In this paper, we show the results of research that can inform conservation measures elsewhere in Europe for the endangered butterfly Euphydryas aurinia. A five year field study was undertaken to identify the host plant preference of larvae of Euphydryas aurinia provincialis in the Mediterranean and which signals are used by females to lay their eggs. The females oviposit on Gentiana cruciata, Scabiosa columbaria and Cephalaria leucantha; the larvae feed on all these plants and additionally on Lonicera caprifoliumin the wild and on Gentiana lutea in the laboratory. The females do not show any preference for a specific host plant and the larvae move from one species of plant to another without any difficulty. The most important factors in determining the female oviposition are the visibility, accessibility and sun-exposure of the host plants. The vegetative state of host plants is the key factor in larval use of plants during the pre- and post-diapause period. The large-sized host plants, G. cruciata and C. leucantha, are optimal for the growth and survival of the pre-diapause I-III larval instar, while they are unavailable to the larvae in Spring because of their delayed vegetative growth. The post-diapause larvae preferentially feed on plants of S. columbaria, and to lesser degree L. caprifolium, as they provide and abundant food source compared with G. cruciata and C. leucantha. The results also suggest that, there is an evolutionary advantage in large numbers of caterpillars feeding together, with the females of E. aurinia provincialis preferring to lay their eggs nearby or above egg batches laid previously by another female, and selecting large plants for oviposition. Despite the competition for food among caterpillars, the oviposition behaviour of females is advantageous and increases the larval survival rate on large plants. The gregarious larval behaviour provides several benefits during both pre-diapause period (avoiding starvation) and post-diapause period (efficiency in thermoregulation).
Euphydryas aurinia provincialis, Female host plant choice, Larval host plant, Larval web survival, Larval aggregation behaviour