Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The oak eggar

The oak eggar is a beautiful large moth. It is seen in August and September mainly in Buskett and its surroundings. 

The males are red brown and fly during the day and many people mistake them for butterflies.

 Last Sunday, while watching the migration of raptors at Buskett I saw at least three oak eggars being caught and eaten by bee eaters, the brightly coloured migratory birds that specialise in hunting flying insects especially bees.

Female oak eggars are larger and paler than males and are nocturnal. It is said that females fly slowly at dusk dropping eggs on the vegetation below but I still have to see this interesting behaviour.

The eggs are laid on ivy which grows in abundance especially on the north-facing walls in Buskett. In Maltese the oak eggar is known as baħrija tal-ballut but it should be pointed out that despite its name, this species does not feed on oak, but is called so because its cocoon is shaped like an acorn.

The caterpillar is covered in brown hairs and has a black line between each segment on each of which there is a small tuft of white hair along the sides. I have seen and photographed the caterpillar on the leaves of the bramble at Wied il-Luq and also walking on the ground in the vicinity of this common plant.

The oak eggar belongs to the Lasiocampidae family of moths which has over 2000 species worldwide. These are usually large moths with feather-like antennae. The caterpillars are covered in long hair. Four species are found in the Maltese islands. 

This article was published in The Times on 22.0./2010

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