Nature in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur
The Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA) region harbors a biological diversity unique in France, due to the presence of both alpine and Mediterranean influences. As an example, 70% of the french flora is found in PACA. PACA's outstanding nature is protected in four national parks : Port-Cros, Mercantour, Ecrins, and Calanques (the shameful "red mud" park) and six regional parks : Lubéron, Queyras, Verdon, Camargue, Alpilles and Préalpes d'Azur. Associations such as the Conservatoire d'Espaces Naturels Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (CEN PACA) are also working to preserve this natural heritage.
The photos shown here were mainly taken in the east of the PACA region (Var and Alpes-Maritimes).
The Mediterranean zone
Contrary to that of Corsica, the coast of the Alpes-Maritimes and Var departments is heavily urbanized, leading to the rarefaction and disappearance of many species. Only a few relatively preserved areas remain (Estérel, the coast near Ramatuelle, and the Hyères islands).
The cliffs of Cap Roux (Estérel). The rhyolite cliffs of Cap Roux overlook the sea, on the south-facing slope of the Estérel range. Protected from urbanization, the area still contains an original fauna and flora.
Rich Mediterranean Maquis at Cap Lardier (Ramatuelle, Var). Located west of Saint-Tropez, this patch of coast was still relatively untouched, and protected by several sites of the French Conservatoire du littoral. A rich Mediterranean flora could be found there, among which the Jupiter's beard (Anthyllis barba-jovis, bushes with white flowers on the photo) and the tree Spurge (Euphorbia dendroides). In the background of this photo, the remarkable isthmus of Cap Taillat. This stretch of coast as been almost fully destroyed by a fire in July 2017. It is unlikely that its biological riches will ever recover.
The tree Spurge (Euphorbia dendroides). This large spurge forms bushes with a characteristic spherical shape, growing up to 2 m. It lives in the scrub and in cliffs, generally near the sea but sometimes further inland. This species is a western Mediterranean endemic. In France, it is found on the coast of Var, Alpes-Maritimes and Corsica.
Thymelaea hirsuta. This strange shrub is found in arid places along the coast, in areas submitted to sea spray. It is very toxic. Occurring throughout the Mediterranean basin, this species is found in France only along the Mediterranean coast. It is protected in the PACA region.
The wild tulip (Tulipa sylvestris). This deep yellow tulip is found at low altitude, in Mediterranean countries. It flowers in April. It should not be mistaken for Tulipa australis, another species with yellow flowers orange-tinted on the outside which grows in karstic grassland in low mountain areas. Both species are protected in France.
The early star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea saxatilis). This tiny plant from the Liliaceae family is among the first plants to flower, as early as February at low elevations. This species has very short stems and comparatively large yellow flowers. The basal leaves are very narrow, while those on the stem are lanceolate and hairy. In France, this species is mainly present in the south-east, and fully protected. This Gagea and three other protected species (G. arvensis, G. pratensis, G. reverchonii) also occur in the Grasse Prealps.
Blooming of the Crimean iris (Iris lutescens). This iris with short stems and larges flowers is found in dry scrub, in the Mediterranean and Minor Asia. Spectacular blooming can be observed in April, as illustrated here in the Plaine des Maures (Var). In France, this species occurs only in the mediterranean fringe.
Durieu's Isoetes (Isoetes duriaei). This inconspicuous little plant belongs to the fern family. It occurs is sandy area that are temporarily flooded in spring. This species is found in Mediterranean Europe, Africa and Turkey. In France, it is restricted to the Mediterranean border and fully protected.
Durieu's Isoetes (Isoetes duriaei).
Durieu's Isoetes (Isoetes duriaei).
Durieu's Isoetes (Isoetes duriaei) habitat.
The small adder's-tongue (Ophioglossum azoricum). This strange little fern grows in wet sandy depressions. It is found in westernmost Europe. In France, it occurs in the western half of the country up to the Var department (here in the Plaine des Maures, where it is found together with Durieu's Isoetes). This species is considered threatened and fully protected in France.
The least adder's-tongue (Ophioglossum lusitanicum). This is another member of the adder's-tongue family. It is a tiny, inconspicuous plant. This species appreciates wet sandy habitats. It has a vast world distribution, but it is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN. In France, it occurs in the south and along the Atlantic coast. It is protected in the PACA region.
Paragymnopteris marantae. This fern is identified by its dark green color. It occurs in dry rocky places, on siliceous substrata. In France, this species is found in the Massif Central area and the south-east. It is protected in the PACA region.
The royal fern (Osmunda regalis). This beautiful fern grows up to 2 m tall. The large, bright green leaves are typical. This plant grows in bogs and along streams, throughout Europe, Africa and Asia. In France, this species is rather common in Brittany and along the atlantic coast, much scarcer in the south. Here, it is found along small streams in low siliceous ranges along the coast such as the Esterel, where it sometimes grows along the rare summer lady's tresses (Spiranthes aestivalis). The royal fern is protected in the PACA region.
Crassula valiantii. This tiny plant belongs to the stonecrops family. It is mainly found in siliceous temporary ponds, sometimes together with Durieu's Isoetes (Isoetes duriaei) and the least adder's-tongue (Ophioglossum lusitanicum). This picture shows the bright-red flowers opening underwater. The species occurs in southern Europe and Africa. It is protected in the PACA region.
The sand crocus (Romulea columnae). This tiny plant belongs to the Iridacea family. It blooms in sandy areas, starting from February. In France, this species is found along the coast of the Channel, the Ocean and the Mediterranean. It is protected in the PACA region.
The gratiole (Gratiola officinalis). This plant forms small bushes with erected stems and typical withish flowers. It grows in bogs and along streams. Once widespread in France, this is now a rare plant which is fully protected.
