L. virgaureae as a British extinct native, the evidence.
Is there not one written account of the capture of L. virgaureae in Britain from a known locality. Well yes there is and by a very distinguised naturalist. Even this account does not convince many lepidopterists such as the late R.F Bretherton (1906-1991) who wrote the L. virgaureae species account in Emmet and Heath's ' The Butterflies of Great Britain and Ireland ' Vol 7 part 1 1990.
P .B.M. Allan who wrote much on L. virgaureae went further and wrote " Years ago Heodes (Chryosphanus, Lycaena) virgaureae , the ' Middle or Scarce Copper ' of the old English authors, was not an uncommon butterfly and the evidence would appear irrefutable ".
The following information on J. R. Forester is taken from P.B.M. Allan's ' Leaves from a Moth Hunter's Notebook' (1980) Allan's article originally appeared in the Entomologist Journal and Record of Variation vol 78 1956.
" The Polish Naturalist J.R. Forester whose descendants originated in Scotland, settled at Warrington on the border of Lancashire and Cheshire and became Professor of Natural History there. Forester stated in 1770 that he had taken L. virgaureae " as to be enabled to give some specimens to other collectors". Forester was one of the leading scientists of his day with impeccable credentials who must have encountered this species in Poland where it is quite common. He accompanied Captain Cook in 1772 as naturalist to his second expedition and was given an honorary degree by Oxford University. Later he became Professor of Natural History at Halle."
Forester produced a list of butterflies of the Warrington district and surprisingly omits the Small Copper L. Phlaeas, because of this Salmon (2000) suggests that Forester may have applied the wrong name to phlaeas. Salmon wrote that the Small Copper must have been a common butterfly at Warrington. However, the two species are very different and is it possible that such a distinguished naturalist would have made such an error.
Another piece of evidence that perhaps L. virgaureae was once British was revealed by Salmon (2000) in his book the Aurelian Legacy . Salmon tells us that in Henry Seymour's copy of Moses Harris's Aurelian on plate XXXXIV, the owner added in 1776 beautiful paintings of both the newly discovered Large Copper and also those of L. virgaureae. Salmon, summing up in his account of L. virgaureae wrote " On the basis of the documented records and known specimens, it seems at least possible that the Scarce Copper may once have been British, and even that, it was widespread if local from Devon to northern Britain. However, unlike the Large Copper, it is hard to find a reason why it should have died out here over such a large area, especially as it is less closely tied to fenland than the Large Copper. On the other hand, the weight of testimony is too great to be attributed entirely to human error or the fraudulent activities of certain dealers. Our verdict must be an open one " testimony Dru Drury ( 1786), the Queen's Goldsmith and one of the fathers of British entomology was asked if L. virgaureae was a native by a correspondent " English" repiled Drury " I can send it" Drury was a personal friend of J.C. Fabricius.
L. Virgaureae in Early British entomological Literature.
James Lewin his book ' Papilio's of Great Britian (1795) wrote that
" In the month of August I once met with two of these butterflies settled on a bank in the marshes, the sun at that time being very hot on them, they were exceedingly shy, and would not suffer me to approach them."
It is a great pity that Lewin does not mention where he saw his two L. virgaureae. Lewin had figures of virgaureae in his book Papilio's of Great Britain on plate 41 and unlike many of the later authors he gave this species the correct scientific name. Lewin was also the first to figure the newly discovered L. dispar in the same volume.
Plate 41 from James Lewin's Papilio's of Great Britain with L. virgaureae and L. phlaeas.
Edward Donovan also figured this butterfly in his Natural History of British Insect (1795). He wrote " A specimen of this superb and rare butterfly has been taken in Cambridgeshire. It has always had a place in the cabinets of English collectors of consequence, but we cannot learn who discovered it in this country." If it was a very rare butterfly from what source or locality did those noteworthy gentleman get their specimens of L. virgaureae?
A .H. Haworth (1802) included virgaureae in his Prodromus but marked it with an asterisk that meant he had not taken the species himself. Haworth who gave the historic virgaureae specimen to Westwood as undoubted British example and stated in his book that the" Large Copper L. dispar flew in reedy fens, while the Scarce Copper L. virgaureae inhabited Marshy Ground."
