Nature in the Grasse Prealps
The Grasse Prealps
The Grasse Prealps include a large calcareous mountain range north to the city of Grasse, in the French department of the Alpes-Maritimes (06). This range of low mountain (maximum elevation 1800 m), located at only 20 km from the mediterranean sea, harbors an exceptional biodiversity. The Parc Naturel Régional des Préalpes d'Azur was created in 2012 to help protecting this outstanding natural heritage.
In the following, species are grouped according to their habitat: dry grasslands, lapiez, wetlands, cliffs and rocky slopes and forests. Note that this choice is sometimes arbitrary, since habitats do overlap and some species can occur in several habitats.
These rocky grasslands cover most of the calcareous plateaus of the area. The climate is harsh: strong exposure to wind and sun, but also to cold and snow during winter. The grasslands depend on grazing by sheeps (and wild species such as the european roe deer and the red deer), to avoid colonization by trees such as the Scots pine. Many animals and plants inhabit these grasslands, some of them rare and threatened. In particular, many birds in sharp decline in Europe are still found here.
Plateau de Calern. The vast plateaus are a distinctive feature of the landscape of the Grasse prealps. The plateau de Calern illustrated here is among the finest examples of such a geological formation. It shelters a spectacular diversity of flora and fauna, with rare and endangered species such as the Orsini's viper (Vipera ursinii) and the short-horned grasshopper (Prionotropis hystrix subsp. azami).
The flora of dry grassland includes many bulbs, orchids and members of the lily family. Successive massive bloomings occur from spring to the end of summer.
Holosteum breistrofferi. Family: Caryophyllaceae. This inconspicuous plant, less than 10 cm tall, has characteristic ciliate leaves. The flower stalks are reflexed after flowering. This rare species, endemic of southeastern France, is found in dry grasslands. It is protected in the PACA region, and listed as "near threatened" by IUCN.
The spring meadow saffron (Colchicum bulbocodium subsp. bulbocodium). Family: Colchicaceae. This plant, a member of the family Colchicaceae, flowers in spring in mountain meadows, quite often together with the previous species with which it should not be confused : its flowers are a uniform purple, and its leaves are short and broad. This species, quite rare, is found in the Pyreneans and the occidental Alps.
Ardoino's cytisus (Cytisus ardoinoi). Family: Fabaceae. This broom-like low-lying plant is identified by its golden yellow flowers, the polyhedral section of its stems, and the leaves divided into three leaflets. It is an endemic of the French Alpes-Maritimes, where it is found on the karstic plateaus between 2600 and 5000 ft. Flowering occurs in May-June. This species is protected in France.
Ardoino's cytisus (Cytisus ardoinoi).
Astragalus vesicarius. Family: Fabaceae. This stuning species displays bicoloured flowers with a distinctive inflated calyx. The leaves are highly divided and silvery. This plant grows in rocky grasslands. In France, it is found only in the Alps.
Crocus versicolor. Family: Iridaceae. This crocus is generally the first plant to flower on the grasslands of the calcareous plateaus, as soon as February. It is identified to its purple or white flowers, with purple stripes on the outside. This Ligurian species is found in southeastern France and northwestern Italy.
The hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis). Family: Lamiaceae. This shrub is very similar to the mountain savory (Satureja montana), which often grows in the same locations. Known for its medicinal properties, it is still used in many products including the French pastis. This plant is usually found in very dry, rocky grasslands. In the Grasse Prealps, it seems uncommon and localized. Mostly occuring in France in the southern half, the hyssop ranges from meridional Europe to North Africa and Western Asia.
The early star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea saxatilis). Family: Liliaceae. This tiny plant from the Liliaceae family is among the first plants to flower, as early as February-March, in the karst grassy areas. This species has very short stems and comparatively large yellow flowers. The basal leaves are very narrow, while those on the stem are lanceolate. The key feature for identification is the long hairs covering the flower stalks. In France, this species is mainly present in the south-east, and fully protected. Three other protected species of Gagea also occur in the same habitat (G. arvensis, G. pratensis, G. reverchonii).
The early star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea saxatilis).
Burnat's star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea reverchonii). Family: Liliaceae. This species is sometimes found together with the previous one, in rocky grasslands in spring. It is identified by its rather broad leaves, and its small flowers with a reddish color of the outer parts. The flowers stalks are hairless. Gagea reverchonii is found mainly in the south-east of France.
Burnat's star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea reverchonii).
The yellow star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea pratensis). Family: Liliaceae. This third species of Gagea is sometimes found in mixed populations with the previous one. It has long and narrow leaves, and larger flowers (2 cm in diameter) with green-tinted outer parts. It occurs in Europe, but is becoming rare in mainy areas due to habitat loss. In France, it is fully protected.
The yellow star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea pratensis).
The hairy star-of-Bethlehem (Gagea villosa). Family: Liliaceae. This species has hairy flower stalks as Gagea saxatilis, but these hairs are short and dense. Gagea villosa is found in fields, wineyards and calcareous grasslands. Occuring in France in the eastern half, it is fully protected.
Dauphiné's fritillary (Fritillaria tubiformis subsp. tubiformis). Family: Liliaceae. This species, less rare than the previous one, is identified by its large greyish-pink flowers. Its is an endemic from the southern Alps, and flowers in May-June in rocky meadows above 3000 ft.
Wild tulip (Tulipa australis). Family: Liliaceae. This nice tulip is identified by the orange color of the outside of the tepals. This is a sub-mediterranean low mountain species, flowering in April in rocky meadows and cracks of the karst. A closely related species (Tupila sylvestris), with all-yellow flowers, is found at lower elevations.
Tulip and daffodil.
Orchids are fascinating plants, with a stunning diversity of shapes and colors. The Alpes-Maritimes are among the richest French departments in terms of number of orchids species, most of which are found in the Mediterranean zone (see the "Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur" section for some examples). However, some species are typical of low mountains:
The green-winged orchid (Anacamptis morio). This orchid is easily identified to its violet flowers with green veins in the perianth. In southern France, this is a mountain species which grows in grasslands on calcareous plateaus, where it can form large populations. A closely-related species (Anacamptis picta), is found at low elevation in the siliceous Mediterranean scrub. This species, with a wide distribution ranging from Europe to Iran, is found in most of the French territory.
Orchis mascula subsp. speciosa. This orchid with characteristic pink flowers is found in the Prealps in rocky grasslands on the calcareous plateaus, sometimes in very large numbers. Flowering occurs in April and May. This species is close to the early purple orchid (Orchis mascula), but differs by its divided labellum, its petals that are pointed forward, and the leaves and base of the stem that are very finely spotted with red (not black spots on the leaves). This species's range is restricted to mountains in southeastern France.
The burnt orchid (Neotinea ustulata). This orchid is also easy to identify, with the reddish-brown color of the flower's hood contrasting with the spotted labellum. It is common in the grasslands of the calcareous plateaus in the Prealps. Present in most of France, the burnt orchid is rare in the Mediterranean where it is found in mountains.
The three-toothed orchid (Neotinea tridentata). This lovely species has typical pink flowers, with a spotted labellum divided in three lobes of equal size. It is quite common in the Prealps, where it occupies the same habitat has the burnt orchid. The two frequently hybridize (see below). Mostly mediterranean, this plant occurs in France in a south-east third of the territory.
