The spring ringlet (Erebia epistygne) is a European butterfly with predominantly brown wings, marked towards the edges with paler bands and small spots. The male spring ringlet has a buffy-yellow band on the upperside of the forewing, which tapers towards the rear of the wing and contains several spots, known as ‘ocelli’ (2) (3). Towards the front edge of the wing, three ocelli are fused into a conspicuous row, and there are often further ocelli towards the rear of the wing (2). The upperside of the hind wing has a more orange band (3), with four or five ocelli, which are broadly ringed in red (2). The undersides of the male spring ringlet’s wings are darker reddish-brown, with a more mottled, paler grey-brown hind wing (2).
The female spring ringlet is similar to the male, but has slightly paler markings. The underside of the female’s hind wing is more marbled than in the male, with brown patterning on a grey or yellowish-grey background, and with conspicuous whitish veins (2) (3).
Two subspecies of the spring ringlet have been described, Erebia epistygne epistygne and Erebia epistygne viriathus. The latter is slightly smaller, and has a more reddish underside to the forewing and a paler brown underside to the hind wing (2).
- Erebia epistgyne.
- Male forewing length: 2 - 2.5 cm (2)
Spring ringlet biology
The adult spring ringlet appears in early spring, usually flying between late March and June (1) (2) (3). Relatively little information is available on the biology of this species, but it is known to have just one brood a year (1) (3).
The caterpillars of the spring ringlet feed mainly on sheep’s fescue (Festuca ovina), a type of grass, as well as on other fescues and on meadow grasses (Poa species) (1) (2) (3).
Spring ringlet range
The spring ringlet occurs in France and Spain. The subspecies E. e. epistygne is found in south-eastern France, from Languedoc to Provence and the French Alps. The subspecies E. e. viriathus occurs in Spain, in the foothills of the eastern Pyrenees and in mountainous areas in central Spain, near Guadalajara, Cuenca and Teruel, as well as in the region of Burgos (1) (2) (3) (4).
Spring ringlet habitat
This species inhabits grassy and rocky clearings in open woodland, usually of pines. The spring ringlet is found at elevations of around 400 to 1,500 metres in France, and 900 to 1,500 metres in Spain (1) (2) (3).
Spring ringlet status
The spring ringlet is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Spring ringlet threats
Climate change has been identified as the most serious threat to the spring ringlet, and could potentially cause large declines in the populations of this species (1). Butterflies are particularly sensitive to changes in their environment as they often have very specific food and habitat requirements at different stages in their life cycle. Climate change may potentially alter the distribution of butterflies’ food plants, but the pace of change could be too rapid for many species to keep up. Human barriers such as roads and towns may also prevent butterflies and plants from shifting their distribution to match the changing climatic conditions (5).
Many butterfly species are also sensitive to habitat modification and to changes in habitat management, such as overgrazing, undergrazing, or altered woodland management (5). The spring ringlet has quite localised populations and is under threat from the abandonment of semi-natural grasslands (1), which may lead to changes in the vegetation that make it unsuitable for this species.
Spring ringlet conservation
There are not known to be any specific conservation measures currently targeting this European butterfly. More research is needed into the spring ringlet’s distribution and ecology, and its populations need to be monitored by Butterfly Monitoring Schemes (1). The spring ringlet would also benefit from the continuation of traditional land use practices to maintain suitable habitat (6).
General conservation measures recommended for European butterflies include developing Species Action Plans, improving the protection and management of butterfly habitats, and conducting further research into threatened butterfly species. It will also be important to establish coordinated systems of butterfly recording and monitoring across Europe, to improve the assessment and conservation of these species (5).
Find out more
Find out more about the conservation of European butterflies:
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- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (June, 2011)
Higgins, L.G. and Riley, N.D. (1983) A Field Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Europe. Collins, London.
Tolman, T. (2001) Photographic Guide to the Butterflies of Britain and Europe. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Gastón, F.J. and Redondo, V.M. (2001) Actualización del área de vuelo de Erebia epistygne (Hübner, 1824) (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae, Satyrinae). Zapateri: Revista Aragonesa de Entomología, 9: 121.
Van Swaay, C. et al. (2010) European Red List of Butterflies. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg. Available at:
de Arce Crespo, J.I. and Jiménez Mendoza, S. (2006) Ampliación de la distribución e información sobre patrones ecológicos de Erebia epistygne (Hübner, 1824) en la Serranía de Cuenca, España (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae). SHILAP: Revista de Lepidopterología, 34(133): 103-108.