La Palma Brimstone
Gonepteryx palmae


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Male, La Palma, April 2001

Gonepteryx palmae distribution


I saw rather few of this species when I visited La Palma in the spring of 2001 and not one stopped for a photograph. I followed the individual above for several hundred metres on the S.E. corner of the island without seeing it even pause, so settled for this awful shot of it in flight, taken with my video camera. Then, I believed it to represent a subspecies of Cleopatra, but it has since been the subject of considerable nomenclatural controversy. There is a complex of brimstone species in the Atlantic islands, all sedentary and genetically differentiated from each other, but not obviously so as to count as different species. Leraut (2016) treats all the Canary Island taxa, including palmae, as subspecies of Gonepteryx cleobule. Bozano, also publishing in 2016, considers palmae sufficiently distinct, genetically and morphologically, to count as a different species. It is, quite literally, academic. The population of Gonepteryx on La Palma is an endemic taxon and must be protected, whether or not it is raised to specific rank.

Because this is the only brimstone on La Palma, and it flies nowhere else, there are no identification problems. Typically, the forewing upperside is a paler orange than in Cleopatra or the forms of cleobule found on other islands, and the hindwing upperside shows no hint of orange at all - unlike typical cleobule. Neither of these features would be easy to see in a living butterfly as if one did chance to rest it would do so with wings closed. Unlike cleopatra, but like cleobule, the La Palma brimstone is polyvoltine, flying in a successio of broods throughout the year. The larvae feed on species of buckthorn, Rhamnus.