John Curtis in his British Entomology (1824-1840) Volume 5 remarked " that it is said to have occurred in Cambridgeshire, in the Isle of Ely and near Huntingdon. Curtis may have seen James Dale's specimens that were reputed to have been taken there.
James Duncan in his Natural History of British Butterflies (1835), figured L. virgaureae and wrote that " the insect is very rare in this country and does not appear to have been taken for many years ".
It must be said that often during the 18th century, information was simply copied by some authors from previous works. Because these authors did not actually state that they had actually captured specimens, this have given rise to the belief that this was not a British species by some 19th century lepidopterists and much later by R.F. Bretherton (1990) and others.
P.B.M. Allan also seem to be convinced that the ' Middle Copper ' L. virgaureae occured in England during the early part of the 20th century. In his article the Middle Copper mentioned above, Allan recountered a story that was told to him by his friend S.G. Castle Russell. Sidney George Castle Russell a well known and much respected collector was known to his friends as the " King of butterfly variety hunters". Briefly here is Allan's account.
During the the First World War Castle Russell was on a visit to the West Country of England in June. Russell with his wife and their good friend W.G. Mills were looking for places where the local fritillary Mellicta athalia could be found. One morning Russell had to remain at the Inn to write important letters, his wife was so charmed by the beautiful countryside that she hired an ancient horse drawn fly and set to explore the area accompanied by Mills.
After a few miles from the inn, they stopped to walk a loop around a lovely valley. On their return to the inn, Mrs Russell and Mills were very excited and they both told Castle Russell that they had seen numbers of the Large Copper flying in the valley. Castle Russell thought they were mistaken and it was impossible that the Large Copper, an extinct butterfly of fenland could be flying in a West Country Valley. Russell's wife was certain that they were ' Large Coppers' and mentioned that there was no other butterfly that has the brilliance of that butterfly. Mrs Castle Russell and Mills had no net so it was impossible to capture one. Castle Russell remained convinced that what his wife and Mills had seen could not have been Large Coppers. In later years did Castle Russell regret not investigating this valley. When Castle Russell told the story to Allan he mentioned that he never had the opportunity to go back there as the place was remote and the inn was not to his liking!. Russell told Allan that his wife had much collecting experience but Mills did not.
Allan thought he had the answer to the mysterious Copper butterflies flying that West Country Valley. The colony of butterflies that Russell's Wife and Mills had found could only have been L. virgaureae, there were no other species which had fiery oranges males. I have mentioned this story out of interest and because no specimens were captured on that far off summers day the evidence at the very least is circumstantial .
Next the British Specimens of L. virgaureae with images
British? Specimens of L. virgaureae in collections.
As I mentioned in the Quekett thread, there is at least one specimen of L. virgaureae that John Woodland said he had captured in the marshes at Langport in Somerset. This very poor specimen is without any data and is kept in the Taunton Heritage Centre in Somerset Then there were the specimens of L. vigaureae that were seen in the Quekett's Hanging Chapel museum at Langport that are no longer extant. The Quekett's and John Woodland left no written accounts of any captures of L. virgaureae .
There is a series of eight specimens of L. virgaureae in the Dalean collection at Oxford. The specimens have limited data, are some genuine British examples. None were taken by Dale himself. Five males have the data Museum Bloomesbury from Stephens (J.C.Dale). One of these have the added data Huntindonshire from Dr Leach with Yaxley placed at its side, ex Griesbach collection ( C.W. Dale) and two males which are undersides have the added data Haworth sale 1824. (C.W.Dale) Two females also are from the great Haworth Sale and one of these an underside in poor condition has Isle of Ely placed at its side. One female has the data E.L. Capel-Cure. Cromer 26th August 1878 ( C.W. Dale). Cromer is on the Norfolk coast and both the locality and the year of this specimen seem rather strange.