Hybrid orchid (Neotinea tridentata x ustulata). This is the most common (natural) orchid hybrid in the area. The shape of the flowers is that of N. ustulata but the color is purple instead of brownish. The size of the plant and shape of the flower spike are that of N. tridentata.
The frog orchid (Dactylorhiza viridis). This inconspicuous orchid grows in mountain meadows. It is found in most of Europe (excluding the Mediterranean basin) and northern America. The color of the labellum varies from green to red.
The elder-flowered orchid (Dactylorhiza sambucina). This mountain orchid has two forms, one yellow-flowered and the other with reddish flowers. In the Prealps, this species is found in rocky slopes and in grasslands on calcareous plateaus. A species native to central and southern Europe, it occurs in France in a south-east third of the country.
Provence's ophrys (Ophrys provincialis). This ophrys is recognized to its green perianth and reddish labellum showing a blue "H" shaped macula. This species is usually found at low elevations, but also in low mountains where it grows around marly outcrops (flowering in May). It is thought to be a Provence endemic, its accurate distribution being currently unknown because of possible confusions with similar species.
Sarato's ophrys (Ophrys saratoi). This rare and beautiful ophrys is probably only a not-too-valid form of the Aurelian ophrys (Ophrys aurelia). It is found in grasslands in low mountains, contrary to Ophrys aurelia which occurs only near the coast. Blooming in mid-May, it occurs from the Bouches-du-Rhône to the Italian border. It is fully protected.
Ophrys virescens. This species is well characterized by its small pale flowers, with a green perianth and a clear yellow fringe of the labellum. This plant is a low mountain species, where it grows in marly meadows. Present from Spain to the Balkans, it is found in most of France but is rare in certain regions.
Ophrys sulcata. This ophrys has small flowers with a long labellum, divided by a clear basilar groove. This uncommon species is found at low elevation but also in low mountain ranges, in humid marly meadows. It occurs in Spain, France and Italy. In France, its is found in the south, from the Atlantic coast to the extreme south-east.
The lizard orchid (Himantoglossum hircinum). This striking species is among our largest orchids. The long labellum is unmistakable. The fresh flowers emit a deep scent which often allows to detect the plant without actually seeing it ! This orchid grows in calcareous meadows, from see level to low mountains. Found from Spain and the UK to the Balkans and North Africa, this species occurs in most of the French territory.
Orchis olbiensis. Closely related to the previous species, this Orchis is distinguished by its pale pink flowers with a long, recurvated spear. It grows in dry calcareous area, up the low mountains. Fowering occurs in April. This is a species from Western Mediterranean, which is found in France only along the coast.
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 mediterranean species occurs mainly along the coast, but can be found at altitudes up to 700 m in the Grasse Prealps. In France, this orchid is restricted to the mediterranean costal area.
Lousewort (Pedicularis comosa). Family: Orobanchaceae. This large species belonging to the broomrape family has pale yellow flowers with the upper lip terminated by a short beak. It is locally found, in the Préalpes de Grasse, in rocky grasslands. In France, this plant occurs in most moutain ranges.
Haller's pulsatilla (Pulsatilla halleri). Family: Ranunculaceae. This striking species is covered with long silvery hair. It grows in rocky meadows and clear Scots pine woods. Flowers bloom from March to May. This plant is endemic to the western Alps, and a protected species in France.
Mushrooms are relatively few in the dry grasslands, but some species are quite spectacular:
Agaricus urinascens. Family: Agaricaceae. The cap of this mushroom is spherical when it is young, hence its common name of "snowball". Fully deployed, it can reach 30 cm of diameter. This nice species grows in dolines in May-June, sometimes in a circular pattern called a fairy ring. Edible, this mushroom must be consumed when young.
The fauna of the Grasse Prealps is highly diversified, due to the variety of habitats found in the area. In some places the mediterranean and alpine influences overlap, allowing for instance the occurence of the southern festoon (Zerynthia polyxena) and of the chamois (Rupicapra rupicapra) in the same spot !
The asp (Vipera aspis). Family: Viperidae. This well-known viper has a triangular head quite distinct from the neck, and a slightly upturned snout as can be clearly seen on this image. It should not be confused with the much scarcer Orsini's viper (Vipera ursinii), which has a small rounded head (see below). The body pattern and color of the asp is highly variable. This snake is present in western Europe, mainly in France and Italy.
Orsini's viper (Vipera ursinii). Family: Viperidae. This small viper is identified by its small head, no clearly separated from the neck. It leaves in dry meadows above 3000 ft, where grasshoppers, its main preys, are abundant. Quite unaggressive and little venomous, this snake does not constitute a danger for man. It is very rare in France, with a few stations all located in the south-east. This species is fully protected : if by chance you find it, admire it but don't hurt it !
Orsini's viper (Vipera ursinii).
The western green lizard (Lacerta bilineata). Family: Lacertidae. This rather large lizard is very common in dry slopes and rocky meadows in low mountains. Males in spring often display a bright blue throat. This western European species is distinguished from the eastern green lizard (Lacerta viridis), found in eastern europe, by the two pale lines on the juvenile's back.
The western green lizard (Lacerta bilineata).
Narbonne's wolf-spider (Lycosa tarentula). Family: Lycosidae. This impressive spider, one of the largest in Europe, lives in a burrow whose entrance is carpeted with silk. Quite aggressive, it may bite if disturbed (the bite seems to be very painful). This Mediterranean species occurs in France only in the south-east. In the Alpes-Maritimes, it is found mainly in the rocky grasslands of the calcareous plateaus, at an elevation around 1200 m.
The wolf-spider's death-kiss. Narbonne's wolf-spider can feed on preys larger than it, such as this large female wart-biter (Decticus verrucivorus). The prey is bitten and brought to the spider's burrow to be eaten (see below).
Wolf-spider and its prey.
Burrow of a tarentula. Family: Nemesidae. Nineteen species of tarentulas are found in France, several of them occuring only in Corsica. These are rather small (2-3 cm) nocturnal species living in a burrow, usually with a lid. The rigid, thick lid shown on this photo probably points to Nemesia carminans. It is sharing its habitat with Narbonne's wolf-spider.
The wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi). Family: Araneidae. This spectacular spider cannot be mistaken. The web exhibits a white zig-zag pattern called the stabilimentum (see below). Once entangled in the web, the prey is wrapped in silk and then bitten. This meridional species has been expanding toward northern Europe since the beginning of the 20th century.
Wasp spider and prey.
Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) eating a grasshopper. Family: Mantidae. During the end of summer, grasshoppers are very abundant in the dry meadows and their predators as well including the praying mantis. The praying mantis can come in different colors, from green to brown. This is the only mantis found in most of France. Several less common species are also found in the southern part of the country (see below).
Praying mantis (Mantis religiosa) mating.
Male Ameles decolor. Family: Mantidae. This small mantis is often difficult to spot in the dry vegetation, due to its brown or grey color. The male, shown here, has long wings while the female's are very short (see below). Quite common at low altitude, this species occurs in the driest places in the Grasse Prealps. A species of southern Europe, Ameles decolor is only found in France in the south east.
Female Ameles decolor.
Female Ameles decolor.
The Spanish stick insect (Pijnackeria masettii). Family: Diapheromeridae. This phasmid, one of the three species present in France, has a small size (55 mm without legs), short antennas, and a thin white line along its body. In France, this species reproduces by parthenogenesis so that only females are present. In the Grasse Prealps, this insect seems to feed on the broom Genista cinerea, instead of the usual Dorycnium pentaphyllum. This species occurs in France only along the mediterranean coast.
