This pretty butterfly has always intrigued me and
was a butterfly I never dreamed of seeing. My chance came in 2001.
It has an extraordinarily limited known range. When I was looking for
it in 2001 there were only 4 known sites in the world for this species.
All were in Morocco - 3 in the Middle Atlas mountains where it flies in
August/ September and one in the western High Atlas where it flies in
May. It has since been discovered elsewhere in the eastern High Atlas
where it is reportedly double brooded - May and August/ September.
I suspect it is more widespread than this but as it is such an
inconspicuous butterfly. It flies very low to the ground, is difficult
to spot and very difficult to follow in flight and doesn't wander far
from its small colonies. Coupled with this the hostility and
inaccessibility of its environment makes searching for it particularly
difficult. Even the duration of flight is limited, a great drop in
activity being noted at roughly midday on both our visits to this site.
Catching it with a net was amazingly difficult too. It flew almost
touching the ground and between stones and pebbles so that most efforts
ended in the net bouncing off the ground and the butterfly instantly
vanishing. Still, a lot of effort has been put in over the years to find
other sites, most ending in failure.
We were lucky enough to find a courting couple. I have a couple of
minutes of video footage this activity during which my boot was used to
play out the ritual. The female would fly a short distance allowing the
male to catch up. She would vibrate her wings in a most unusual fashion
- very short beats but incredibly fast - rather like a Noctuid moth
warming up or a Hawk Moth on the wing. Then the male would approach,
join in the wing vibration and she'd fly on again. After about 5 minutes
the male lost sight of the female and the courtship ended in failure.
Its habitat is a very dry rocky place. As with the entire countryside
of Morocco, goats have ravaged this place. Luckily for Maurus vogelii
its larval foodplant very low growing and either evades or withstands
goat attack. I was busy taking a video record of the Geranium flower and
its leathery foliage when a rather worn butterfly landed to complete the
scene - see photograph above.
It was sad to see that the ancient giant Cedars that characterise
this region are dying - young trees are being chewed up by the goat
plague so they are in serious trouble of survival. Even more concerning
is the practice of cutting down the limited scrub for a) fire wood and
b) let the goats eat otherwise inaccessible foliage. Even the scrub's
existence is limited as regrowth is chewed back as soon as it pokes its
first leaves above the ground. All that will be left soon is the
Geranium, a few whips of grass and the severely prickly cushion plants
dotted about the hillside.