There are about 50 subspecies of the Erebia family of butterflies, several of which can be found in K-Country. One of the most common is known sometimes as the Mountain Brassy Ringlet, or sometimes just the Common Alpine, scientifically called Erebia epipsodea. Its presence is particularly notable in subalpine and alpine regions. These butterflies have an intriguing combination of dark brown wings adorned with striking orange markings. That makes them easy to recognize against the backdrop of wildflowers and alpine meadows.
The Perfect Home: K-Country
K-Country offers an abundance of subalpine and alpine habitats. From towering peaks to lush meadows, this diverse terrain provides the Common Alpine with a suitable environment to thrive.
The life cycle of the Erebia epipsodea butterfly is a testament to the resilience and adaptability of these winged wonders. Like many butterflies, their existence consists of four distinct stages: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult.
The Dance of Courtship
One of the most enchanting aspects of observing Erebia epipsodea butterflies in Kananaskis Country is their courtship dance. During the mating season, male Common Alpines perform aerial displays to attract females. These dances often involve fluttering flights and intricate maneuvers. Within a very short time after mating, as little as days in the right circumstances, eggs are laid.
Again, as befitting the short growing season in the alpine, eggs can hatch to caterpillars in a matter of a week or two. The caterpillars of Common Alpine feed primarily on grasses and sedges, which are readily available in K-Country’s meadows.
More adaptations to Life in the High Country
They are non-migratory, and do not overwinter as adults like Mourning Cloaks. Like many organisms optimized for life in short alpine growing seasons, they have adapted in another way: Common Alpines overwinter in the chrysalis stage. These chrysalises are equipped to withstand the harsh winter conditions of alpine and subalpine environments. While they remain in this pupal stage, they go through a period of diapause. This is a state of dormancy that allows them to conserve energy and endure the cold temperatures until the following spring or early summer.
When the warmer temperatures return in the late spring or early summer, the adult butterflies emerge from their overwintering chrysalises. This completes their life cycle and begins the process of mating and reproducing in the alpine meadows. This adaptation to overwintering as pupae is well-suited to their specific environment and ensures their survival through the harsh winter conditions at higher altitudes.
Erebia epipsodea butterflies are known for their striking appearance. They’re a solid dark brown, marked by a series of “eye” spots on the underside of their wings. These “eye” spots, along with their orange markings, serve as a form of protection against potential predators. The spots mimic the eyes of larger animals, which can deter birds and other insects from approaching them.
See more of the interesting butterflies of K-Country here!