At the end of summer, the dry grasslands in low mountain are the kingdom of Orthopterans (grasshoppers, katydids and others crickets), with a stunning diversity of shapes and colors.
The spiked magician (Saga pedo). Family: Tettigoniidae. This stunning bush cricket, one of the largest insects in Europe (body size up to 12 cm), is found in dry areas from sea level up to altitudes of 1700 m. This species is reproducing par parthenogenesis, only females are known in Europe. Saga pedo is exclusively carnivorous, and hunts mainly at night. This rare species, listed as "vulnerable" by IUCN, has a wide distribution spanning from southern France to China.
The spiked magician (Saga pedo).
The spiked magician (Saga pedo).
Bush cricket (Ephippiger terrestris terrestris) molting. Family: Tettigoniidae. This large bush cricket is in the process of shedding its old skin. This species is restricted to the extreme south-east of France, where it inhabits dry grasslands in low mountains (between 1000 m and 2000 m of altitude).
Female Ephippiger terrestris terrestris.
Female Ephippiger terrestris terrestris. The long ovipositor is used to burry the eggs in the ground.
Large saw-tailed bush cricket (Polysarcus denticauda). Family: Tettigoniidae. This bulky bush cricket is found in dry grasslands above 1000 m. The tip of the female's ovipositor is barbed. This species occurs in mountains of central and southern Europe.
Female wart-biter (Decticus verrucivorus). Family: Tettigoniidae. This large bush-cricket appreciates dry mountain grasslands. Its color varies from green brown. In spite of its size, this species is preyed on by Narbonne's wolf-spider (Lycosa tarentula). This species is present in most of Europe and Asia. It is getting scarcer in the west (in danger of extinction in Great-Britain).
Female Eupholidoptera chabrieri. Family: Tettigoniidae. This large katydid with bright colors is found in southeast France, Switzerland, and eastwards to Greece.
Female Antaxius pedestris pedestris. Family: Tettigoniidae. This katydid is typically grey or brown. The female sports a straight ovipositor. This species occurs in the Spanish Pyrenees and in the Alps. In France, it is found only in the southeast.
Leptophyes laticauda. Family: Tettigoniidae. This species has its whole body covered with small black dots. Here the pronotum is green, while it has brown edges for Leptophyes punctissima, a neighbouring species. Leptophyes laticauda occurs in France only in the extreme south-east, from 0 to 1500 m of altitude.
Female of Prionotropis hystrix subsp. azami. Family: Pamphagidae. This thick-bodied grasshopper is endemic from Provence, and found in the Var and Alpes-Maritimes. Very rare and threatened, it is fully protected in France. It is found on calcareous plateaus, at an elevation of 4000 ft, from July to September. Two other subspecies of Prionotropis hystrix are found in Europe: the very local and threatened Prionotropis hystrix rhodanica endemic to the plaine de la Crau (Bouches-du-Rhône), and Prionotropis hystrix hystrix which is found in the Balkans.
Male of Prionotropis hystrix subsp. azami.
Larva of Prionotropis hystrix subsp. azami.
Female of Arcyptera kheili. Family: Acrididae. This large grasshopper is identified by the distinctive white mark on the thorax of both sexes and the black and white diverging stripes on the abdomen of the female (see photo below). This species is endemic to Provence, and lives on calcareous plateaus. Quite local, it is however much less rare than Prionotropis hystrix subsp. azami, whose habitat it is sometimes sharing.
Female of Arcyptera kheili. This photo shows the typical black and white markings on the female's abdomen.
Male of Arcyptera kheili. The male of this species is quite smaller and more slender than the female, and is always yellowish.
Male Podisma pedestris. Family: Acrididae. This short-horned grasshopper lives in dry mountain grasslands (roughly from 3000 to 9000 ft), in the Alps and Pyrenees. The male, shown here, is brightly colored. The female (see below) is bigger and lacks the yellow pattern on the abdomen. Both sexes have short elytra extending up to the second abdominal segment. In the higher mountains of Mercantour, the local and closely-related Podisma deschambrei has even shorter elytra. Podisma pedestris is present in most of Europe and Asia.
Female Podisma pedestris.
Male sharp-tailed grasshopper (Euchorthippus declivus). Family: Acrididae. This species is common in most of Europe. It favors dry and rocky meadows. The male is small, with a distinctive pointed extremity of the abdomen.
Female sharp-tailed grasshopper (Euchorthippus declivus). The female has a much longer abdomen than the male, and a distinctive white stripe on the wings.
Sharp-tailed grasshoppers (Euchorthippus declivus) mating.
Female Chorthippus biggutulus. Family: Acrididae. This grasshopper is present in most of France. It belongs to a group of species which are difficult to identify, especially the females.
Male Chorthippus dorsatus subsp. dorsatus. Family: Acrididae. The male is often green with a red-tinted abdomen. This species is found in most of the french territory.
Male Calliptamus siciliae. Family: Acrididae. The male of this short-horned grasshopper species is very small (just above 1 cm), with large eyes. It is distinguished from other Calliptamus species by the wings that are shorter than the abdomen. This grasshopper is abundant on the calcareous plateaus in the Grasse Prealps. It has however a limited distribution, which includes only southeast France, Switzerland and Italy.
Female Calliptamus siciliae. The female of this species is much larger than the male.
Male Euthystira brachyptera. Family: Acrididae. This small grasshopper is found in the eastern half of France. The male, smaller, is bright green, while the female (below) is more yellowish, with small pink wings.
Female Euthystira brachyptera.
Male Stenobothrus fischeri subsp. glaucescens. Family: Acrididae. This elytra of this species don't quite reach the knees, and display a round white stigma located at the beginning of the last third of their length. This rather local grasshopper lives in dry mountain grasslands in southeastern France.
Male Stenobothrus lineatus. Family: Acrididae. This widespread grasshopper exhibits a distinctive white comma on the wings. The female are sometimes very colorful (see below). This is a common species, occuring throughout most of France.
Female Stenobothrus lineatus.
Female Oedaleus decorus. Family: Acrididae. Most species of the subfamily Oedipodinae are mimetic grasshoppers with grey wings. Instead, Oedaleus decorus bears a distinctive black and white pattern. The background colour can be brown, as on this individual, or green (see below). This species is usually found in dry locations with a bare ground, at low altitude. In France, it occurs in a southern half of the country. In the Grasse Prealps, Oedaleus decorus seems to be uncommon and very local.
Female Oedaleus decorus, green version.
Larva of Oedaleus decorus.
Male Stauroderus scalaris. Family: Acrididae. This mountain grasshopper is found in dry meadows with tall grass. The male displays a distinctive "ladder" pattern on its wings, which is absent in the female (see below). This species is particularly noisy. It is present in most of Europe, and in France in a southeastern third of the country.
Female Stauroderus scalaris.
Pezotettix giornae mating. Family: Acrididae. This very small grasshopper (slightly above 1 cm) is identified by its gray color, large eyes and small wings. This species occurs all around the Mediterranean area. In France, it is found in the southern half of the country.
Larva of Pezotettix giornae. Grasshopper larvae are often brightly colored, with colors very different from that of the adults (see also below).
Mummified grasshoppers. At the end of summer, many such small dessicated bodies can be found on tall grass. These grasshoppers are victims of the "summit disease" caused by the fungus Entomophaga grylli. The infected host climbs on a tall grass to die, ensuring optimal dispersion of the fungal spores.