The Mediterranean fluellen (Kickxia commutata). This inconspicuous plant grows low on the ground. The white and purple flowers sport a characteristically curved spur. The lower leaves are rounded, while the upper ones are arrow-shaped. Both leaves and stem are very hairy. This rare plant should not be mistaken with the sharp-leaved fluellen (Kickxia elatine), whose leaves are all arrow-shaped and whose flowers have a straight spur. The Mediterranean fluellen is usually found in moist, sandy places. In France, it occurs along the Mediterranean coast, and in a few spots of the Atlantic coast. It is a fully protected species.
The Mediterranean fluellen (Kickxia commutata).
Linaria pelisseriana. Typical of dry siliceous grounds, this small plant has erected stems bearing purple flowers with a long straight spur. This species is found in southern Europe, Asia minor and Algeria.
The friar's cowl (Arisarum vulgare). This strange-looking plant is found mostly in moist places, often on siliceous ground. It is native to the Mediterranean area. In France, it is found only in the south-east.
Aristolochia pistolochia. This member of the birthwort family grows in dry and rocky places. The strange flowers attract and trap flies, that are involved in the pollination mechanism. This species is the host plant of the striking Spanish festoon (Zerynthia rumina). In France, this plant is found along the mediterranean coast.
The gum rockrose (Cistus ladanifer). This striking species is found in France only in a few spots along the Mediterranean coast. Its has distinctive large flowers, either completely white of with purple spots, and narrow leaves that are extremely sticky. The gum from this plant has been exploited in perfumery under the name of ladanum. The gum rockrose occurs in Spain, Portugal, France, Sicily and Algeria.
The common catchfly (Silene gallica). This pretty little plant is found in dry and sandy areas. This is a rather mediterranean species, present in France mostly in the south.
The bunch-flowered narcissus (Narcissus tazetta). This attractive plant can not be mistaken. It flowers in early spring in wet meadows and olive coves. It is vanishing from the Côte d'Azur due to urbanization. The bunch-flowered narcissus is a mediterranean species, occuring from Portugal to Turkey. It is also widely naturalized.
The poppy anemone (Anemone coronaria). This stunning anemone grows locally in olive fields, especially in the area near Grasse (Alpes-Maritimes). Its large flowers of an intense red bloom in March-April. This species occurs in Mediterranean countries, and in France only in the south. It is a protected species.
The broad-leaved anemone (Anemone hortensis). Much more common than the previous species, this pretty anemone is found in the same habitat, for instance in olive fields. It flowers early, staring from February. This plant is found in southern Europe and Minor Asia. In France, it is present in the south.
The two anemones.
The garden candytuft (Iberis umbellata). This large Iberis grows up to 1 m tall, with large corymbs of bright pink flowers. The flowers are asymmetric, with the two external petals much larger than the inner ones. Quite uncommon in the region, this species is found along streams near the coast. This is a mediterranean plant, found in most of southern Europe.
Orchids are fascinating plants, with an incredible diversity of shapes and colors. The PACA region is among the richest in France for orchids, with around 120 species. Some other species are illustrated in the Grasse Prealps section of this site.
The giant orchid (Himantoglossum robertianum). This robust orchid is a Mediterranean species. It is easily identified by its large purple and green flowers, and its shiny green leaves. This is our most early flowering orchid, starting from January. In France, this plant is present in the south-east quarter, where it is very common.
The violet limodore (Limodorum abortivum). Before flowering (in May), this orchid looks like a large asparagus. It is often found in the shade of holm oak (Quercus ilex) woods. Almost devoid of photosynthetic pigments, this orchid relies on a relationship with a fungus to survive. The limodore is present in most of the French territory, but scarce in the north.
Ophrys arachnitiformis. The species belonging to the genus Ophrys are distinguished by a labellum imitating and attracting various insects. Ophrys arachnitiformis, very variable, generally has a pink or white perianth. The labellum is sometimes narrow, as on the photo below, but usually rather round. On the Côte d'Azur, it is one of the first orchids to bloom, starting in March. The distribution of the Mediterranean species is not well known, due to confusions with other similar species. In France, this rather local orchid is supposed to occur near the coast between the Bouches-du-Rhône and the Alpes-Maritimes, where it can be quite common.
Ophrys arachnitiformis. Narrow labellum form.
Ophrys splendida. This beautiful Ophrys is identified by the yellow border of its labellum, and the pink or white perianth with broad, bi-colored petals. This is a rare species with a restricted range (Provence).
Marseille's orchid (Ophrys aranifera subsp. massiliensis). This species has relatively small, pale flowers with a yellow margin of the labellum. Its most distinctive characteristic is its very early flowering period, starting in February (sometimes even December). This orchid seems to be restricted to the mediterranean border, from the French department of Hérault to Liguria in Italy.
Marseille's orchid (Ophrys aranifera subsp. massiliensis).
Ophrys aurelia. This is one of our most spectacular Ophrys. The large flowers are strongly contrasted, with a dark, hairy labellum and pink sepals. Two forms of discutable validity have been described: Ophrys aurelia and Ophrys saratoi. The former is restricted to the coast while the latter is found in low moutain ranges. Ophrys aurelia, which flowers in mid-April, is endemic to southeastern France and Liguria. In France, it occurs from the Bouches-du-Rhône to the Alpes-Maritimes, as well as in Corsica. This species is strongly threatened by coastal urbanization.
The mirror orchid (Ophrys ciliata). This stunning orchid is unmistakable, with its peculiar-shaped labellum displaying a blue "mirror", bordered by long red hairs. France constitutes the northern limit of its distribution. Very rare in the country, it is found mainly along the mediterranean coast, where it is highly sporadic. This species is fully protected in France.
