Vanessa virginiensis 28th April 2012. La Palma. Spain. Finding this butterfly on the wing in the bottom of a barranco on the north-east of the island of La Palma was a very exciting moment! According to my copy of Collin's Butterfly Guide, the American Painted Lady was "apparently extinct" on La Palma. But apparently by April 2012 this was no longer the case, as I found two individuals here. This caused a fair bit of interest amongst Canary Island butterfly enthusiasts when I reported my findings on my return home to the UK. This species is similar in behaviour to the more familiar Painted Lady, being fast in flight and an avid feeder at nectar, but it has subtly different wing markings, in particular the highly attractive blue-centred sub-marginal spots on the hindwings. It is mainly a species of the north American continent, with occasional vagrants recorded in Europe, but it does seem to have established a more permanent presence in parts of coastal Portugal and southern Spain, Madeira and some of the Canary Islands.
Canary Red Admiral
Vanessa vulcania 7th May 2017. La Palma. Spain. I missed out on seeing this species during my first trip to La Palma back in 2012, but managed to find several during a return trip in May 2017. The red markings on the forewing are delightfully different to the standard Red Admiral that is so familiar to most of us. This was an important life-tick, as this species only occurs in the Canary Islands and on Madeira. Its flight and behaviour is very similar to the Red Admiral.
Canary Red Admiral
Vanessa vulcania 6th May 2017. La Palma. Spain. This individual was the first Canary Red Admiral that I had ever seen. We had been driving through the clouds, climbing along a high mountain road, right up towards the highest point of La Palma, close to the astrophysical observatory at the Roque de los Muchachos, when suddenly the two cars in front slammed on their brakes and pulled to a stop on the verge. The reason for this became immediately apparent. By the edge of the road was a group of enormous, stunning flowers, over six feet tall, and bearing huge spikes of pink florets. This was the endemic Echium wildpretii, subspecies trichosiphon, a very dramatic plant, and this butterfly was nectaring on it. By the time I got my camera out, it had moved onto the ground, where it was trying to get warm in occasional bursts of sunshine that were breaking through the thick cloud. A highly memorable encounter in a spectacular landscape, at an altitude of just over 2,200 metres!
Canary Speckled Wood
Pararge xiphioides 28th April 2012. La Palma. Spain. The main feature disginguishing this butterfly from the Speckled Wood is the narrow white band that runs down from the middle of the underside hindwing costa. This is clearly visible in this photograph. Another Canary Islands endemic, I found it to be fairly common at several localities in the north-east of La Palma, mainly in wooded ravines close to the coast, but also in more mature laurel forest further inland. It is very similar to our own Speckled Wood in flight and behaviour.
Canary Speckled Wood
Pararge xiphioides 2nd May 2012. La Palma. Spain. See previous photograph for commentary.
Thymelicus christi 29th April 2012. La Palma. Spain. I was very lucky to capture this image. I have only seen a small handful of these skippers. Formerly classified as a sub-species of the Lulworth Skipper, but now a species in its own right and endemic to the Canaries, the males, as can be seen here, are quite different to male Lulworth Skippers. The crescent of orange markings on the forewings are very prominent in the male of the Canary Skipper, whereas in the Lulworth Skipper they are only obvious in the female of the species. A very small but striking little fellow, photographed in a scrubby barranco north of Santa Cruz de La Palma.
Canary Islands Large White
Pieris cheiranthi 7th May 2017. La Palma. Spain. I absolutely love this butterfly! It is without doubt the rarest, most endangered species on my European Butterflies tick-list to date, only found in any numbers on La Palma, with a small presence still in the north of Tenerife. Its main habitat on La Palma is the lush and humid laurel forest, but it also flies in some of the barrancos and in other secondary habitat. Completely different from our own Large White, this beauty has very heavy, overstated black markings, and a very different flight pattern, flying slow and low, close to the floor and appearing much yellower when on the wing. I was fortunate to find it by the many dozens during two separate trips out to La Palma in the spring. A magical experience in a very unique place!
Canary Islands Large White
Pieris cheiranthi 7th May 2017. La Palma. Spain. A female egg-laying on Crambe. See previous photograph for commentary.
Cyclyrius webbianus 8th May 2017. La Palma. Spain. I saw my first Canary Blue some years ago on Tenerife, during a family holiday in November. It isn't a happy memory. Our hire car had broken down just outside the village of Vilaflor on our way up to Mount Teide, I was coming down with the flu, and my son, who had recently developed acute travel sickness, was vomiting beside the road as we waited for a replacement hire car to arrive. A Canary Blue flew past and landed briefly, but I managed only a quick glimpse (and no photograph) before it was on its way. Fast forward a few years, and I had much more enjoyable experiences on La Palma in 2012 and 2017, finding this beauty at a number of locations. It is yet another Canary Islands endemic, and almost unique taxonomically with just one close relative of the same genus being recorded from Mauritius.
Cyclyrius webbianus 8th May 2017. La Palma. Spain. This butterfly has an underside completely unlike any other of the European blues. Just beautiful! I found it in a variety of habitats, mainly in grassy, flower-rich areas with scattered scrub, but also in more enclosed areas within ravines and woodland rides and clearings, provided they were open enough to let plenty of sunshine in. Most of my sightings were of multiple adults, suggesting that it forms local colonies rather than being a more diffuse, dispersed species.
Gonepteryx cleobule 7th May 2017. La Palma. Spain. The taxonomy of this butterfly on La Palma has changed frequently over recent years, from being a subspecies of the Cleopatra, to a La Palma endemic in its own right (La Palma Brimstone, Gonepteryx palmae), and more recently it has become the Canary Brimstone, the same species that also occurs on Tenerife and La Gomera. Very similar to the Cleopatra, with the main difference being the almost totally straight forewing edge, and minimal hindwing scalloping. I found it to be common in the north-east of La Palma, particularly in the barrancos and in woodlands, but less frequent in towns and villages.
Laurel Forest habitat Home to Canary Islands Large White, Canary Speckled Wood etc.
Barranco del agua Home to Canary Blue, American Painted Lady, Canary Brimstone etc.
View over Los Tilos Laurel Forest Home to Canary Islands Large White, Canary Red Admiral etc.
View over the Pine Woods Home to Canary Brimstone etc.