The sheer abundance and variety of European butterflies make the valley meadows and high pastures of the Picos de Europa in Northern Spain an exciting place for a butterfly holiday.

marsh fritillary


To date, 156 distinct species have been recorded. Of all the butterfly species to be seen in Spain, 72% are found in the autonomous community of Cantabria, helped by traditional farming practices and its naturally wide variety of habitats from the coast to the limestone peaks of the Picos. However, only 11% of this territory is protected by either National or Natural Park status.

Walking through flower-filled meadows can be a rewarding experience, observing a host of butterflies feeding on favourite plants including, higher up, Pyrenean eryngo (Eryngium bourgatii), or even the odd friendly finger.

flower meadow

 eryngeum butterflies





Walking along tracks and paths dotted with puddles can release clouds of blues.

adonis blue



Here is an extract from an article by Dr.John Barkham, a butterfly expert and one of our regular visitors, first published in Butterfly Conservation News, musing on the differences between Suffolk and the Picos de Europa:

"The first contrast with Suffolk is that the abundance of butterflies is continuous. No part of that walk was without them. Even amongst the buildings in the village, clusters of blues and skippers gathered around the overflow from a cattle trough. There were notable morning concentrations of large nymphalids on red valerian on rough ground near the river bridge, as well as five different fritillaries on some steep, flowery grassland enveloping a bend in the road. But generally there were butterflies just everywhere...... On that day alone I saw 51 distinct species."

Following are some more butterfly photos taken in and around the Picos.


plebejus argus

Silver-studded blue (Plebejus argus) Photo J. Barkham

chapmans ringlet

Chapman's ringlet (Erebia palarica) Photo J. Barkham


Apollo (Parnassius apollo) Photo J. Barkham

spanish purple hairstreak

Spanish purple hairstreak (Laeosopis roboris)

dark green frits

Dark green fritillaries (Argynnis aglaja) Photo J. Barkham

peters apollo

Apollo (Parnassius apollo) Photo Peter Ashby

chalkhill blue

Chalk hill blue (Lysandra coridon) Photo S. Gallon


Swallowtail (Papilio machaon)

iberian marbled white

Iberian marbled white (Melanargia lachesis) Photo J. Barkham

purple emperor

Purple emperor (Apatura iris)

cardinal on sunflower

Cardinal (Argynnis pandora) on Sunflower Photo Olivia May Stuart Medland (aged 8)

Awarded 2nd place in the Under 16s category of UK Butterflies Photography Competition 2006!

Oberthurs grizzled skipper

Oberthür's grizzled skipper (Pyrgus armoricanus) Photo John Barkham



Apart from the obvious factor of nocturnal as opposed to diurnal flying habits, moths can be distinguished from butterflies by their antennae, those of butterflies being "clubbed" at the tips while those of moths tend to be finer. Moths have a coupling device that joins the fore-wing to the hind-wing during flight. While resting, butterflies tend to close their wings while moths tend to leave them open.

giant peacock moth

Giant peacock moth, Saturnia pyri

lime hawkmoth

Lime hawkmoth (Mimas tiliae)

Hyphoraia dejeani

Hyphoraia dejeani

Licences should be sought for the use of moth traps and butterfly nets anywhere in Spain, particularly within the boundaries of the Picos de Europa National Park.

 Flora & Fauna of the Picos de Europa 

teresa nature lists

Over the past 20 years, Teresa Farino has compiled a 90-page report (A4) which includes an eight-page introduction to the wildlife of these mountains, followed by lists of all the mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, dragonflies and vascular plants ever recorded the Picos de Europa, as well as brief summaries of these groups.  If you would like to purchase a copy, the price is £12, excluding postage and packaging.  Please contact Teresa for further details, or to place your order, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Email Lisa and Mike here

Casa Gustavo - Aliezo 39584 - Cillorigo de Liébana - Cantabria - Spain

Tel. (00 34) 942732010