Saturday, November 3, 2012

The moth with golden wings

Goldwing (Synthymia fixa)
Moths are common insects but being nocturnal they are often unseen and unsung. 

Most moths spend the day resting in a safe place flying off at night in search of a partner or to lay eggs on the right food-plant. During the night some species also visit flowers to obtain nectar which provides them with energy.

For safety they rely on camouflage. Most moths are grey or brown and when resting remain motionless until approached too closely. Some also have brightly coloured underwings. These are the two wings which when the moth is resting are hidden under the forewings. In some species these wings are brightly coloured being yellow, orange, red or pink. 

When the moth is resting the colourful wings are well hidden but when the moth is disturbed it flies off uncovering the hind-wings and startling approaching predator which very often is too surprised to continue with its approach. This gives the moth enough time to fly away. 

The moth usually does not fly more than a couple of metres but as soon as it lands it hides the brightly coloured hindwings and again becomes practically invisible.

One such moth is the goldwing, which is known in Maltese as baħrija tas-silla tal-mogħoż.  The silla tal-mogħoż is the pitch trefoil, a common annual plant on which this species lays its eggs and thus on which the caterpillars feed. 

The adult moths can be seen in April and May It is a small moth with a wingspan of less than 40mm. It is native in southern Europe and North Africa.

The goldwing belongs to the owlet moth family; a large family with over 42,000 species. Of these 1,4500 are found in Europe of which just over 160 are found in the Maltese islands. Some of these are agricultural pests and can damage crops. 

This article was published in The Times on 23.05.2012

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