Owlflies (Libelloides longicornis) mating. Family: Ascalaphidae. This strange insect, looking like a crossing between a dragonfly and a fly, belong to the order Neuroptera. This species is recognized to its yellow wing veins. This owlfly inhabits southern Europe, where it glides over sunny meadows.
The owly sulfur (Libelloides cocajus). Family: Ascalaphidae. This is another owlfly species commonly found in the area. The extended bright yellow (sometimes almost white) areas on the wings are typical.
The red-veined Darter (Sympetrum fonscolombii). Family: Libellulidae. This dragonfly is identified by its strange bi-color eyes, with a blueish lower part. The male, shown on this photo, is red whilst the female is yellowish. 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.
Sharply declining throughout Europe, butterflies are still abundant in the Grasse Prealps, with a remarkable diversity (80% of the French species are found in the Alpes-Maritimes). The flower-rich dry grasslands are home to many species, some of which are rare and protected.
The clouded Apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne). Family: Papilionidae. This quite large butterfly is recognized to its white wings with a few black spots. It flies in May-June over rocky meadows and clearings where its host-plant (Corydalis) grows. This is a quite rare and very local species. It is found in the Alps, the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle East, up to Siberia. It is fully protected in France.
The clouded Apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne).
The black-veined white (Aporia crataegi). Family: Pieridae. This large pierid can be mistaken for the previous species, however its wings do not present any black spots. Note also the white tip of the antennae. The black-veined white is common throughout the Prealps, starting from May. It occurs in all of Europe and in north of Africa.
The clouded yellow (Colias croceus). Family: Pieridae. This nice butterfly belongs to the Pieridae family. This is one of the last butterflies flying at the end of summer on the calcareous plateaus. This species is widespread in the north of Africa, in Europe and in part of Asia.
The large blue (Phengaris arion). Family: Lycaenidae. This nice butterfly is readily identified by the striking large black dots on the dark blue background of its wings. It flies above dry grassy areas where thyme (its host plant) grows, between May and August. Like for the other species of the genus Phengaris, the caterpillars finish their development inside an ant-hill. This species who has know a drastic decrease of its population throughout Europe is listed as threatened by the IUCN, and protected in many countries including France.
Ripart's anomalous blue (Polyommatus ripartii). Family: Lycaenidae. This pretty butterfly is easily identified to its uniform brown color and to the striking white stripe on the underside. It is found in from July to September in dry flower-rich meadows. Ripart's anomalous blue occurs in southern Europe, the Balkans to southwestern Siberia and Kazakhstan. In France, it is found only in a few departments of the south-east.
The green-underside blue (Glaucopsyche alexis). Family: Lycaenidae. This small butterfly is identified to its pale grey underside with an extended zone of blue scales. It lives in flower-rich dry meadows. It is found in most of Europe, Russia and Asia. In France, it occurs in most of the territory.
The common blue butterfly (Polyommatus icarus). Family: Lycaenidae. This is one of the most common butterfly in Europe. The small size and purplish colourof the male is quite distinctive. This individual was found dead in this strange posture ...
The green hairstreak (Callophrys rubi). Family: Lycaenidae. This nice, bright green, small butterfly is unmistakable, excepted with the much scarcer Chapman's green hairstreak (Callophrys avis) which has a clear dotted white line on the underside of both wings. Very common in southeastern France, the green hairstreak is on of the first butterflies to appear in spring. It occurs in most of Europe and North Africa.
The marsh fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia). Family: Nymphalidae. This butterfly displays a typical delicate black pattern on the orange background of its wings. In the Grasse Prealps, it occurs in dry calcareous grasslands between April and July. Widely distributed from North Africa, Europe to Asia, this species is in very strong regression. It is listed as threatened by the IUCN, and protected in France.
The twin-spot fritillary (Brenthis hecate). Family: Nymphalidae. This butterfly has a distinctive double set of black dots on a bright orange background. It is usually observed in sunny meadows, in June. In western Europe, this species occurs only in the south, while it is more widespread in eastern up to Turkey. In France, it is found in a southermost third of the country.
The meadow fritillary (Melitaea parthenoides). Family: Nymphalidae. In the area this small-sized species is mainly observed in dry meadows, in June and July. It occurs in south-western Europe. In France, it can be observed in most of the territory.
The knapweed fritillary (Melitaea phoebe). Family: Nymphalidae. This fritillary displays a contrasted colour pattern, with one of the orange spots on the edge of the upper wing distinctively larger than the others. This butterfly is widespread from North Africa to China, including most of the French territory.
Weaver's fritillary (Clossiana dia). Family: Nymphalidae. This pretty species is recognized to the distinctive purple band of its underside. It flies in spring in flower-rich meadows and clear undergrowth. The caterpillars feed on various violet species. This fritillary is widespread from Europe to Mongolia.
The Queen of Spain fritillary (Issoria lathonia). Family: Nymphalidae. This striking species displays distinctive large mirror-like spots on the underside of the hindwings. The upperside is orange with black spots, as in most fritillary species. This butterfly is widespread from North Africa, Europe to Mongolia.
The western marbled white (Melanargia occitanica). Family: Nymphalidae. A close relative of the common marbled white (Melanargia galathea), this beautiful and much scarcer butterfly displays a characteristic rusty pattern and blue eyespots on the underwing. This species is usually observed flying rapidely above rocky grasslands, in May and June. It si found in France (Mediterranean fringe), Spain and Northern Africa.
The Hermit (Chazara briseis). Family: Nymphalidae. The Hermit belongs to the Satyrinae family, which includes meridional butterflies with brown and white colors, very mimetic when at rest with their wings folded. This species is found around the Mediterranean, expanding eastward to China. In Europe, populations form scattered islands, and the species, regressing, is considered vulnerable.
Mimicry of the hermit (Chazara briseis).
The dusky heath (Coenonympha dorus). Family: Nymphalidae. Heaths are small-size members of the Satyrinae familly, usually showing eyespots and metallic-looking stripes on the underwing. The dusky heath is a mediterranean species restricted to Spain, southern France and western Italy, and to northwestern Africa.
The small heath (Coenonympha pamphilus). Family: Nymphalidae. This small species lacks the metallic stripe found in most members of this genus. It is a common butterfly, widespread in most of Europe and in North Africa.
The autumn ringlet (Erebia neoridas). Family: Nymphalidae. This species is fairly common in the area, where it is one of the only ringlet species. It flies over dry and rocky grasslands from august to october. This butterfly occurs in scattered colonies across Spain, France and Italy.
The spring ringlet (Erebia epystigne). Family: Nymphalidae. As indicated by its name, this ringlet flies as early as March, even by low temperatures. It has characteristic "bicolored" wings, with the markings on the upper wings a pale yellow whilst those of the lower wings are brown. This is an uncommon and localized species, only found in Spain and southern France.
The spring ringlet (Erebia epystigne).
The de Prunner's ringlet (Erebia triarius). Family: Nymphalidae. This is also a spring species, found in the Grasse Prealps in clearing of Scots pine woods. Both wings display a distinctive set of black spots with white highlights. This butterfly flies in spring, in clearings of scots pines. It occurs in the Pyrenees and the Alps.