Who was E.L Capel-Cure who captured the female specimen of L. virgaureae . Capel Cure was it seems an affulent butterfly collector who lived at the St George Rectory, Grosvenor Street in Mayfair in London. We know this because Capel-Cure wrote to the journal' Entomologist Vol 13 ' about his specimen two years after its capture in 1880. Under Entomological Notes and Captures he tells the readers the following
" On August 26th 1878, during my stay at Cromer, I had the good fortune to catch a female of Crysophanus virgaureae. At first I took it to be a variety of ' Polyommatus phlaeas ( Small Copper), and it was not until Easter last when I saw C. virgaureae figured in Mr Kirby's European Butterflies and Moths, that I had any idea what a prize I had secured, I was not able, however to obtain any decisive judgement to its true character, until I had taken it to C.O Waterhouse." Waterhouse of the British Museum confirmed that it was indeed a pale variety of L. virgaureae. If Mr Capel-Cure indeed did capture his L. virgaureae at Cromer, where did it come from?. L. Virgaureae is not a known migrant, so it did not fly across the North sea or up from the Kentish coast. It is most unlikely that a colony at such a late date, could have survived in this area. Perhaps, a entomologist was breeding L. virgaureae and released some. We will never know. What is known is that C.W. Dale purchased this specimen for the Dalean collection.
Female of L. virgaureae that was said to be captured by E.L. Capel Cure on the 26th August 1878 at Cromer on the North Norfolk coast.
My own view is that L. virgaureae probably occured here but was perhaps restricted to marshy places and became extinct early in the 19th century.
A correspondant who has somewhat upset all the conservationalists by successfully introducing certain British Butterflies to new and old habitats without their offical approval mentions that he does believe L. virgaureae was once a British butterfly. His views are interesting because he probably knows more about the ecology and biology of British butterflies than many other British lepidopterists.
He wrote " My view on the Scarce Copper was that it was undoubtedly British. There’s too much evidence to argue otherwise. My main assertion as to its British ecology however differs slightly from yours. I believe it to have been a creature on the wettest (middle) parts of the fen, occurring on younger Great Water Dock in less choked areas than the outer older areas of the Large Copper. This being the reason way it was “scarce”, because of its inaccessibility and the complete succession of its habitat at an earlier period. Both co-existed, but utilizing slightly different habitat. British specimens of both L. dispar and L. virgaureae had elongated hindwings as in fact so does the Small Copper, compared to most European examples of all three species!. "
Your views on the British status of L. virgaureae would be appreciated and welcome.
Lycaena in the Dale collection.
The top left three specimens are L. hippothoe from Woodside Epping 1818. These are now known to be fraudulent British examples given to Dale by the unsuspecting W.E. Leach of the British Museum. Woodside near Epping was the home of that rogue dealer Plastead from whom Dr Leach obtained the L. hippothoe. Below these left ,are eight specimens of L virgaureae. Right is part of Dale's magnificent series of Lycaena dispar dispar and below these are some aberrations of Lycaena phlaeas, note the very rare extreme straw coloured specimen.
Here is new information on the status of L. virgaureae in lowland Europe that was given by friendly lepidopterists on facebook. Sometimes it can be a source of good information.
Heodes virgaureae was caught 7 times in the Netherlands. Of these 6 times it was caught between 1840 and 1894. The last record in that century being in 1894 we had to wait 109 years for it to appear again. In 2003 a female was caught near Roermond in the SE of the Netherlands. It is clear that in NW Europe the species did occur more in the 19th century than now. Nearest populations are confined to the Eiffel area in Germany.
The species is also abundant in Scandinavia even onto lower levels. Its population has increased remarkably in Sweden in the past years. Peter I will send you an article by Christine Haaland from April 2015 from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. It seems a good possibility that the specimen of 26th august 1878 on the Norfolk Coast was coming from Norway or even Sweden with north-easterly winds? Patrick Ooman.
Oberthur and Houlbert ( Faune Entomologique 1912) do not mention L virgaureae so it's safe to say it has never been found in Normandie or Brittany. LaFranchis, 2000 has it listed as still present in Ardenne (both France and Belgium) and Lorraine in Belgium but gone from Flemish Brabant and Liege. It is still present in Luxembourg. It seems to be matched to the same habitats as L. helle. C. Richards.
So there you have it, in Holland it has only ever been a rare visitor and in lowland France it was not recorded from the most western areas. Does this cast further doubt, of L. virgaureae being a British extinct Native?or did it just have a once disjunct European distribution.
