Saturday, March 9, 2013

The red underwing

At first glance the red underwing looks like a drab coloured moth but the underwings are surprisingly brightly coloured. It spends the day resting on an old wall or on a tree trunk with its underwings well hidden. This pair of wings is uncovered completely only during flight. This helps this species and other related moths to escape from predators, usually birds, which are dazzled when they see the sudden flash of colour appearing as if out of nowhere.

This species of red underwing, known in Maltese as elokata grows up to 88 mm. It can be found in Buskett Gardens and has been found in other areas such as Fiddien where one finds poplars and willow trees on which the larvae feed grow. This species which can be seen between June and September lives in Central and Southern Europe, North Africa, Asia Minor Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

The red underwing is one of a number of species of moths known as the Catocala. This genus of moths is characterised by having brightly coloured underwings usually orange, red, yellow or white. The name is a combination of two Greek words, kato, behind and kalos, beautiful. The genus occurs in Eurasia and North America. The larva of most species feed on the foliage of trees and shrubs.

Three other Catocala moths can be found in the Maltese islands. The Catocala conjuncta, known in Maltese as katokala, is rare and has been found only in Buskett Gardens. It is found around the Mediterranean. The larvae feed on the leaves of the oak trees and the adult is seen between July and August. It has mottled brown forewings and crimson-red hind wings. In 2004 it was found in Britain in the Minsmere bird reserve and was given the English name Minsmere crimson underwing. 

Catocala nymphaea, known in Maltese as katokala safra kbira is very rare and has been recorded in Malta only a few times in the summer months. It has yellow underwings and the larva feeds on the leaves of oak trees. Another species with yellow underwings is the oak yellow underwing known in Maltese as katokala safra żgħira, which is also very rare.  

This article was published in The Times on 29 July 2009.

No comments:

Post a Comment