Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Surviving the bitter cold

Last Sunday’s sunshine and the relatively warm temperature was welcome especially after the cold wet days that we had been experiencing throughout most of this month. 

As I do on most Sundays I spent the morning photographing nature. I was not expecting any insects but was surprised to see a solitary asphodel bug (seffud tal-berwieq). 

This species which is usually seen from March to May is found mostly on asphodels. It was standing motionless on a leaf trying to warm up its body. It did not move away when I moved very close to it with my camera. 

This was not surprising as even though the low winter temperatures made it lethargic it normally does not bother to conceal itself or run away from danger as like other brightly coloured insects it felt secure in the knowledge that predators, especially birds are unlikely to harm it. Predators learn that animals with warning colours are inedible because they are either foul-tasting or poisonous.  

The presence of this insect made me think about how insects and other animals survive the winter. Many birds avoid cold weather by migrating to warmer parts of the world but in Europe very few insects migrate and their journeys are not as long and regular as those of birds. 

Some adult insects find a sheltered place usually underneath a stone or bark or in a crack in which to spend the winter. Others die as soon as the weather starts to cool but leave behind them eggs or pupae which will continue their lifecycle with the onset of warmer weather.

Malta’s only amphibian, the painted frog remains active throughout the winter as this is also the time when water, which is essential for this animal to survive, is present but the reptiles including the lizard, geckos and chameleon are inactive throughout most of the winter and venture out only on warmer days.

This article was published in The Times on 15.02.2012.

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