The Aurelian once walked into Albania. Not deliberately. Unusually for him he had misread the map.

Not so much misread as left it in the vehicle. Yes, he knew he was near the frontier, but his memory of the map suggested that the frontier was the river. And yes, the frontier had been the river, further to the east. But here, the frontier had left the river, and climbed up the side of the valley, to follow the crest of the hill.

A reasonable mistake?

The Aurelian wasn’t aware of this, and in his efforts to secure a photograph of a not especially exciting butterfly he had disregarded the suspicious signage in his pursuit, assuming these were merely anticipatory and not mandatory.

Welcome to Albania

He failed to realise his error until on his return he discovered a series of signs, indicating that large penalties were to be levied upon anyone doing what he had just done.

But is it OK to take photos of the sign?

This story is not so much to warn readers to study the map carefully, (although one should) but rather to remark on how frequently we as butterflyers find ourselves operating in border areas. No-one is suggesting that the Cheviots are great lepidopterous outposts, although the Welsh Marches were home to the short-lived UK colony of the Map butterfly , but the complex geopolitical history of Europe and Asia has certainly had an impact on where we are most likely to find interesting insects.

Map Butterfly, Araschnia levana, once in the Welsh Marches, sadly no more.

We have, to start with, the fact that logical borders frequently straddle areas that are otherwise geographically inhospitable, such as mountain ranges and deserts. The alpine border between France and Italy provides the habitat hotspots for species like the Peak White and Warren’s Skipper, together with a number of the scarcer Ringlets and Fritillaries.

The Stara Planina, the border mountains between Serbia and Bulgaria, is another butterfly hotspot, where at 1800m the Bog Fritillary keeps strictly to the Serbian side of the mountain, while the Violet Copper occupies the Bulgarian, in spite of them both using the same foodplant, the meadow bistort.

Violet Copper, Lycaena helle

But what of lowland species? Here generally modern farming practices are anathema to any kind of species diversity; where monoculture crops heavily treated with pesticides achieve virtually insect-free environments. Again, frontiers, and politics, can help.

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