Butterflies and moths of the Pyrenees

Butterflies and moths of the Pyrenees

The Pyrenees have a wonderful variety of butterflies, attracted by the abundance of wildflowers in the range. In summer the meadows seem alive with dozens of butterflies flitting around you like confetti.

Large spectacular butterflies such as swallowtails, apollos and Camberwell beauties are regularly seen on our hikes and our guides will identify them for you. If you keep your eyes peeled you may spot some of the huge moths we have camouflaging themselves on rocks or trees during the day.

These are all photos taken by Phil and the Hike Pyrenees team – there are dozens more species than this but butterflies are notoriously difficult to photograph! We hope that you enjoy them and happy butterfly spotting when you’re next out hiking.

Note – some of the varieties, particularly blues and fritillaries, are difficult to tell apart and I hope I’ve identified them here correctly – if not let me know!

The spectacular Spanish moon moth – Graellsia isabellae

Swallowtails and apollos

This family has some of the largest and most spectacular butterflies of the Pyrenees. Swallowtails and scarce swallowtails are common in the Pyrenees – strangely enough the scarce swallowtail is the more common of the two here.

Swallowtails and other larger butterflies do something called ‘hilltopping’ when looking for a mate. As stumbling across a mate is unlikely for the rarer butterflies they have a tactic – all head uphill. They stay at the top and look for a mate with the males putting on great displays. The summit of Punta del Pacino is a perfect place to see this behaviour and we always see both standard and scarce swallowtails up there.

Apollo’s are beautiful butterflies with a large red eye spot on almost transparent wings. The valley of La Ripera and alongside the Rio Aguas Limpias on the way up to Refugio Respomuso are excellent places to spot the rare apollo’s in the Valle de Tena – I’ve seen over a dozen at the same time in La Ripera.

For swallowtails, you’re almost guaranteed to see them on the summit of Punta del Pacino. The smaller Spanish festoon is seen in the Pre-Pyrenees and I’ve often seen them hiking around Alquezar in the Sierra de Guara.

The beautiful swallowtail butterfly is regularly seen – the summit of Punta del Pacino is an excellent place to see them ‘hilltopping’

Fritillaries, aristocrats and browns

Another family of beautifully coloured butterflies. Fritillaries are common all over the Pyrenees but the species are very similar to each other so you’ll need good eyes or a good camera shot to identify them for certain – I’m hoping that I’ve got all of these ones right!

Camberwell beauties with their 6cm wingspan can be seen on the GR11 from La Sarra to Refugio Respomuso – this path is a delight for butterfly lovers and one of the best in the area – apollos, red admirals, swallowtails, whites and southern orange tips are all common there.

The two-tailed pasha is absolutely spectacular – it’s a more Mediterranean butterfly so look for it amongst the olive groves of the lower Sierra de Guara rather than in the high Pyrenees.

A very friendly southern white admiral. Butterflies often land on us or our rucksacks to feed on the salt from our sweat.

Coppers, blues, whites and yellows

Blues are one of the most common of the butterflies we see in the Pyrenees. These small bright butterflies often can be seen in large clusters feeding around muddy puddles in a behaviour called ‘puddling’. The water contains salts and minerals from the soils, particularly sodium, which the males require to increase their reproductive success.

It makes for a lovely sight to see so many butterflies together and they often fly off in a cloud as you walk past. Blues are another family that has lots of very similar species so care is needed when identifying them – the markings on the underwings are often the easiest way to identify them.

As well as the orange tip pictures below, you can also find the southern orange tip in the Pyrenees. These have yellow wings with orange tips and are very pretty – but hard to photo hence it’s missing from my gallery! The females of the orange tip and the southern orange tip have grey wingtips rather than orange.

Silver studded blues ‘puddling’ and taking in additional salts and minerals


Don’t think moths are the plainer, boring night flying cousins of the butterflies – many moths are absolutely beautiful! The Spanish moon moth is the most iconic moth in Spain. It lives in the pine woods but is very hard to spot despite its huge 10cm wingspan.

An even larger moth, the largest in Europe, is the Great Peacock with a wingspan of up to 14cm. I’ve actually seen these several times in the village during the day trying to camouflage themselves on the walls of stone houses or the pavement.

There are lots of types of hawk-moth in the Pyrenees. The most commonly seen is the day flying hummingbird hawk-moth, so-called as it doesn’t land on the flowers but hovers in front drinking the nectar through a long proboscis in a similar manner to a hummingbird.

The six spot burnet is another day flying moth that we commonly see – normally feeding on scabious which they seem to love. For some reason haven’t a photo but you can see the rarer provence and auspicious burnets below.

The enormous Great Peacock is Europe’s largest moth

Web resources

There are some excellent websites with lots of information about butterflys and moths. Mainly UK based, but many of the species are the same as you will find in the Pyrenees.

UK Butterflies – great for identification with photos of male and female examples along with the underwings which can be important in identification.

Butterfly Conservation – lots of info such as guides to garden plants to help butterflies and identification guides for both butterflies and moths.

UK Moths – another great site with lots of info about moths and photos of hundreds of varieties.

Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa – a bt more technical but covers species not found in the UK.


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