Upon a grass seed- head a butterfly with its wings folded, an underwing I took to be the common blue. But is this tiny butterfly the Northern Brown Argus, Aricia artaxerxes? Chocolate brown with a dark spot on the forewing. The beautiful underwing is patterned with orange, white and black. The tiny butterfly flies swift and low and you have to be alert to find it. We had timed our visit perfectly for these freshly emerged butterflies. Being with experts from butterfly conservation teaches you to be circumspect. Distinguishing these two species is tricky.
Post script Smardale resonates, keeps on giving. Bringing home a cache of images is only the beginning. My Northern Brown Argus images wing their way amongst the butterfly experts who pore over them. Bottom left, wings spread, Northern Brown Argus - that dark forewing spot is definitive. The two shots to the right are a challenge. Northern Brown Argus or Common Blue? I have a sequence of some ten shots but the butterfly has its wings resolutely closed, no hint of upper wing colour. I have another specimen but the NBA tilts on a grass stem and its wing pattern doesn't show well. I'd like the opportunity to be back at Smardale studying flight pattern. With butterflies, their season on the wing is brief and the fitful and unsettled weather this June makes time precious.
As for evolution, how has it come about that two small butterflies have strikingly different upper-wing colour and pattern and under-wings that resemble each other so closely? How close are they genetically?
Thanks to Chris Winnick and Dave Wainwright of Butterfly Conservation for confirming Northern Brown Argus for all four images.