Unexpected Habitat

We’d had an entertaining stay at our camping aire naturelle between Marseillan and Mèze with plenty of wildlife and seafood but it was time to think about getting back north for our return ferry. We have done it in two days towing a caravan but they are long days requiring another holiday to recover so we decided to give ourselves three days to make for less stressful travelling.

The natural route from our current location would take us up the A75 autoroute, La Méridienne, towards the Auvergne, which would make a reasonable first leg and where we knew some interesting habitat. It’s a very picturesque ride, too, crossing the magnificent Millau viaduct and entering some stunning scenery as you rise into the Massif Central, though some of the climbs can get a bit heavy on diesel consumption.

We’ve crossed the Millau viaduct a few times now but with the tallest supporting tower exceeding the height of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, it never fails to impress. Frankly, the building of it defies belief.

We crossed the viaduct again, eventually went through the toll plaza on the northern side, and then called in to the first rest area for, well, a rest. [Oh, OK, a comfort break.] I’m very glad we did.

Once comfortable again, Francine went off to look at a few flowery grass areas beyond the parking zone. I followed and was soon watching insects zooming about.

Wait a moment: zooming, insect … could it be an Ascalaphid? Bugger me, it was! I rushed back for my camera.

Lebelloides coccajus, 2014I should explain. In 2014 Francine and I had been camping in Millau and had gone up to the hills above looking for orchids and anything else that looked interesting. We stumbled across a flowery meadow with many fast-flying insects that would, if you were lucky, settle cooperatively. They tended to settle with wings open for a short while, then shut them. I’d never seen or heard of the like before but it was love at first sight. These were a species of Ascalaphid, Libelloides coccajus. I’ve since found a 2nd very similar species in Spain.

Libelloides longicornisIt took a while but eventually one of these autoroute rest area characters settled advantageously and I managed a picture. This looked quite different, though. Happily I had Brock’s Southern Mediterranean insect volume with me and I could identify this one as LIbelloides longicornis. Brilliant, another species for the collection. I was surprised it was different given that both these were in striking distance of Millau.

We weren’t done yet. There were blue and black striped damselflies moving through the grass. I made sure of a shot or two before looking harder to identify them. Strewth, these looked like Dainty Damselflies/Dainty Bluets (Coenagrion scitulum) but there’s a terrible twin that’s hard to separate and which I’ve yet to see, the Mediterranean Bluet (Coenagrion caerulescens).Sadly I’m still yet to see it, these were, indeed, Dainty Bluets.

Coenagrion scitulum femaleCoenagrion scitulumDainty Bluets are very scarce in the UK. Having been thought to be locally extinct, a colony was rediscovered in Kent and there are now, I think, three known locations. They also used to be on Farmer Luc’s irrigation lake at Fanjeaux until the fish farming activity wiped them out along with several other species, so it was good to see them again in an unlikely looking setting. I was pleased to get both sexes here.

Bombylius minorStill not done. A Bee-fly was feeding and that, too, looked different. In the UK we’re mostly used to the Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) with dark leading edges to its wings. We also have the Dotted Bee-fly (Bombylius discolor), with dotted wings, though I’ve not met one yet. This specimen appeared to have no markings on its wings, even if they were a blur. It took a while but I believe it to be the Heath Bee-fly (Bombylius minor) which does have a limited distribution in the UK, too.

I’ll never look at autoroute rest areas in quite the same way again.

Posted in 2023-06 France
2 comments on “Unexpected Habitat
  1. BlasR says:


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