The tree grayling (Neohipparchia statilinus). Family: Nymphalidae. This rather large species shows distinctive eyespots on the underside. It is found in dry and rocky places, starting from the end of july. The tree grayling occurs in southern Europe, Turkey and Northern Africa.
Zygaena rhadamanthus. Family: Zygaenidae. This beautiful burnet has dark wings with a typical silvery background, displaying six red spots with black edges for some of them. This scarce species is usually found in small numbers, at the end of May. Restricted to southern Europe, it occurs in France only on the mediterranean fringe. It is fully protected.
Zygaena fausta. Family: Zygaenidae. This small burnet displays distinctive merging red spots surrounded by a clearer margin, and a red collar. It is quite common on the plateaus of the Grasse Prealps in August and September. This species is found in western Europe, from Spain to Germany and Italy.
Zygaena fausta feeding on the flowers of the southern globethistle (Echinops ritro).
Zygaena nevadensis. Family: Zygaenidae. This small burnet displays translucent wings with three red stripes. In France, this species only occurs in the south east. In the Alpes-Maritimes, it seems to be mostly restricted to the Grasse Prealps where it can be observed in dry meadows in June.
The nine-spotted moth (Amata phegea). Family: Erebidae. This butterfly belonging to the Arctiidae familly has a striking pattern of white spots on black wings. It flies in summer above dry slopes in low mountains. Quite local, it is often abundant in its locations. This species is mainly present in southern Europe, up to Anatolia and the Caucasus. In France, it occurs in the south-east.
This karstic formation is due to the erosion of limestone by acidic water. It is characterized by the presence of a multitude of cavities, of depths ranging from a few cm to several undred meters ! Since the climatic conditions in the lapiez are very different from that of the surface, it favors biodiversity. Many species are found nowhere else.
The Lapiez. These eroded dolomitic slabs are typical of the karst. The lapiez is usually spotted with dolines, formed by collapsed cavities. Because of the large variety of microclimates in the lapiez, the biodiversity found here is very large, with many rare and very local species.
Provence's narcissus (Narcissus pseudonarcissus subsp. provincialis). Family: Amaryllidaceae. This lovely species was differentiated from Narcissus minor only recently (2009). The plant is small with large yellow flowers. It blooms in oak woods and cracks of the karst in early spring. It seems restricted to the Grasse Prealps.
Aristolochia pallida. Family: Aristolochiaceae. This small plant with trumpet-shaped green flowers grows in rock piles, karst cracks and around the dolines on calcareous plateaus in the Prealps. This is the host plant of the mountain populations of the Southern festoon (Zerynthia polyxena), a threatened butterfly whose eggs can be seen below the left flower on this photo. Aristolochia pallida is only present in France in the extreme south-east.
Cyanus semidecurrens. Family: Asteraceae. This nice member of the knapweed displays distinctive bright colors. The leaves are slightly deccurent. In the south-east of France, this species occurs in the karst in low mountains.
The Italian bluebell (Hyacinthoides italica). Family: Asparagaceae. This plant of the bluebell family blooms in May, in the shadowy areas of the karst. It is a local species, endemic to southeastern France and northwestern Italy.
The Bethlehem lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata). Family: Boraginaceae. This low mountain species flowering in spring is easily identified by its blue and purple flowers, and its large leaves with white spots. It appreciates the shade and often colonizes the bottom of collapsed dolines, in the karst. It occurs in the south-west of the Alps.
Dryopteris submontana. Family: Dryopteridaceae. This fern is a specialist of cracks in the lapiez. Rare in France, it is found only in the extreme south-east and in the Pyrenees.
The grass-leaved flag (Iris graminea). Family: Iridaceae. Outside the flowering period (May-June), this plant is easily overlooked since its leaves strongly resemble that of certain species of grass. This rare species occurs in France in the south-west, and in the Alpes-Maritimes where it is protected. It grows in cracks of karstic walls, at an elevation of about 3000 ft.
The bastard balm (Mellitis melissophylum). Family: Lamiaceae. The is one of the most striking member of the Lamiaceae family, with its large pink flowers exceeding 4 cm in length. In the Grasse Prealps, this plant is found in the cracks of the lapiaz. The fragrant leaves can be used in herbal tea.
The oriental fritillary (Fritillaria orientalis). Family: Liliaceae. This plant is readily identified by its small dark "tulip-like" flowers. It flowers in April in karst meadows. The oriental fritillary is a very rare plant in France, occurring in a single location. It is fully protected.
The oriental fritillary (Fritillaria orientalis).
Lily leaf beetle (Lilioceris lilii) on oriental fritillary (Fritillaria orientalis). The lily leaf beetle is a small, bright red beetle, which consumes many species from the lily family, including fritillaries.
Fritillaria involucrata. Family: Liliaceae. This plant is the third species of Fritillary occurring in the Grasse Prealps (together with F. montana and F. delphinensis). Much more widespread than the two previous species, it is distinguished by its large green flowers hanging from a group of three leaves. It is found in the karst and below bushes. This is a species of the meridional Alps.
The fumewort (Corydalis solida). Family: Papaveraceae. This plant appreciates sunny locations protected from the wind. Unlike in Corydalis cava, a related pecies, the bracts are divided and similar to the leaves. In the Grasse Prealps, the fumewort is the host plant of the clouded Apollo (Parnassius mnemosyne), a scarce and protected butterfly. This plant occurs in most of France.
Delphinium fissum. Family: Ranunculaceae. This outstanding plant produces in June-July purple flowering stems up to 1 m high. This is a rare plant, occurring in rocky areas of south-eastern France. It is protected in the PACA region.
The red-leaved rose (Rosa ferruginea). Family: Rosaceae. Many rose species occur in the Grasse prealps, but this is one of the prettiest. The flowers are of a deep pink, and the leaves a glaucous blue-green bordered with purple. This rose is native to central and southern Europe mountains.
The burnet rose (Rosa spinosissima = R. pimpinellifolia). Family: Rosaceae. This nice rose forms a low bush, with small white flowers and stems covered with straight prickles of different size. It often grows in the cracks of the lapiaz. This species occurs in western, central and southern Europe, and in northwest Africa.
Potentilla micrantha. Family: Rosaceae. A member of the cinquefoils genus, this small plant has hairy leaves and small, often rosy flowers. It grows in dry woods of downy oaks, in low mountains. The flowers open in early spring. In France, this species is found in the southeastern half of the country.
The rose daphne (Daphne cneorum). Family: Thymelaeaceae. This small prostrate plant grows beautiful and dense clusters of pink, sweetly-scented flowers. It is found during spring in clearings of Scots pine, in low mountains. It is quite similar to Daphne striata, an alpine species much scarcer in our region, which lacks hairs on its leaves. The rose daphne occurs in central and meridional Europe.
The alpine daphne (Daphne alpina). Family: Thymelaeaceae. This plant forms small bushes that covers with fragrant whites flowers in May-June. In the Grasse's Prealps, it grows mainly in cracks an holes of karstic slabs. Originating from central Europe, this species is found in France only in the south-east.
The common parsley frog (Pelodytes punctatus). Family: Pelodytidae. This small toad is restricted to southwestern Europe : Italy, France and the Iberian peninsula. It is capable of surviving in dry habitats such as the calcareous plateaus by exploiting the cavities and caves (as in this photo) under the surface of the karst. The common parsley frog is protected in France.
