Bulgaria occupies an area of the central and eastern Balkan Peninsula totaling 111000 square kilometers. This relatively small area has the widest altitude gradient on the Peninsula (0 - 2925 m). This, together with the presence in the country of two distinct climate zones, temperate continental in the North and sub-Mediterranean in the South and especially Southwest, determines the wide variety of habitats ranging from sub-Mediterranean to high-Alpine. The present butterfly fauna of Bulgaria has formed under the combined influence of the diverse climate, relief, geological composition and vegetation, as well as the influence of the Pleistocene epoch. The latter has led to the formation of refugia for many (boreo)montane species as well as the speciation of new endemic species. According to my data, Bulgaria has the richest butterfly fauna of any European country outside the Mediterranean zone, with 214 reliably recorded species so far. This number is far from final and may eventually exceed 220 species, as judged from a comparison with the fauna of the neighbouring countries. For a comparison, the western neighbours of Bulgaria, Serbia and Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) have respectively 192 species (according to Milan Djuric) and around 204 species. Greece, to the south of Bulgaria, has about 235 butterfly species, of which 217 on the mainland (according to Simos Ichtiaroglou).
An overview of the geography and vegetation zones of Bulgaria is to follow shortly.
Below is a brief account of some representative or more interesting butterfly habitats across Bulgaria, roughly arranged in ascending order according to altitude. For each of these, some of the most representative species occurring there are listed; providing a complete list is in many cases impossible due to the very large number of species involved.
SE Bulgaria, glades in xerothermic oak forest near Arkutino, southern Black Sea coast, 20-30 m a.s.l., June 1999. Habitat of Lycaena ottomana, L. thersamon, Favonius quercus, Satyrium ilicis, Leptotes pirithous, Pararge roxelana, Maniola tithonus, Hipparchia syriaca, H. fagi, H. statilinus, H. circe, H. dryas, Melitaea didyma, etc.
E Bulgaria, typical ruderal site that has entirely replaced the original vegetation (oak woodland) along the railroad Karnobat - Burgas, not far from the Black Sea coast, ca. 200 m a.s.l., June 1999. Such environments abound across the lowlands of the country, where virtually none of the original forest cover remains. Habitat of Pyrgus malvae, Spialia orbifer, Carcharodus alceae, Papilio machaon, Iphiclides podalirius, Zerynthia cerisy, Colias erate, C. croceus, Euchloe ausonia, Lycaena dispar, L. thersamon, Cupido alcetas, Plebeius icarus, Melanargia galathea, Coenonympha pamphilus, Araschnia levana, Argynnis pandora, A. daphne, etc.
SW Bulgaria, the ridge Kozhuh, remnant of an ancient volcano rim in the southern part of Struma valley near Petrich. It boasts some of the most xerothermic habitats in the whole of Bulgaria - not surprising considering that this is the hottest region of the country. Foreground at ca. 130 m a.s.l., June-July 1999. Habitat of Erynnis marloyi, Gonepteryx farinosa (the only known in Bulgaria so far), Pieris krueperi, P. ergane, Euchloe gruneri, Tarucus balkanicus, Hipparchia fatua, H. statilinus, Limenitis reducta, etc. In stony habitats along Struma river occurs Gegenes nostrodamus, while the wetlands around the thermal springs at the foot of the volcanic rim, partly visible to the left in the mid-distance, host Lycaena dispar and Cupido alcetas.
SW Bulgaria, the Kresna gorge of Struma river. One of the classical butterfly localities in Bulgaria with about 120 butterfly species recorded so far. Most interesting are the xerothermophilous species such as Carcharodus orientalis, Spialia phlomidis, Pyrgus cinarae, Zerynthia cerisy, Leptidea duponcheli, Pieris mannii, P. krueperi, Lycaena ottomana, Tarucus balkanicus, Iolana iolas, Libythea celtis, Pararge roxelana, Hyponephele lupina, Melanargia larissa, Hipparchia syriaca, H. fatua, the Balkan endemic H. amalthea, Apatura metis, Nymphalis egea, Melitaea telona, etc.
E Bulgaria, the lower slopes of the Sinite Kamani massif in Stara Planina, 400 m a.s.l., May 2005. The classical Bulgarian locality for the very local Pieris chloridice. Some other notable species are Carcharodus orientalis, Pyrgus cinarae, P. sidae, Zerynthia cerisy, Leptidea duponcheli, Colias alfacariensis, Pieris mannii, P. krueperi, Glaucopsyche alexis, Scolitantides orion, S. vicrama, Plebeius anteros, P. thersites, Libythea celtis, Pararge roxelana, Melanargia larissa, Hipparchia syriaca, H. senthes, H. briseis, H. ferula, Melitaea telona, etc.
W Bulgaria, dry tall-grass meadows on the slopes of Mt. Lyulin near Sofia, ca. 750 m a.s.l., July 1999. Habitat of the rare and endangered Phengaris nausithous. Some other species encountered here are Thymelicus sylvestris, Iphiclides podalirius, Melanargia galathea, Argynnis hecate, Melitaea aurelia, etc.
