Species of the week #89 – Large Grizzled skipper

The Large Grizzled skipper (Pyrgus alveus), called Sonnenröschen-Würfeldickkopffalter in german, is not only an example of the German language’s peculiarity of being able to string together an incredible number of nouns, but also a very special butterfly in Rhineland-Palatinate. Its last remaining habitat is in the Kalkeifel, and its conservation status is currently unclear. Butterfly researchers fear for its survival, as the last confirmed record in Rhineland-Palatinate was five years ago.

Distribution status in Rhineland-Palatinate Threatened with extinction, current status unclear
Remaining deposits Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg
Last sighting in Rhineland-Palatinate 2017 Kalkeifel
Habitat Dry rough grasslands and heaths
Threat Habitat loss, decline in transhumance, climate change

The Large Grizzled skipper is only 3 cm small, its brown wings bear a cube pattern on the upper side. All moths of the Pyrgus genus look very similar, making the exact identification of a species a dreaded task among students. Confusion is relatively common.

The Large Grizzled skipper loves dry rough grasslands and heaths with lots of sunrose growth. This is because the sunrose is the only food plant of the butterfly caterpillar. The adult butterfly needs short-grassed, patchy and warm semi-arid grasslands with plenty of open ground.

Although the Large Grizzled skipper is still widespread in the Swabian Alb and can often be found at suitable sites, its population is severely threatened by the abandonment of grazing. Especially transhumant sheep grazing is beneficial to the butterfly’s living conditions, because it means that the rough grassland is almost completely grazed a few times a year, so that the vegetation remains low and sparse. Early grazing at the beginning of May and more intensive grazing from August onwards is ideal.

The last Rhineland-Palatinate habitat, the Kalkeifel, is one of the 30 biodiversity hotspots nationwide. It is the last larger contiguous calcareous grassland with habitat quality. Area size and habitat connectivity are considered decisive criteria for the occurrence of butterfly species.

The establishment and maintenance of well-connected habitats through the expansion of contractual nature conservation and the renaturation of fallow calcareous grasslands is of particular importance in this context, as it enables the butterflies to move and adapt to climate change.

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Image: By ChrisMoWiki – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=113566879