The bumblebee orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora). This tiny orchid with strange brownish flowers is quite inconspicuous. Rather common in the eastern mediterranean, it is very rare in France where it is threatened by urbanization. This species is fully protected in France.
The bumblebee orchid (Ophrys bombyliflora).
The milky orchid (Neotinea lactea). This orchid is identified by its small size and the pink perianth with green veins. This is a rather rare Mediterranean species, flowering in early spring (March). In France, it is only found in a few southern departments, including Corsica.
The milky orchid (Neotinea lactea).
The milky orchid (Neotinea lactea).
Champagneux's orchid (Orchis champagneuxii). This orchis has a distinctive labellum, strongly folded and with a bicolor aspect, without any spots. This uncommon species grows on acid soils, usually dry maquis with cork oaks. It is flowering in early spring (end of March). This orchid occurs in southwestern Europe (Portugal to Italy) and North Africa. In France, it is restricted to the Mediterranean fringe.
The butterfly orchid (Anacamptis papilionacea subsp. expansa). This striking orchid cannot be mistaken, except with the subspecies papilionacea, found in Corsica, with almost no purple stripes on the labellum. This species is mainly found along the coast, often in olive groves. In France, this orchid is restricted to the mediterranean costal area.
Provence's orchid (Orchis provincialis). This species can not be mistaken, with its pale yellow flowers with a few purple spots on the labellum. The bright green leaves usually show large black patches. Like the previous one, this orchid is rathe rare and prefers acidic soils. It is a Mediterranean species, found from Spain to Turkey and in North Africa. In France, its distribution is limited to a southeast quarter of the territory.
Hyères's tongue orchid (Serapias olbia). Orchids from the genus Serapias are easily identified by the lip protruding from the perianth. This species is rare and local, endemic of the Mediterranean west. In France, it occurs in the Var, the Alpes-Maritimes and Corsica. It is classified as "quasi-threatened" by IUCN, and protected in the PACA region.
Hyères's tongue orchid (Serapias olbia).
The scarce tongue orchid (Serapias neglecta). This beautiful serapias is easily recognized to its rater short stem and its large orange flowers. This Thyrrenian endemic is only found, in France, in the Var, the Alpes-Maritimes and Corsica. It is a rare species, protected in France.
The scarce tongue orchid (Serapias neglecta).
The scarce tongue orchid (Serapias neglecta). Uncommon yellow form.
The long-lipped serapias (Serapias vomeracea). This is our most common serapias. This is usually a high plant that can grow up to 60 cm tall. The labellum is long and narrow, with dense white hairs covering the junction of the epichile and hypochile. In France, this orchid is found in the southern half of the country.
The summer lady's-tresses (Spiranthes aestivalis). This inconspicuous orchid typically grows in wetlands, and hence is becoming increasingly rare in France due to habitat loss. In the Côte-d'Azur area, this species still occurs very locally on the banks of small streams in some coastal ranges. Flowering occurs in June. The summer lady's-tresses is fully protected in France.
Summer lady's-tresses in its habitat.
The small-leaved helleborine (Epipactis microphylla). This helleborine grows in the undergrowth, often in evergreen oak woods. Usually, this small plant is a greyish green. This individual is lacking chlorophyll, and must rely on a symbiosis with a fungus to survive. Epipactis microphylla is quite widespread in Europe, but often rare. In France, it is protected in several regions.
The yellow foot (Cantharellus lutescens). This mushroom grows on humid slopes in coniferous forests, both at near the sea and in low mountain ranges. With a subtle flavor and easily preserved by drying, often very abundant in its locations, this is one of the favourite mushroom in the south-east of France.
Caesar's mushroom (Amanita caesarea). This nice mushroom is easily identified by its orange cap, and its golden yellow gills and stipe. This last criterion is important to separate this species from the fly amanita (Amanita muscaria), which sometimes loses its distinctive white spots on the cap. Caesar's mushroom is a fairly uncommon meridional species, growing in clear oak woods. It is considered one of the best edible mushrooms.
The bar-tailed godwit (Limosa lapponica). This wader has a distinctive, long and slightly upturned beak that it uses to probe the sand for molluscs and lugworms. A closely related species, the black-tailed godwit (Limosa limosa), shows distinctive black and white patterns on the wings and tail (only visible in flight). Breeding in northernmost Europe, the bar-tailed godwit winters on coasts further south.
Hermann's tortoise (Testudo hermanni). This tortoise is the only native French species. It lives dry and warm scrubby habitats, with sandy areas to lay its eggs. This species occurs in southern Europe: Spain, France, Italy, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey. In France it is mainly present in the Var (the Maures range) and in Corsica. As a species, Testudo hermanni is classified by UICN as "nearly endangered", but the western subspecies occurring in France is considered threatened and is the object of conservation programs. This tortoise is fully protected in France.
Hermann's tortoises (Testudo hermanni) in their habitat.
The European pond turtle (Emys orbicularis). This freshwater species appreciates sunny ponds and streams, where it can often be seen sunbathing posted on a branch. Very shy, it quickly jumps into the water once disturbed and hides in the mud or under the aquatic vegetation. Once widespread throughout Europe this species is in strong regression and listed as threatened. In France, it is present in several isolated populations strongholds, among which the Plaine des Maures where this photo was taken. This turtle is fully protected in France.
