Nettle Tree Butterfly

Libythea celtis


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Libythea celtis

Italy, July 2016

Libythea celtis

Italy, June 2015

Italy, March 2012



Close-up of the 'snout'

Italy, March 2012



Italy, March 2012



Italy, March 2012


Close-up of that snout again!

Libythea celits

Female, Italy, July 2014




Italy, March 2012



Italy, March 2012



Italy, march 2012



Italy, March 2012

Libythea celtis

Italy, March 2017



Leaves of the foodplant, the nettle tree (Celtis australis)

The first nettle tree butterfly I saw, in the South of France in July 2004

Libythea celtis distribution

Distribution

This fascinating butterfly is the only member of its group, the Libytheinae, in Europe. It has several striking physical features, notably the long, snout-like palpi (giving the group its common name, the snout butterflies), its gently widening rather than club-shaped antennae and the hump on the hindwing, breaking up the outline. All these contribute to its excellent camouflage when hibernating in dead leaves. They also mean it is almost impossible to confuse this species with any other. Less obviously, but interestingly, shares with the Duke of Burgundy the pecularity that the female has three pairs of functional legs while the male has only two. This is sometimes useful for sexing individuals resting with they wings above their backs.

I watch this species chiefly in northern Italy, in a valley where the foodplant, Celtis australis - the nettle tree, grows abundantly. In early spring, even before the buds begin to unfurl, hibernated adults may be seen scouting these trees and often resting on them, opening their wings fully to the spring sun. By the time the leaves are growing, females have been mated and are busy looking for places to lay their eggs. At least some of the offspring of these spring butterflies produce a second, short-lived, breeding generation in June and early July. Others, as well as the product of this second brood, go on to hibernate and do not breed until the following spring. Many books state that there is only one brood per year. My eighth picture above, however, clearly shows a female looking to lay in July and I have seen others doing the same thing.