidae as they are small brown jobs. Two things to look out for with these; firstly they very often hold their hind wings away from their fore wings like this Lulworth Skipper (Thymelicus acteon) but the clincher is their antenae – they have little hooks at the end which is unique to this group.

There. Now you know all the butterfly families of Crete. In looking through the photographs there were a lot of other interesting things that I saw that day which we can chat about next time (which may or may not be next week as we're on the hospital trail again for follow-ups).

The Extra Bit

The sixth butterfly family is the Metalwings (Riodinidae) which have metallic markings on their wings. These are predominantly sub-tropical butterflies but one species is known in Europe, the Duke of Burgundy Fritillary, Hamearis lucina, but I haven't come across it in Crete.

Photographic Bit

Many of you have asked me what photographic equipment I use so for details of aperture settings, shutter speeds etc. my pictures will be on Flickr within a few days and that has all the geeky stuff.Pictures were edited with FastStone Image Viewer and combined with Microsoft Paint.


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