Montpellier's snake (Malpolon monspessulanus). Reaching 2 m and more, this is one of the largest european snakes with the four-lined snake (Elaphe quatuorlineata). Quite impressive, this snake is perfectly harmless ... as long as you don't stick your finger in its throat ! Indeed, this species belongs to the rear-fanged colubrids and is mildly venomous. Montpellier's snake is found in North Africa, the Iberian Peninsula, France and northwestern Italy. It is fully protected in France.
Juvenile Montpellier's snake (Malpolon monspessulanus).
The southern smooth snake (Coronella girondica). This small and thin snake is usually seen at dusk. Contrary to the smooth snake (Coronella austriaca), it lacks a dark stripe between nostril and eye. This species mainly feeds on lizards. It is found in Spain, southern France, Italy and Northern Africa.
Juvenile moorish wall gecko (Tarentola mauritanica). This gecko, mainly nocturnal, is found in the Mediterranean basin. In the south of France, it is often seen on village walls, catching insects attracted by lamps. During winter, the moorish wall gecko hides in rock cracks but also under roof tiles and in attics. Two other gecko species, much less common, also occur on the French Mediterranean coast: the Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) and the European leaf-toed gecko (Phyllodactylus europaeus).
Juvenile ocellated lizard (Timon lepidus). This lizard is the largest European species, reaching more than 80 cm in length. The adult males boast spectacular blue eyespots on their flanks. This mediterranean species is strongly declining, and threatened of extinction in France. The ocellated lizard occurs mainly in the Iberian peninsula, in southermost France and the extreme northwest of Italy.
The Spanish psammodromus (Psammodromus hispanicus). This small brown lizard with a striped pattern appreciates dry and open habitats, such as coastal dunes. It is found mainly in the Iberian Peninsula, and in France along the Mediterranean coast, from the Pyrénées-Orientales to the Var.
The natterjack toad (Epidalea calamita). This bulky toad is readily identified by its bright yellow eyes and the pale line accross its back. Nocturnal, it hides during the day in a burrow under a stone. This species is found accross western Europe, from Spain to Russia.
The common parsley frog (Pelodytes punctatus). This small toad is restricted to southwestern Europe : Italy, France and the Iberian peninsula. It is capable of surviving in dry habitats by hiding under rocks. Mostly nocturnal, it is most easily seen in ponds during the mating season, in sprng. Considered vulnerable, the common parsley frog is protected in France.
The mediterranean tree frog (Hyla meridionalis). This tree frog differs from the European tree frog (Hyla arborea) by the dark flank stripe that does not extend beyond the front legs. It occurs in Italy, France and the Iberian peninsula. In France, this species is found along the mediterranean coast, while the European tree frog occupies the rest of the country.
The marsh frog (Pelophylax ridibundus). Reaching 13 cm, this is the largest European frog. Highly adaptable, it occurs in in ponds, lakes and streams. Its powerful song can sometimes be a nuisance ! Initially present in the East, it is now found in most of the French territory.
Male marsh frog singing.
The spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina). This magnificient butterfly is among the most spectacular French species. It lives in warm valleys and rocky areas where grows its host plant Aristolochia pistolochia. This species occurs in southwestern Europe and North Africa. In France, where it is found in a few departments of the Mediterranean coast, it is fully protected.
The southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena). Cousin to the previous species, the southern Festoon inhabits southern Europe up to Asia Minor. It usually prefers wetter habitats than the Spanish Festoon, typically warm valleys with a river where grows Aristolochia rotunda, its host plant. However, in the Grasse Prealps, the southern Festoon also occurs in the much dryer habitat of the calcareous plateaus, where it then feeds on Aristolochia pallida. In some rare areas, the two species can be found flying together, in May. The southern Festoon is fully protected in France.
Inter-specific festoon mating. When both festoon species occur in the same location, which is quite uncommon, inter-specific mating can occur. This photo shows an event rarely documented in the wild, the mating of a female spanish festoon (Zerynthia rumina, top) with a male eastern festoon (Zerynthia polyxena, bottom).
The two-tailed Pasha (Charaxes jasius). This stunning butterfly is among the largest in Europe, reaching a 10 cm wingspan. At a distance, it is best recognized to its dark color and fast, nervous flight. In southern France where the species occurs, the caterpillars feed on the strawberry tree (Arbutus unedo). Charaxes jasius is found in Africa and southern Europe.
The chequered blue butterfly (Scolitantides orion). This tiny butterfly displays characteristic black and orange markings on the underwing. It is found in dry slopes with stonecrops (Sedum sp.), on which its caterpillar feeds. This species is found from southern Europe to central Asia up to Japan, as well as in Scandinavia. It is scarce everywhere.
The chequered blue butterfly (Scolitantides orion).
Lang's short-tailed blue (Leptotes pirithous). This small butterfly is identified by its complex wing pattern and the presence of tiny tails. It is found in Africa, Asia and southern Europe. In France, it lives in the Mediterranean south but can be seen in most of the country during migrations.
The Moroccan orange tip (Anthocaris belia). This colorful butterfly flies in spring above dry slopes looking for Biscutella laevigata, its feeding plant. The yellow wings with and orange tip are distinctive. This butterfly occurs mostly in Northern Africa, and in southwestern Europe including south of France.
The death's-head hawk moth (Acherontia atropos). This magnificent moth is one of the biggest in Europe, with a wingspan up to 5 inches. When taken in hands, it has the particularity to squeal. A great honey-lover, this moth gets inside beehives protected by its dense fur. Resident in Africa and Asia, this moth is found in Europe as a summer migratory species (in regressing numbers).
Death's-head hawk moth (Acherontia atropos) caterpillar on olive tree. This caterpillar with striking colors grows up to 6 inches. It feeds on various Solanaceae species (potato, eggplant), but is also sometimes found in olive trees.