S Bulgaria, western Rhodopi Mts., arid rocky slopes on largely exposed marble rock, ca. 800 m a.s.l., July 1999. A prime habitat for Lycaenids, foremost among them the local endemic Plebeius orphicus recently described by myself. Some other species of this habitat and its vicinity are Colias alfacariensis, Pieris ergane, Satyrium ilicis, S. spini, S. w-album, Cupido osiris, C. minimus, C. argiades, C. decoloratus, Scolitantides vicrama, Phengaris arion, Plebeius sephirus, P. anteros, the Balkan endemic P. escheri dalmaticus, P. thersites, P. coridon, P. ripartii, Hipparchia semele, H. circe, H. ferula, H. dryas, etc.
Southern Pirin, rocky marble slopes at ca. 800-900 m, July 2003. In 1993 I discovered here Euchloe penia as new to Bulgaria, after which based on my locality data S. Abadjiev found here also the Balkan endemic Hipparchia orestes. This remains the only known locality for these species in the country. Some other species occurring here are Pyrgus cinarae, P. sidae, Pieris mannii, Colias alfacariensis, Pieris ergane, Lycaena virgaureae, Phengaris arion, Cupido minimus, Plebeius anteros, P. agestis, P. thersites, P. bellargus, P. coridon, P. daphnis, the Balkan endemic P. escheri dalmaticus, P. admetus, P. aroaniensis, Libythea celtis, Melanargia larissa, Hyponephele lycaon, H. fagi, H. senthes, H. briseis, H. ferula, H. arethusa, Boloria dia, etc.
E Bulgaria, the upper part of the Sinite Kamani massif in Stara Planina, 1000 m a.s.l., May 2005. On these dry flowery glades I have counted about 100 butterfly species so far, which makes them one of the prime butterfly habitats in the whole country. Some more typical species are Hesperia comma, Pyrgus cinarae, P. sidae, P. armoricanus, Parnassius mnemosyne, Euchloe cardamines, Aporia crataegi, Pieris mannii, P. krueperi, P. daplidice, Hamearis lucina, Lycaena virgaureae, L. thersamon, Callophrys rubi, Lampides boeticus, Phengaris alcon, Cupido minimus, Plebeius anteros, P. agestis, P. eumedon, P. eroides, P. thersites, P. bellargus, P. daphnis, P. admetus, P. aroaniensis, Libythea celtis, the extremely local in Bulgaria Pararge climene, P. roxelana, Melanargia larissa, Erebia medusa, Hyponephele lycaon, Hipparchia syriaca, H. fagi, H. briseis, H. ferula, H. arethusa, Coenonympha leander, Argynnis ino, A. hecate, Melitaea aurelia, M. cinxia, M. trivia, Melitaea athalia, etc.
S Bulgaria, W Rhodopi, Smolyan Lakes, 1550 m a.s.l., August 2006. Boggy meadow in coniferous (spruce) forest, typical habitat for Coenonympha glycerion at the southernmost limit of its Balkan range. Other species that may be encountered in this and other such wet habitats in Rhodopi include Lycaena candens, Lycaena virgaureae, Plebeius semiargus, Coenonympha rhodopensis, Erebia medusa, E. ottomana, Boloria selene etc.
SW Bulgaria, Pirin. Xerophytous (on ridge crests) and mesophytous (in depressions and gullies) subalpine plant communities on karstified marble, 1900 m a.s.l., July 2003. Habitat of the extremely local Plebeius dardanus and the Balkan endemics P. nephohiptamenos and P. andronicus. Other species here and in the immediate vicinity: Carcharodus flocciferus, Parnassius mnemosyne, P. apollo, Colias croceus, Pieris ergane, Lycaena candens, Phengaris alcon, Plebeius argus, P. idas baldur, P. eroides, P. artaxerxes, P. semiargus, P. dorylas, P. bellargus, P. coridon, Coenonympha rhodopensis, Erebia medusa, E. oeme, E. ottomana, E. melas, Boloria graeca, etc.
SW Bulgaria, Rila, subalpine meadows with the Balkan endemic legume Chamaecytisus absinthioides at ca. 1900-2000 m a.s.l., July 1999. Habitat of Carcharodus flocciferus, Parnassius apollo, Colias caucasica, Lycaena candens, Plebeius idas baldur, P. artaxerxes, P. semiargus, P. eroides, Coenonympha rhodopensis, Erebia orientalis, E. euryale, E. ottomana, E. oeme, Euphydryas aurinia etc.
SW Bulgaria: Rila, transitional subalpine-lower alpine plant communities on the slopes below Suhata Vapa peak near Granchar chalet, ca. 2200 m a.s.l., July-August 1998. Habitat of Pyrgus cacaliae, Coenonympha rhodopensis, Erebia rhodopensis, E. euryale, E. neleus, E. ottomana, E. oeme, E. melas, E. pronoe, Euphydryas cynthia, Boloria pales.
SW Bulgaria, Rila, ca. 2500 m, July-August 1998. Rocky alpine habitat of Erebia rhodopensis, E. neleus, E. melas, Erebia pandrose, Euphydryas cynthia, Boloria pales. Commonly found at these altitudes, although not actually breeding here, are also ubiquists such as Colias croceus, Pieris rapae, Vanessa cardui, Nymphalis io, Nymphalis urticae, Issoria lathonia etc.
SW Bulgaria: Rila, Musalenski cirque at the northern foot of the highest peak on the Balkan Peninsula, Musala (2925 m). The lake at the centre lies at ca. 2500 m a.s.l. August 1999. Habitat of Erebia gorge, the butterfly with highest resident range in Bulgaria, and Erebia pandrose.