Nice's snail (Macularia niciensis subsp. dupuyi). Family: Helicidae. This shell of this snail is about 2 cm in diameter, slightly flattened, a spiral with five turns. The color is variable. This snail is a Ligurian endemic, found in Italy and in south-eastern France (Var, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Alpes-Maritimes). This species seems rather widespread in the Grasse Prealps, but always in very small numbers. Two other subspecies of Macularia niciensis are found in the Alpes-Maritimes.
Nice's snail (Macularia niciensis subsp. dupuyi).
Leucophyes pedestris/occidentalis. Family: Curculionidae. This relatively large weevil reaches 2 cm. It shows a distinctive white spot on the elytra, surrounded by a dark area. The general colour is variable. A reliable distinction between L. pedestris and L. occidentalis requires the inspection of the penis ! This species occurs in part of Europe, in the Middle-East and in North Africa.
The southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena). Family:Papilionidae. The southern Festoon inhabits southern Europe up to Asia Minor. In south-east France, it typically inhabits 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 (as on this photo), where it then feeds on Aristolochia pallida. The southern Festoon is fully protected in France.
Caterpillar of southern Festoon (Zerynthia polyxena) on Aristolochia pallida.
The duke of Burgundy (Hamearis lucina). Family: Riodinidae. Only member of the genus Haemaris, this fast-flying small butterfly is found in clearings of the karst, in May-June. The male is highly territorial, and attacks other intruding butterflies. The caterpillars feed on primroses. This butterfly is present in Europe up to the Ural. In France, is occurs in most of the territory.
The southern grizzled skipper (Pyrgus malvoides). Family: Hesperiidae. The members of this family are fast flying little butterflies with a thick hairy body. Several species occur in southern France, whose identification is often delicate. Pyrgus malvoides and Pyrgus malvae are almost identical species (possibly forming a single species), the former found in the southern half of France and the latter in the northern half. The series of diffuse spots near the wing margins, and the clear white spot with a "tooth" shape on the hindwings are typical. This butterfly starts flying in early spring.
Several relatively wild and unpolluted rivers (Siagne, Loup, Cagne and Estéron) run through the limestone mountains of the Grasse Prealps. The canyons harbor unique ecosystems with a high biodiversity.
The gorges of the Siagne river. This river, still wild and unpolluted in its upper range, harbors a remarkable ecosystem including, among others, the white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes).
The serotine bat (Eptesicus serotinus). Family: Vespertilionidae. The PACA region harbours many bats, since 30 out of the 34 French species are found here. The serotine bat is a fairly large bat (37 cm wingspan), with a brown fur and a black skin. Widespread from Europe to south-east Asia, this species occurs everywhere in France.
The viperine water snake (Natrix maura). Family: Natricidae. This species belongs, together with the grass snake (Natrix natrix) shown below, to the two species of aquatic snakes in France. The colour of this rather small snake (up to 60 cm) varies depending on habitat, from grey to brown and even reddish. The viperine water snake is distributed in western Europe and northern Africa. It feeds on various amphibians and fishes (a young trout on this photo). Totally harmless for man, it is still often mistaken for a viper (despite the fact that vipers are never observed in water) and destroyed. This snake, however, is fully protected in France.
The viperine water snake (Natrix maura) in its habitat.
The barred grass snake (Natrix helvetica). Family: Natricidae. After a genetic study published in 2017, it was determined that the French populations of this water snake belong to Natrix helvetica instead of Natrix natrix, which occurs in the northern and eastern part of Europe. This nice species differs from Natrix maura by its grey color, with a black and white "necklace" pattern at the neck. It is also usually larger, reaching over 1 m. The two species share the same habitat and sometimes cohabitate.
Juvenile barred grass snake (Natrix helvetica).
Spiny toad (Bufo spinosus). Family: Bufonidae. This toad was recently raised to the rank of full species. France now harbors two quite similar toad species, the common toad (Bufo bufo) occuring mainly in the northeastern half of the country, and the spiny toad (Bufo spinosus) in the southwestern part. In the male Bufo spinosus, the parotoid glands are converging (parallel in Bufo bufo). In the female, which can grow very large (> 10 cm), the skin is spiny. In the Grasse Prealps, it is found along rivers, but also in much dryer habitats such as the karst, where it hides in cracks and caves.
The white-clawed crayfish (Austropotamobius pallipes). Family: Astacidae. This indigenous crayfish is rapidly disappearing from France and Europe due, among other cause, to the loss of unpolluted water bodies. It is still present in the Prealps in clear streams such as the Siagne and the Loup. This west-European crayfish is listed as threatened by IUCN.
The southern skimmer (Orthetrum brunneum). Family: Libellulidae. This male of this widespread dragonfly has a blue-grey body. The blue thorax and pale face differentiates it from a related species, the keeled skimmer (Orthetrum coerulescens), also present in the same habitat. It is found in a variety of habitats, from ponds and lakes to rapid streams.
The golden-ringed dragonfly (Cordulegaster boltonii). Family: Cordulegastridae. This large dragonfly has a distinctive yellow-on-black pattern. It is usually found in rapid streams, at low elevation. The golden-ringed dragonfly is widespread in Europe.
The large pincertail (Onycogomphus uncatus). Family: Gomphidae. Smaller than the previous species, this dragonfly is found in the same habitat. It is very similar to the small pincertail (Onycogomphus forcipatus), who shows a yellow stripe between the eye. This species is found in the southern half of France.
The beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo meridionalis). Family: Calopterygidae. These amazing insects are indeed beautiful, with a metallic green body and dark blue wings for the male (shown here). The female's wings are yellow-green (see below). The meridionalis subspecies, present in the southern part of France, is blue up to the tip of the wings.
Female of beautiful demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo meridionalis).
The copper demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis). Family: Calopterygidae. This demoiselle differs from the previous one by its deep purple color. Both species are often found together, in rapid and well-oxygenated streams. The huge eyes provide excellent vision for these highly predatory insects. During the mating dance, the male flashes the bright pink underpart of its abdomen to the female. The copper demoiselle is found in southern Europe (Spain to Italy) and in North Africa.
The flashy underparts of the male copper demoiselle (Calopteryx haemorrhoidalis).
The common winter damselfly (Sympecma fusca). Family: Lestidae. Both sexes of this small species are brownish. Members of the Sympecma genus are the only damselflies in Europe to winter as adults. This species, occuring in most of souther and central Europe, is found in ponds around 1000 m of altitude in the Grasse Prealps.
Stonefly (Dinocras cephalotes). Family: Perlidae. This large stonefly can reach 4 cm. The larvae leave under stone in clear, rapid streams. The adults fly close to the water surface, where they are often captured by trouts. These insects are among the best indicators of water quality. This species is relatively widespread in France.
The false ilex hairstreak (Satyrium esculi). Family: Lycenidae. Most hairstreaks display little tails on the hindwings. This species has a distinctive set of round orange spots. The caterpillar feeds on holm oak and kermes oak. This butterfly occurs in North Africa, the Iberian peninsula and southern France.
The lesser purple emperor (Apatura ilia f. clytie). Family: Nymphalidae. This beautiful butterfly of rather large size is readily identified by its fast and nervous flight, the orange background of the wings (form clytie) and the bright purple iridescent sheen that is only visible under a certain angle of observation. This sheen is due to the tridimensionnal periodic structure of the wing scales, which turn this butterfly into a flying diffraction grating. The species seems scarce in the Preapls, and is found only along certain streams where its host plants grow (poplars and willows). Butterflies from the Apatura genus are attracted to rotten fruits (wild figs on this photo) and excrements. The lesser purple emperor occurs in most of Europe, Caucasus and Ural up to China.