The crimson-speckled Flunkey (Utetheisa pulchella). This small butterfly has a characteristic colorful pattern. A migratory species, it is observed in our country along the Mediterranean coast. This widespread butterfly occurs in Africa, southern Europe, Asia and Australia.
The praying mantis (Mantis religiosa). This large mantis is a common sight in Provence during the end of summer. The white stripe accross the eye is distinctive. This is the only mantid present in most of France, a few other species are exclusively mediterranean (see below).
The raptorial legs of the praying mantis.
The mediterranean mantis (Isis oratoria). This species is smaller than the praying mantis (Mantis religiosa). The wings of the female (shown here) are shorter than the abdomen. The eyes also lack the white stripe typical of the praying mantis. In France, this species only occurs along the mediterranean coast.
The mediterranean mantis (Isis oratoria) in its habitat.
The conehead mantis (Empusa pennata). This Mediterranean species is identified by the cone shape of its head, and the excrescence on the segments of the abdomen. The female, shown here, has straight antennae while the male has pectinate ones. Adults are rarely seen, while juveniles, sometimes called "little devils", are often found in bushes (see below).
Juvenile conehead mantis (Empusa pennata). The juveniles of this mantis are identified by their upturned abdomen looking like a small pine cone. Extremely mimic, they merge with the twigs of the bushes they hide into.
Juvenile conehead mantis (Empusa pennata).
The owly sulphur (Libelloides coccajus). This insect belongs to the order Neuroptera. In flight, it looks like a dragonfly. It is found gliding above dry meadows, in the southern half of France.
Due to its large variety of habitats, the PACA region is home to a number of dragonfly species. Around 70 species of dragonflies and damselflies can be observed here.
The scarlet dragonfly (Crocothemis erythraea). This dragonfly is best recognized by the brownish areas at the base of the wings, showing on this picture. The male is scarlet while the female is a brownish yellow. This species has an extended world distribution including Africa, Asia and the south of Europe (expanding northward).
The four-spotted chaser (Libellula quadrimaculata). With the four spots on the wings and the brown color of the body, this dragonfly is unmistakable. It is usually found in ponds. This is a widespread species, occuring in Europe, Asia and North America.
The common darter (Sympetrum striolatum). This dragonfly has an orange body (for the male) and a thorax with a characteristic pattern. A closely related species, the red-veined darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii), has strange-looking two-color eyes. The common darter occurs in most of France.
The red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii). This dragonfly is identified by its strange bi-color eyes, with a blueish lower part. The male, shown on this photo, is redish whilst the female is yellow. A migratory species, this inhabitant of southern Europe can be found in many habitat, and is observed certain years quite far north of its usual range.
Lesser emperor (Anax parthenope) mating. The first two segments of the abdomen of this large dragonfly are a bright blue and its thorax brownish, which differentiate it from the emperor dragonfly (Anax imperator). This species is widespread in southern and central Europe, North Africa and Asia. In France, it is most common in the south, especially during the fall.
The blue-tailed damselfly (Ischnura elegans). This widespread species is found in most Europe and Asia, in still waters with reed beds. The bright blue spot near the tip of the abdomen is typical. The coloration depends on sex and age ; males have a blue thorax, while females are much more variable (here, a young female).
The willow emerald damselfly (Chalcolestes viridis). This delicate damselfly has a coppery green body and yellowish pterostigma. It is often found near small mediterranean streams. This species occurs everywhere in France.
The small red damselfly (Ceriagrion tenellum). This tiny damselfly has a distinctive entirely red abdomen, russet legs and a coppery thorax, which differentiate it from the large red damselfly (Pyrrhosoma nymphula), the only other red dragonfly in the area. This species occurs in North Africa and most of Western Europe.
Assassin bug (Rhynocoris iracundus). This striking insect belongs to the genus Hemiptera (true bugs). This species is preying on other insects, which it pierces with its rostrum to inject a digestive saliva. Handling with bare hands is not advised, as the bite is quite painful ! In France, this colorful insect occurs mainly in the south.
Nymph of Egyptian locust (Anacridium aegyptium). This grasshopper, once adult, is gray and reaches 7 cm in body length. The nymph is often green, but also displays the stripped eyes characteristic of the species. This grasshopper is quite common in the south-east of France and in Corsica, especially in dry maquis near the coast. The Egyptian locust occurs in the mediterranean zone and in western Asia.
Pyrgomorpha conica. This small grasshopper reaches 2 cm. Its cone-shaped head and thick antennae are distinctive. Difficult to spot, the juveniles of this species (see below) are found in spring in dry area, often on acid grounds. In France, this species only occurs along the mediterranean coast.
Juvenile Pyrgomorpha conica.
Paratettix meridionalis. Even smaller than the previous species, this grasshopper barely reaches 1 cm ! Highly mimic, it is difficult to spot. The pronotum (the plate above the thorax) is particularly long and extends beyond the length of the body. This species is usually found in sandy areas near small streams. In France, it occurs in the southern half of the country.
Tetrix depressa. Found in the same habitat as the previous species, this Tetrix has a distinctively broad pronotum, with the middle crest forming a bump in the front part. It occurs in the southern half of France as well.
The italian locust (Calliptamus italicus). As in the three other Calliptamus species in the area, the males are much smaller than the females. Determination can by tricky, and involves the shape of the penis ! These grasshoppers appreciate very dry places, with little vegetation. The italian locust occurs in western Europe and central Asia.
The lily bush-cricket (Tylopsis lilifolia). This slender cricket is brownish-grey or green, with very long white antennae. It is usually found in dry meadows. In France, this species occurs in a southern third of the territory.
