Great Sooty Satyr

Satyrus ferula


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Satyrus ferula

Male, Italy, July 2014

Satyrus ferula

Male, Switzerland, July 2015

Satyrus ferula

Female (with chalkhill blue), Switzerland, August 2017

Satyrus ferula

Female, Italy, July 2016

Satyrus ferula

Female, Switzerland, July 2019

Satyrus ferula

Male, Switzerland, July 2019

Satyrus ferula

Males, Switzerland, July 2019

Satyrus ferula

Female, Switzerland, August 2017

Satyrus ferula

Mating pair, Switzerland, June 2017

Satyrus ferula

Male, Switzerland, June 2011

Satyrus ferula

Female, Switzerland, July 2011

Male, Val d'Aran, July 2007

Satyrus ferula

Mating pair, Switzerland, July 2011

Female, Switzerland, July 2007

Male, Val d'Aran, July 2001

Satyrus ferula distribution

Distribution

This conspicuous butterfly is a familiar sight in the mountains of Europe, where it can be seen drifting over hot, rocky, flowery slopes from 400m up to the tree line. The first males appear in June and the butterfly remains on the wing through August, often into September. When I cycle down from alpine passes to the valley, I often see great sooty satyrs floating around the vertical rock faces on the sunny sides of the road, nectaring on the sparse flowers that somehow seem to sprout even there. They are heat lovers, sometimes abundant on thistles and knapweeds along tracks in the Rhône Valley of Switzerland, and equally common by rocky paths in the Pyrenees.

Only the male really deserves the name, as the female is a rich brown above and not sooty at all. Males really are sooty when fresh, with two black, white-pupilled eyespots on each forewing and often another two white spots between these. The otherwise similar black satyr, from Spain and the South of France, has just one eyespot on each forewing (and is also smaller). The underside of the male is brown with a narrow, whitish band across the middle of the hindwing. The female is golden brown beneath the forewing and usually rather pale under the hindwing, so looks very different and could easily be taken for a different species. In Switzerland, females often sport more than two dark eyespots on the forewing, sometimes showing a complete row of four, large, white-pupilled spots. In July and August, dryads often fly in the same places as great sooty satyrs. These are larger, but look rather similar in flight. On closer inspection, however, they have blue, not white pupils to the forewing spots, and the underside is different.

The caterpillars feed on sheep's fescue and it is this stage that hibernates.