Grayling (butterfly)

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Hipparchia semele.jpg
Grayling (Hipparchia semele semele).jpg
Underside, Greenham Common, Berkshire, England
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Arthropoda
Class: Insecta
Order: Lepidoptera
Family: Nymphalidae
Genus: Hipparchia
Species: H. semele
Binomial name
Hipparchia semele
(Linnaeus, 1758)

The grayling or rock grayling (Hipparchia semele) is a species in the brush-footed butterfly family Nymphalidae.[1]



It is found in Europe below 63°N eastwards to extreme western Russia. It is absent from Albania, Macedonia and southern Greece. In the north of its range it is coastal for some reason and in the south of its range it is replaced by other Hipparchia species. They are only slightly different and together with H. semele form a cryptic species complex - Hipparchia aristaeus, Hipparchia christenseni, Hipparchia cretica, Hipparchia mersina, Hipparchia pellucida and Hipparchia volgensis.[2]


Preferred habitat, with dry and well-drained soil

Coast, dunes, salt marsh, undercliffs, clifftops, dry heathland, calcareous grassland, old quarries, earthworks, derelict old spoil heaps, open woodland on stony ground, dry and well-drained soil, with sparse vegetation and plenty of bare ground in open, sunny positions.


Life cycle[edit]

Note that information on this species applies to Great Britain and some details may not be consistent with the species in other parts of its range.

There is one generation per year. The eggs are laid from July to September singly on the food plant. The eggs are white at first, but turn pale yellow. The egg stage lasts between two and three weeks. The first-instar and second-instar larva feed in mid to late summer and then hibernate (while still small), in the third instar, at the base of a tussock. Feeding resumes in the spring and the last instar larvae are nocturnal, hiding in the base of grass tussocks during the day. There are four moults in total. The pupa is unattached, in an earth cell. The pupal stage lasts around four weeks. The larval instars are August to June, the pupa is formed June to August and the adult flies June to August.

Larval host plants[edit]


Side view

They rest with closed wings, forewings lowered between the hindwings as do many Satyrinae. When disturbed, they raise the forewing so that the large eyespots near its apex become visible. A predator attacking the butterfly could either be startled by the sudden appearance of the pattern, or be enticed into attacking the conspicuous spot rather than the butterfly's body (Stevens, 2005).

Males are territorial and show courtship behaviour. Both sexes are nectar feeding.

Conservation (Great Britain)[edit]

It is now a UK Biodiversity Action Plan species (Butterfly Conservation, 2007).


  1. ^ "Hipparchia Fabricius, 1807" at Markku Savela's Lepidoptera and Some Other Life Forms
  2. ^ Tolman, Tom & Lewington, Richard (2008): Collins Butterfly Guide. Collins Publishers. London. 384 pp.
  • Butterfly Conservation (2007), Priority butterfly species listed in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan 2007, Butterfly Conservation, Wareham, UK. 1p. 
  • Stevens, Martin (2005): The role of eyespots as anti-predator mechanisms, principally demonstrated in the Lepidoptera. Biological Reviews 80(4): 573–588. doi:10.1017/S1464793105006810 (HTML abstract)

External links[edit]