Male lily bush-cricket (Tylopsis lilifolia).
Lily bush-cricket (Tylopsis lilifolia). Female (left) and male (right).
Pholidoptera femorata. This large species shows a typical pattern on the pronotum, and the female's ovipositor is long and only moderately curved. It is found in dry places with dense shrubs, at low elevation. In France, this species occurs in a southern third of the territory.
Rhacocleis poneli. Another fairly large cricket, with very long hind legs with a broad dark stripe. The habitat is similar to that of the previous species. Initially known from the Var and Alpes-Maritimes, this species seems to be expanding in southern France.
Ephippiger diurnus male. This large bush cricket displays a distinctive stripped pattern, due to the dark abdominal plates with clear edges. This species occurs in dry places throughout most of France. Ephippiger terrestris, a species of low calcareous mountains, has a much more restricted range in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes.
Ephippiger diurnus female.
The European rhinoceros beetle (Oryctes nasicornis). This species is amongst the largest European beetles. It can be seen in June-July, at night, flying toward house lights that attract it. Only the male boasts the distinctive horn, which is used during fights with other males before mating. The larvae develops in soils rich with decaying wood, composts, ... This magnificent species is found in Europe, and most of the Mediterranean basin.
Jewel beetle (Anthaxia dimidiata). Jewel beetles usually display bright metallic colors. The genus Anthaxia includes a large number of small species, difficult to identify. This beetle, smaller than a centimeter, is often observed feeding on the flowers of Chrysanthemum in May.
Green tiger beetles (Cicindela campestris) mating. Tiger beetles are voracious predators with a rapid flight and an excellent eyesight. They are usually found in sandy, open areas. The green tiger beetle is distributed through most of Europe.
The common yellow scorpion (Buthus occitanicus). This is the largest European scorpion, reaching 8 cm. Its sting is very painful, but not fatal for humans. Despite his name this is rare species, present in France along the Mediterranean coast, and fully protected. It occurs in the Iberian peninsula, France and North Africa.
The common yellow scorpion (Buthus occitanicus).
Beware the Buthus !
Procambarus clarkii. This crayfish has a green body with distinctive red spots. Contrary to indigenous species, this crayfish is able to survive on dry land where it hides in a burrow or under a stone. Introduced for commercial purposes in Europe, this species native from the southern states of the USA is a severe threat to the local fauna of wetlands: it should be destroyed whenever encountered.
Fairy shrimps (Branchipus sp.). These strange creatures are about 1 cm long. The picture shows two females carrying a brood sack, surrounding one male. Fairy shrimps are specialists of vernal pools that dry up during summer. The eggs, which are extremely resistant, spend the dry season in the mud and hatch in early spring, when the pool fills up again. Several species occur in the PACA region, most of them rare and very local.
Fairy shrimps (Tanymastix stagnalis). This is another species of fairy shrimp occuring in PACA. The red colour of the brood sack is distinctive.
Temporay ponds in the Rouët range. These ponds, which dry up in summer, constitute a very peculiar habitat home to several fairy shrimps species, with interesting plants as well such as Crassula valiantii, Durieu's isoetes (Isoetes duriaei) and the least adder's-tongue (Ophioglossum lusitanicum).
The PACA region includes many mountain areas, as for instance in the Parc National du Mercantour. When these mountain ranges are located near the sea and at moderate elevations, both alpine and Mediterranean influences overlap, such as in the Préalpes de Grasse.
High valley of the Boréon, Mercantour National Park.
The Alpine ibex (Capra ibex). An emblematic Alpine species, this beautiful animal is found on ridges and cliffs unfrequented by man. The Alpine ibex has been the object of a reintroduction program in the Parc National du Mercantour and the nearby Italian Parco delle Alpi Marittime since 1985.
The Alpine ibex (Capra ibex).
Alpine ibex scratching.
Young male of Alpine ibex (Capra ibex).
The Alpine ibex (Capra ibex) and the chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra).
The common frog (Rana temporaria). This frog can reach high altitudes (2800 m in the Alps), but it is also found at sea level. It is a widespread amphibian, with a distribution covering most of Europe except the southernmost areas, and extending eastward to Siberia.
The alpine newt (Ichthyosaura alpestris). This new is found at low altitude as well as in high mountains, where it reaches 2700 m. In mountains, it is often living in alpine lakes or in peat bog ponds, devoid of aquatic vegetation. This species ranges from Europe to Ukraine. It is protected in France.
The Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus). This nice snake has a long (it can reach 2 m) and thin body, of a quite uniform color. The yellowish markings around the head are distinctive. This species often climbs in trees. Although not a specific mountain species, this snake can reach 1500 mm of elevation. It is fully protected in France.
The hybrid tiger beetle (Cicindela hybrida). Not strictly-speaking an Alpine species, this tiger beetle is however frequent on sandy shores along mountain rivers. As all tiger beetles, it is a very agile and ferocious hunter.
The caterpillar of the spurge hawk-moth (Hyles euphorbiae). This brightly-colored caterpillar occurs on dry and sunny mountain slopes where grows its feeding plant, the cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias).
The convolvulus hawk-moth (Agrius convolvuli). This large hawk-moth is sometimes observed at dusk, gathering nectar in flight. Attracted by light, it is often found on walls in villages in mountain valleys. The individual shown here is trying to frighten potential predators by displaying the striped pattern of its abdomen. This species, with an extended world distribution, is migratory throughout Europe.
The mountain Apollo (Parnassius apollo). This mountain butterfly is one of our largest species. It is found above 3000 ft, on dry rocky slopes where it glides effortlessly. Its caterpillar feeds on various species of stonecrop (Sedum). The Apollo has a very wide world distribution, ranging from Europe to Asia. However, it is disappearing from many areas and is listed as threatened by IUCN. It is fully protected in France.