The lesser purple emperor (Apatura ilia f. clytie).
The lesser purple emperor (Apatura ilia). This photo illustrates the angular dependence of the purple reflection.
The striped grayling (Pseudotergumia fidia). Family: Nymphalidae. This mediterranean Satyrinae is usually found in very dry and rocky places. However, it is also often observed near the water in the canyons. This localized species occurs in western Europe (Iberian Peninsula, France and north-western Italy) and in North Africa. In France, the striped grayling roughly follows the distribution of the olive tree.
The European beak (Libythea celtis). Family: Nymphalidae. This strange-looking butterfly is the only member of its sub-family (Libytheinae) in Europe. Its is restricted to the mediterranean range where the European nettle tree (Celtis australis), its host plant, grows. In the Grasse Prealps, this species is often observed along rivers in June. In France, it occurs only in the south-east.
The European beak (Libythea celtis).
The box tree moth (Cidalyma perspectalis). Family: Crambidae. This delicate small moth is a formidable pest whose caterpillar feeds on members of the boxes familly. Native to eastern Asia, this species was accidentally introduced in Europe in 2006, and appeared in France in 2008 where it is now found everywhere. With up to three generations per year, the caterpillars eat all the leaves of the tree which usually dies. In the Grasse Prealps, the box forests of the upper Siagne and Loup valleys have been devastated.
Outbreak of box tree moth (Cidalyma perspectalis).
Caterpillar of the giant peacock moth (Saturnia pyri). Family: Saturnidae. This wonderful moth is the largest in Europe, with a wingspan reaching 15 cm. The males of this species are able to detect the pheromones emitted by the females at a distance of several kilometers. The stunning caterpillar consumes a variety of plants from the rose family, including the almond tree, the apple tree, plum tree ... The giant peacock moth occurs in western and southern Europe, and in most of France where it seems to be decreasing.
Caterpillar of the european gipsy moth (Lymantria dispar). Family: Erebidae. This rather nondescript small moth has a spectacular caterpillar sporting a series of blue and red spots on its back. This species undergoes cyclic proliferations, leading to the defoliation of entire forests (for instance of cork and holm oaks). During these events, the predators of the caterpillars such as the forest caterpillar hunter (Calosoma sycophanta, see below) can also be observed in great numbers.
The forest caterpillar hunter (Calosoma sycophanta). Family: Carabidae. This large iridescent beetle is a very good climber and is often observed in trees. It is a fearsome predator for many caterpillars, including pests such as the oak and pine processionaries and the gipsy moth. In France, the forest caterpillar hunter seems rather uncommon and decreasing.
The southern saw-tailed bush cricket (Barbitistes obtusus). Family: Tettigonidae. This colorful species is usually found in woods. It occurs in the extreme south-east of France, in Italy and Switzerland.
The conehead mantis (Empusa pennata). Family: Mantidae. 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. Usually found in dry places, the conehead mantis also explores riverbeds as on this photo.
The wild grape (Vitis vinifera subsp. sylvestris). Family: Vitaceae. This plant grows in riparian forests, for instance in the Siagne valley. It is a liana that can grow up to 40 m long to reach the canopy. This subspecies, ancester of the common grape vine (Vitis vinifera subsp. vinifera), is rare in our country and fully protected.
Apart from rivers, wetlands are scarce in the Grasse Prealps. A few wet meadows are found on the clayey soil of the plains sandwiched between the plateaus. Home to several rare species, these fragile habitats are threatened by human use (agriculture).
Pond and wet meadow. Sandwiched between the plateaus are narrow valleys with a clay-rich soil, favouring the presence of wetlands. These fragile areas shelters very specific animal and plant communities, which are often threatened.
The poet's daffodil (Narcissus poeticus). Family: Amaryllidaceae. This narcissus forms large and striking populations in wet meadows at the bottom of certain valleys. It is also sometimes found in the karst.
The giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum). Family: Apiaceae. This huge member of the carrot family can reach 4 m and more ! This species originating from the Caucasus was introduced in Europe as an ornamental plant, and has now spread in many countries. Its sap is phototoxic and can cause serious blisters and scars. In the Grasse Prealps, the giant hogweed is found along streams and lakes mainly near Thorenc. Programs are under way to try to eradicate this invasive plant.
Klasea lycopifolia. Family: Asteraceae. This plant has an erected stem up to 80 cm high, with a solitary flower head. The leaves are characteristic: the leaves on the stem are narrow and deeply divided, while the basal leaves are large and ovate, with some divisions near the base. This species is found in humid meadows, around 1100 m of altitude. It is a rare plant in our country, occuring only in the Hautes-Alpes and Alpes-Maritimes. It is on the red list of threatened species, and fully protected.
Klasea lycopifolia. Basal leaves in the forefront, a caulinary leave can be seen in the back.
The southern adders-tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum). Family: Ophioglossaceae. This strange plant belongs to a family of primitive ferns. Its is found in wet meadows in low mountains, often in association with the poet's daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) and the broad-leaved marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis). This rare species is protected in the PACA region.
The broad-leaved marsh orchid (Dactylorhiza majalis). Family: Orchidaceae. This stocky orchid has distinctive deep purple flowers and green leaves with large black spots. In the Prealps, it is found in wet meadows at the bottom of valleys, where it often grows in company of the poet's daffodil (Narcissus poeticus) and the southern adders-tongue (Ophioglossum vulgatum). This orchid flowers in May. It is present in most of Europe (except the Mediterranean range), where it is declining due to the loss of wetlands.
The marsh helleborine (Epipactis palustris). Family: Orchidaceae. This orchid is the most spectacular member of the Epipactis genus in the area. It is found along streams and in wet meadows, where it is scarce. The relatively large flowers bloom in June.
The false heath fritillary (Melitaea diamina). Family: Nymphalidae. This small species has a much darker background color than other species of the genus. It is found in damp meadows in low mountain ranges. Widespread in central and southern Europe and reaching Asia, this butterfly occurs in France in a south-eastern half.
Roesel's bush cricket (Roeseliana roeselii). Family: Tettigonidae. This small species has the sides of the pronotum often dark and bordered with green. In the Prealps, this species is found in wet meadows.
The karstic landscape of the Grasse Prealps includes many cliffs and other steep rocky habitats. These serve as a shelter for a number of species, including rare breeding birds such as the golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) and the peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus).
Cliffs of the plateau de Calern.
Leucanthemum burnatii. Family: Asteraceae. This nice daisy is identified by its long and very narrow leaves. It grows in calcareous dry grasslands, rocks and cliffs. This is an endemic to southeastern France.
The mountain cabbage (Brassica montana). Family: Brassicaceae. This wild cabbage grows in calcareous cliffs, often near gorges. It flowers in April, sprouting spectacular flowering stems reaching 1 m. Restricted in France to a few southern departments, this species is protected in the PACA region.
The spiny spurge (Euphorbia spinosa). Family: Euphorbiaceae. This spurge is very common in the Prealps. It grows in small, low bushes. The old branch-tips are spiny. This species is a specialist of dry, rocky habitats. The spiny spurge is found from south-eastern France to Albania.
Rodié's storksbill (Erodium rodiei). Family: Geraniaceae. This plant, very rare and local, is endemic to the Grasse Prealps. It flowers in May, in the cracks of calcareous rocks and walls. It is fully protected.
