An independent guide to Val Thorens
Queen of Spain fritillary, Vallée des Belleville, French Alps
Butterflies and other insects in the Alps.
Alpine Heath butterfly, La Gittaz, Vallée des Belleville
The Alpine Heath butterfly.
Apollo butterfly, La Gittaz, Vallée des Belleville
The Apollo butterfly is of the Papilionidae family. It lives in Alpine meadows, on the wing from May to September. They mate, then the females lay eggs, which over-winter, and hatch in the spring. The caterpillar is velvety blue-black, with small orange spots. The caterpillars feed on a Sedum species called stonecrop. When the caterpillar is fully grown, it pupates on the ground in a loose cocoon, and the adult butterfly then emerges.
The Apollo butterfly produces a repulsive taste to a predator - a taste which comes from a bitter tasting cyanoglucoside called sarmentonsin in its host plant. The concentration of sarmentonsin is higher in the wings than the body. A successful predator of the Apollo, the water pipit, removes the wings of the butterfly before eating the body.
The Apollo is on the IUCN red list of threatened species. Threats include acid rain, habitat destruction, air pollution affecting the butterflies' food plants, collectors, motor vehicles, and sheep grazing at the wrong time of year so the caterpillars are trampled.
Black-veined white butterfly, La Gittaz, Vallée des Belleville
The black-veined white butterfly has the Latin name Aporia crataegi, and belongs to the Pieridae family. Sir Winston Churchill tried to reintroduce it to England by releasing butterflies in the grounds of his home at Chartwell in Kent, but they didn't survive.
They fly from April to July. Eggs are laid on plants of the rose family, and other trees and bushes. They hatch within 3 weeks, then the caterpillars overwinter communally in a webbing tent with entwined leaves.
The pupal stage lasts 3 weeks, before a new butterfly emerges.
Cabbage white, Vallée des Belleville, French Alps
Queen of Spain fritillary
The Queen of Spain fritillary is a butterfly that belongs to the Nymphalidae family. It can live at altitudes up to 2,700m.
Eggs are laid on the underside of wild pansy plants. The caterpillars feed, then quickly pupate in low vegetation. There are 3 or 4 generations per year.
Scarce copper butterfly
Small tortoiseshell butterfly
Swallowtail butterfly, Val Thorens
Split-eyed owl fly
This insect belongs to the Ascalaphidae family, and is a close relative of the antlion.
The long antennae are a distinguishing feature of this insect. It is a predator of other insects.
It lays eggs on twigs or under stones. The larvae are ambush predators. Pupation occurs in a silk cocoon in leaf litter or soil.
Lackey moth caterpillar, Val Thorens
All photos © ValThorensGuide
Snow finches are amongst the most attractive of Alpine birds, familiar to skiers who frequent mountain restaurants. In French, they are called niverolles. They are not true finches, but actually members of the sparrow family.
Snow finches are usually found between 2,000 and 3,000m altitude, in the Alps, in other mountain ranges in Europe and Turkey, and in the Himalayas.
Read about snow finches.
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