Cynthia's fritillary (Euphydryas cynthia). This peculiar fritillary has a strong sexual dimorphism. The male (shown here) displays a black and white pattern with orange spots, while the female has the usual orange and black pattern. This fast flying butterfly occurs in alpine meadows above 2200 m, in the Alps.
The alpine grayling (Oeneis glacialis). This butterfly occurs at high heights, up to 2900 m. It can fly even when it's cold, with frequent stops on the ground with wings spread to warm up in the sun. This relatively scarce species is found in the Alps, from France to Austria.
The damon blue (Polyommatus damon). This nice species has a distinctive white stripe on the underside. The upperside is bright blue for the male and brown for the female (illustrated here). A similar species, Ripart's anomalous blue (Polyommatus ripartii), occurs in the mountains of southeastern France. The damon blue has a wide but patchy distribution. In France, it is found in the Alps and the Pyrenees.
The idas blue (Plebejus idas). The underside of this small blue shows orange and black spots with a few blue scales. The male's upperside is purple, the female's (as on this photo) is brown. This butterfly is very difficult to distinguish from the silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus), whose male presents a small spine on the tibia in the front leg... The idas blue has a wide distribution, and is often very common in the mountains.
The mountain burnet (Zygaena exulans). This nice species is found in alpine meadows, above 2000 m. The fresh individuals can be quite brightly coloured, with large red patches on a background of silvery scales. Zygaena exulans occurs in the high mountains of Southern Europe and in Scandinavia.
The common hawker (Aeshna juncea). This is a large dragonfly, with two distinctive blue stripes on the thorax. This widespread species is often found in mountains.
The common hawker (Aeshna juncea).
Podisma dechambrei mating. This local species of moutain short-horned grasshopper is restricted to the Alpes-Maritimes. It is distinguished from its more common cousin Podisma pedestris by its even shorter wings, shorter than the first segment of the abdomen.
Female Podisma dechambrei.
Female Podisma dechambrei.
Female Podisma dechambrei.
Female Podisma dechambrei, pink version.
Male Podisma dechambrei.
Male Podisma dechambrei.
Male Epipodisma pedemontana waltheri. This is another local species of mountain short-horned grasshopper. It is wingless, with a green body and a large black stripe along the flanks. The female (see below) is larger and less brightly coloured. This species is endemic to the Piedmont Alps, and occurs in France in a very limited range along the French-Italian border.
Female Epipodisma pedemontana waltheri.
Female Mercantour's bush-cricket (Anonconotus mercantouri). This mountain species is typically found in alpine grasslands. Numerous colors are possible, ranging from green to brown and black. This is a microendemic species occuring only in a few valleys of the Mercantour range in southeastern France.
Female Mercantour's bush-cricket (Anonconotus mercantouri).
Female Mercantour's bush-cricket (Anonconotus mercantouri).
Female Mercantour's bush-cricket (Anonconotus mercantouri), hind legs cleaning.
Male Mercantour's bush-cricket (Anonconotus mercantouri). The male is much smaller and darker than the female.
Male Mercantour's bush-cricket (Anonconotus mercantouri).
Male Mercantour's bush-cricket (Anonconotus mercantouri).
Anonconotus occidentalis. This alpine species belongs to the same genus as the previous one. It is completely wingless. In France, it is restricted to the departments of the Hautes-Alpes, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes.
Chorthippus saulcyi subsp. daimei. This grasshopper is restricted to the mountains of Provence, in the departments of the Var, Alpes-Maritimes and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. It is found in various dry habitats, from calcareous plateaus in low mountains to siliceous high mountain (this photo was taken in the Mercantour National Park at an altitude of 2400 m).
Chorthippus apricarius subsp. apricarius. This mountain grasshopper is found in mountains grassland. The yellowish color of the hind legs is distinctive. In France, this species occurs in most mountain ranges.
Female of large banded grasshopper (Arcyptera fusca). This large grasshopper with bright colors lives in dry mountain grasslands. In France, it is present in a southeastern third of the country.
Male of large banded grasshopper (Arcyptera fusca).
Male Gomphocerus sibiricus. This is a truly alpine grasshopper, found in the Alps and Pyrenees up to high elevations. The male has strangely swollen lower parts of the front legs, hence its nickname "the Popeye grasshopper".
Face to face with Gomphocerus sibiricus.
Stenobothrus nigromaculatus mating. This grasshopper has a distinctive black and white marking on the wings. It inhabits dry slopes, usually in mountains. It is locally present throughout central and southern Europe.
The net-leaved willow (Salix reticulata). This dwarf shrub forms mats in humid rocky grasslands at high altitude, often together with other species of dwarf willows. It is easily recognized to its hairy leaves with an intricate network of veins. This plant is found throughout the world in cold areas, either in mountains or in northern areas.
The arolla pine (Pinus cembra). This large pine tree grows in the Alps up to 2500 m. The needles are grouped in bundles of five. The cones are blueish, as shown on this photo. The seeds are consumed and dispersed by the spotted nutcracker (Nucifraga caryocatactes), which plays an essential role in the survival of this pine tree.
Gymnadenia corneliana. This orchid grows in Alpine grasslands above roughly 1800 m. It is identified by its pink tightly-packed flower spike, darker at the top. This species occurs only in the southern Alps of France and Italy.
The orange lily (Lilium bulbiferum var. croceum). This stunning plant is our largest lily, with flowers larger than 10 cm in diameter. This species grows in a variety of mountain habitats, from woods to cliffs. It is widespread in Europe.
