Woodland Grayling

Hipparchia fagi


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Hipparchia fagi

Spanish Pyrenees, July 2008

Hipparchia fagi

Aragón, Spain, July 2017

Hipparchia fagi

Aragón, Spain, July 2017

Hipparchia fagi

Italy, July 2014

Hipparchia fagi

Italy, July 2014

Hipparchia fagi

Spanish Pyrenees, July 2008

July 2005, Val d'Aran

July 2005, Val d'Aran

Both these pictures Provence, July 2004

Val d'Aran, Pyrenees, July 2004, in the middle of a road!

Dead female (road casualty), Val d'Aran, July 2003

Hipparchia fagi

Wings of a road casualty - Female, North Italy, 2014 - upperside

Hipparchia fagi

Wings of a road casualty -  Female, North Italy - underside

Hipparchia fagi

Forewing against a centimetre ruler

Hipparchia fagi

Forewing against a centimetre ruler

Hipparchia fagi distribution

Distribution

The woodland grayling is widespread and locally common in much of the southern half of Europe. As some of the pictures above sadly show, it has a predilection for roads, where it may be seen probing the hot tarmac with its proboscis or flying clumsily across, buffeted by passing articulated vehicles. When not directly braving the traffic, it often rests up on roadside barriers. As its name suggests, it is usually found near trees, where it may be seen resting on the bark in the heat of the day, but this is true also of the similar rock grayling, so is little help in identifying the species.

In the western parts of its range, it is most similar to the rock grayling, Hipparchia hermione, and can be very difficult to separate from this butterfly. The most constant feature is size: excluding outliers, all woodland graylings are larger than all rock graylings (forewing length, base to tip, > 33mm in woodland grayling, < 33mm in rock grayling). Size is notoriously hard to judge in the field, however, and virtually impossible from a photograph, so this is not always helpful. Other features are more variable, and what works in one population may not work in another. With that caveat, I have observed several useful differences. On the underside hindwing, the white discal band is generally broader, more chalky white and more outwardly diffuse in woodland grayling. In rock grayling the outer contour follows the inner one more closely. The inner contour is typically more angular in rock grayling, sidestepping the cell as it crosses the wing to give a more or less well defined prominence. On the forewing underside, the region around the apical eyespot is useful to look at. In rock grayling, there is a rather well defined, dark 'eyebrow' above the eye, separated from it by clear orange. In woodland grayling this feature is much less well defined. On the male upperside, when this is visible, the apical regions of the woodland grayling are darkened by diffuse scaling, obscuring the eyespot more than in rock grayling. None of these wing features, however, is universal or constant, and where both species fly it is not always possible to say which is in front of you. In the Balkans and south-eastern Europe, the eastern rock grayling, is similar but is smaller and typically has a narrower and less obvious white band on the underside hindwing.

The woodland grayling flies in a single brood from June to September in grassy, bushy places, usually in or near woods. The caterpillars feed on various grasses, including upright brome, red fescue and tor grass. The species hibernates as a caterpillar.