Perhaps as Patrick said, the Capel Cure specimen caught at Cromer on the coast of Norfolk, might be a stray from Norway, if such a small insect could make it over such a large area of sea. However, I not convinced that this would be possible, but N. antiopa seems to make it across from there but that is a powerful butterfly. As for the early records of Forester and Lewin , you would have to believe either they were mistaken or they did indeed see virgaureae or in the case of Woodland that he was either telling the truth or his just about extant specimen was a hoax. As for the Dale specimens, these might have been fraudulent specimens sold by dealers or perhaps some were genuine? As this butterfly was not found in Holland as a native or in lowland France, they could not have all arrived from Scandinavia and then been seen or caught on remote Lancashire mosses or remote Somerset marshes. I am afraid this puzzle may never be solved. You either believe that virgaureae occurred here or it did not . As a whole most British lepidopterists seem strangely quiet on this subject.
-> It is still present in Luxembourg. It seems to be matched to the same habitats as L. helle.
I am sorry but I think this information is not correct or true. Lycaena virgaureae only occured in some small places in the West of the country, whereas Lycaena helle occurs in wetlands in the North East of the country. I can say that L. virgaureae is gone from Luxembourg as it has not been seen since 20 years anymore. Furthermore the construction of the pumped storage power station in Vianden destroyed its main habitat.
Calling the Eiffel NW Europe is also a bit over exaggerated The Eiffel is located pretty much in the centre of West Europe.
It is a nice article, I enjoyed reading it, but it only discusses people and events, and not biology or range maps. Only in the case of fraud people and events become important Looking at the biology of it,... Lycaena virgaureae occurs until central Germany in good numbers where the habitat allows to. In the Benelux countries and everything surrounding it only occurs as strays. It does not occur in the Northern half of France. In Scandinavia it does indeed occur, but do you know how far this is from the UK? Maybe some Vikings have brought them over to the UK, but as far as I remember they didn't do that in a 1000 years .
To me these specimens are all fake, and even when collected in the UK they probably have been set out prior in these fields by somebody else, fooling some people in thinking they found L. virgaureae. Why did this practice stop after the 19th century? This has probably to do with entomologists dying out, and not with the butterfly dying out.
Nomihoudal, thank you for your information on the distribution of L. virgaureae in Western Europe. The main article was about the History of L. virgaureae in Britain and not about its biology or its main distribution in Europe. Although as regards L. virgaureae former status in Britain, its distribution in Western Europe should be studied. You can see a map of L. virgaureae European distribution in Collins Butterfly Guide by Tolman and Lewington, although just a simple map, it does give you an idea of its range. If L. virgaureae did occur here, the biology of the butterfly was unknown and this and its ecology might have been different to the rest of Europe, especially if it was a relict species. A very good example is the British Papilio machaon.
Radusho, is it as simple as that, by saying all British specimen are fakes, what about the sightings by Forester and Lewin. Forester especially was a very knowledgeable and a distinguished entomologist and he was Polish not British.
I disagree, it could have been a relict species, that was found in a few widely separated localities where it became extinct early on. If you believe Woodland's captured in the Somerset Marshes, then it could have not been solely a migrant. By being an introduction, do you mean by dealers
Your theory is not totally impossible but I think that in those times of decent collecting, we would have found more specimens in collection. When an insect species is at "relict" stage, there are still many specimens in the colonies (see the recent extincted species in Britain).
I prefer the 2 other theories : - migrants from Scandinavia or Danemark - and moreover, introduction trials by some British entomologists. Species introduction was classic practices before we understood the risk of invasive species. British entomologists being crazy about Lycaenidae, I am sure that some of them having a cottage in France would have been tempted to bring some eggs/larvae back to Britain.
I don't really believe in a "commercial" introduction.
It makes no sense at all for it to be a tiny localised species, in a country bursting of collectors. Even in that case more would have been found. Also in subsequent years, and not single times.
The most likely scenario is the introduction by a person. There is three possibilities I can think of:
- to fool somebody saying "give me some money and I show you where this species flies" - breeding some stock from mainland Europe as a personal amusement and releasing some without malicious intend. - breeding some stock from mainland Europe with the intend of establishing the species, but failing.
The two later cases have happened often enough in Europe. Even the recently found Graellsia isabellae popularions in Italy are not considered to be new, or been overseen, or being a relict, but everybody is confident that somebody was breeding them and releasing them there.