The orange lily (Lilium bulbiferum var. croceum).
The martagon lily (Lilium martagon). This other striking lily boasts large pink flowers with purple spots. As the previous species, with which it is sometimes found, this is a mountain plant but it can also sometimes be found at low altitude. This plant, widespread in Europe, is protected in several French regions.
The martagon lily (Lilium martagon). This view shows the wooly hairs on the back of the tepals.
The common moonwort (Botrychium lunaria). This small fern is found in sunny alpine grasslands. It is widespread in the two hemispheres, but often rare and local.
The common moonwort (Botrychium lunaria).
The mountain houseleek (Sempervivum montanum). This succulent plant is found in siliceous mountains of southern Europe. It it identified by its large rosettes looking like an artichoke and its large pink flowers.
The ancient king (Saxifraga florulenta). This plant, emblematic of the Mercantour mountain range, only grows on vertical granitic rocks, usually exposed to the north. The tightly packed basal rosette of leaves is distinctive. This saxifrage flowers only once during its lifetime, which can last up to 70 years ! The plant then produces a flowering stem covered with pink flowers. This rare species, restricted to the French and Italian Maritime Alps, is fully protected in France.
Boutigny's sainfoin (Hedysarum boutignyanum). This sainfoin forms large clumps in boulders between 5000 and 9000 ft approximately. This French endemic is present from Isère to the Alpes-Maritimes. This rare plant is protected in France.
Villars's gentian (Gentiana burseri subsp. villarsii). One of the few yellow-flowered gentian species, this tall plant grows up to 1 m and higher. Its is recognized to its pale yellow flowers, finely dotted with purple. It should not be confused with Gentiana punctata, whose flowers are also yellow and dotted, but orange-tinted on the outside. Villars's gentian is endemic to the southern Alps.
Gentiana ligustica. This gentian displays large bright blue flowers, with a rosette of relatively short oval leaves bordered by a rough transluscent edge. It should not be mistaken with the stemless gentian (Gentiana acaulis, see below), which has longer leaves without transluscent edge. This species often grows in clearings of Scots pines woods. This is a rare plant, found only in the eastern part of the French Alpes-Maritimes and in Liguria and Piemonte (Italy). It is protected in France.
The stemless gentian (Gentiana acaulis). This species is much more widespread and common than the previous one, and typically grows in alpine grasslands.
The black genepi (Artemisia genipi). This small plant belongs to the same genus as the absinth wormwood. It is a high mountain plant, growing in cracks of rocks and cliffs above 2000 m of elevation. Rather scarce, this plant is collected in the wild for the fabrication of the liquor "génépi" (harvesting is regulated). Three other species of genepi occur in the Southern Alps, including the glacier wormwood (Artemisia glacialis) and Artemisia eriantha illustrated below.
The glacier wormwood (Artemisia glacialis). Contrary to the previous species, with which it sometimes grows, this genepi has relatively large yellow flowerheads clustered at the top of the stem.
Artemisia eriantha. This third species of genepi is identified by the bracts densely covered with wooly hairs.
Argentera's violet (Viola argenteria = Viola nummularifolia). This violet is readily identified by its small round and shiny leaves, and its pale blue flowers. It is found in high alpine rocky grounds (flowering August-September). This species with a restricted range occurs only in the French and Italian Maritime Alps, and in Corsica.
The shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa). This plant is native to subartic regions of the Northern hemisphere, and a relict species in the high moutain in Southern Europe. It occurs in a single location in the Alpes-Maritimes, in the Mercantour range, where it grows along small streams in steep rocky slopes. The shrubby cinquefoil is also a popular ornemental plant.
The Piedmont garlic (Allium narcissiflorum). This is our most beautiful garlic, with its umbrellas of large pink flowers. It is found in rocky calcareous slopes, above 1500m of elevation. This is a rather rare plant, endemic to the southern Alps.
Bertoloni's columbine (Aquilegia bertolonii). This beautiful plant is readily distinguished from other species of the same genus by the blue-purple color of the flowers, the stamen shorter than the corolla, and the strongly hooked spurs. It occurs in calcareous rocky slopes, typically between 1000 and 2000 m. This is a rare Ligurian-Provencal endemic, found in France from the Drôme to the Alpes-Maritimes. It is fully protected in France.
Delphinium dubium. This stunning larkspur with deep blue flowers grows in larch forests clearings and in screes. Its large leaves are divided in wide lobes (much wider that those of Delphinium fissum). This endemic species of the southern Alps occurs in southeastern France and northern Italy.
Berardia subacaulis. This strange plant is easily recognized to the basal rosette of thick leaves densely covered with white wooly hair. It is found almost exclusively in calcareous or schistose crests and slopes, at high elevations (from 2000 to more than 3000 m). Found only from Isère to the Alpes-Maritimes, this prestigious plant is fully protected in France.
The edelweiss (Leontopodium alpinum). The edelweiss is one of the most famous mountain plant, found in mountain ranges in Europe and Asia where it is often rare and protected. Often believed to occur only on the highest peaks, this species is in fact mostly found in dry meadows around 1600m, mostly on calcareous soil.
Adenostyles leucophylla. This plant grows in siliceous scree, usually at the alpine level. It is distinguished from other species of the same genus by its white, wooly leaves. This species is endemic of the western Alps.
The alpine aster (Aster alpinus). Looking like a purple daisy, this plant grows in dry and rocky grasslands at altitude. It occurs in mountains of Europe and Asia.
The alpine toadflax (Linaria alpina). This lovely plant, the most brightly colored of its genus, is usually found in glacial moraines. It occurs in high mountains of souther and central Europe.