Rodié's storksbill (Erodium rodiei).
The spiny horehound (Acanthoprasium frutescens). Family: Lamiaceae. This strange little plant forms shrubs hanging from calcareous cliffs, especially in gorges and canyons. Its flowers, with characteristic white plumes, bloom from May to July. This species is endemic of the Maritime Alps, and protected in the PACA region.
Reuter's hemp-nettle (Galeopsis reuteri). Family: Lamiaceae. This species differs from others from the genus Galeopsis by its habitat (fine calcareous scree), its narrow dented leaves and its hairless, rounded stem. It is a Ligurian endemic, present in France only in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes.
The red lily (Lilium pomponium). Family: Liliaceae. This magnificent lily, very spectacular, occurs in june in rocky area exposed to the south, in low mountain ranges. This Ligurian endemic is present in France only in the extreme south-east.
The red lily (Lilium pomponium).
The black false hellebore (Veratrum nigrum). Family: Liliaceae. This plant is very rare in our country and occurs only in the Alpes-Maritimes, which constitutes the occidental limit of its range expanding eastward to Japan and Siberia. It grows in low mountain rocky undergrowth and cliffs, and flowers in August. This species is protected in France.
The silver-edged primrose (Primula marginata). Family: Primulaceae. This pretty primrose flowers in spring on calcareous rocks and cliffs, exposed to the north, in mountains at elevations above 3000 ft. The lavender flowers and serrated leaves are characteristic of this species. It is endemic to the southern Alps, and fully protected in France.
The silver-edged primrose (Primula marginata). This photo shows the ligneous stem with dried leaves from the previous year still attached.
The silver-edged primrose (Primula marginata).
The mountain Apollo (Parnassius apollo). Family: Papilionidae. 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.
The Alexanor (Papilio alexanor). Family: Papilionidae. This large butterfly is at first sight quite similar to the scarce swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius), but with a yellow tint of the wings (instead of white) and a different stripe pattern. A rare species, the Alexanor is sometimes encountered feeding on the flowers of the red valerian (Centranthus ruber). This butterfly has a very patchy distribution from southeastern France, the Balkans, up to Pakistan. It is fully protected in France.
The dominant species in the Prealps is the scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). On the slopes exposed to the north, forests of european beech (Fagus sylvatica) and silver fir (Abies alba) are present. At lower altitudes, the scots pine is replaced by the downy oak (Quercus pubescens) and the evergreen oak (Quercus ilex). On the eastern slopes of the mountain range, woods of the european hop-hornbeam (Ostrya carpinifolia) can be found. This is the occidental limit of the range of this species. In the gorges, riparian forests include many species: bay laurel (Laurus nobilis), maples, fig trees, ...
The pinnate coralroot (Cardamine heptaphylla). Family: Brassicaceae. This plant from the cabbage family shows distinctive large pinkish flowers and imparipinnate leaves with five to seven leaflets. It grows almost exclusively in beech underwoods. In France, this species occurs in the southeastern half of the country. It is protected in several regions but not in PACA where it is still fairly well represented.
The star gentian (Gentiana cruciata). Family: Gentianaceae. This gentian grows on fairly high stems, with shiny leaves and small, pale blue flowers. It is usually found in clearings of Scots pine woods. In the Grasse Prealps, this species is the host plant of the Alcon blue (Phengaris alcon rebeli), a rare butterfly.
The dog's tooth violet (Erythronium dens-canis). Family: Liliaceae. This very pretty flower from the Liliaceae family grows in clear undergrowth and mountain woods clearings. It often blooms just after the melting of the last snow. It is found in southern Europe and the Balkans.
Spitzel's orchid (Orchis spitzelii). Family: Orchidaceae. This orchid is identified by its green-tinted perianth, its folded labellum and straight, conical spear. It flowers in low mountains in June, in Scots pine clearings, often on a marly substrate. This species occurs in a rather wide range (from France to Lebanon, up to Sweden in the north and Algeria in the south) with a very scattered distribution. It is everywhere rare and very local. In France, where it is found mainly in the south-east, Orchis spitzelii is fully protected.
The fly orchid (Ophrys insectifera). Family: Orchidaceae. This orchid bears flowers with a distinctive shape that mimics an insect. It is usually found in clear Scots pine woods, often in the company of Spitzel's orchid (Orchis spitzelii). This species is quite widespread in Europe.
The early coralroot (Corallorhiza trifida). Family: Orchidaceae. This tiny orchid is often overlooked. This is mostly a mountain species, growing in the undergrowth of beech or coniferous forests. In the Grasse Prealps, this species seems very local. Found in the eastern half of France, this orchid is always rare. It has a worldwide distribution, including Northern America and Eurasia.
The European peony (Paeonia officinalis subsp. huthii). Family: Paeoniaceae. With its pink flowers up to 4 inches in diameter, this peony is certainly the most spectacular plant in the area. It flowers in May-June, in karst meadows and undergrowth. This particular subspecies occurs only in southeast France and Italy. Sometimes abundant in its stations, this magnificent plant is however vulnerable and protected in France : do not pick it !
The European peony (Paeonia officinalis subsp. huthii).
The European peony (Paeonia officinalis subsp. huthii).
Androsace chaixii. Family: Primulaceae. Most of the rockjasmine species are high mountain plants, growing dense cushions in rock cracks. Androsace chaixii, on the contrary, occurs in low mountains of southeastern France where it grows in shadowy places (beech forests, ...). The little pink flowers grow at the tip of long stems radiating from a rosette of leaves. This uncommon plant is protected in Région Rhône-Alpes.
The liverwort (Hepatica nobilis). Family: Ranunculaceae. This anemone flowers early in spring, from March to April. It is commonly found below bushes and in the karst. The flowers are usually purple, but can also be white or pink.
The burning bush (Dictamnus albus). Family: Rutaceae. This plant, growing up to 1 m, has divided leaves recalling that of the manna ash (Fraxinus ornus). It is easily identified to its large pink flowers with purple stripes. This plant is found in dry places in the undergrowth, clearings, ... This is a rare plant, protected in the PACA region.
Earthstar (Geaster sp.). These mushrooms are composed of two envelopes: the inner one (endoperidium) contains the spores, and the outer one (exoperidium) splits in a star pattern at maturity. This particular species is found under scots pines.
The rosalia longicorn (Rosalia alpina). This magnificient beetle is one of the most spectacular in the european fauna. It favors old beech forests, where the dead trees that feed the larvae can be found. The adults only appear for a short period of about 10 days in July-August. Whilst it occurs mainly in mountains, the rosalia longicorn can also be found at low elevations, where it feeds for instance on ash trees. This species, which occurs from the Alps to Slovakia, has seen its populations dwindling. It is protected in many countries (including France), and is classified as ''vulnerable'' by IUCN.
The rosalia longicorn (Rosalia alpina).
The rosalia longicorn (Rosalia alpina).
Male rattle grasshopper (Psophus stridulus). This grasshopper is very dark, with white markings on the legs and bright red hind wings. The male produces a distinctive rattling during flight. It leaves in dry and rocky mountain grasslands, often in clearings of scots pine woods. Its range extends from southern Europe to Siberia and Asia. In France, this rather local species is found in the Alps and Pyrenees.
Female rattle grasshopper (Psophus stridulus). The female is grey instead of black, and has an abdomen longer than the wings.