Saturday, December 28, 2013

Plain but beautiful

The past week was noted for the arrival in the Maltese islands of a non-resident butterfly – the plain tiger or as it is sometimes known the African monarch.

The plain tiger is widespread and common in Africa and Asia as well as on most of the islands of the south Pacific, and across much of Australia.

By butterfly standards it is considered as a medium-sized butterfly but compared to the butterflies found in the Maltese islands it is definitely a large butterfly. ts body is black with many white spots but anybody spotting this butterfly is more likely to see it flying or resting on a flower with its wings open. In this case one would see the tawny and black upper wings and perhaps the series of white spots on the hindwing.  

The plain tiger is highly migratory. In the Maltese islands it is used to be a very rare visitor but nowadays it is being recorded with increasing frequency and in larger numbers. This could be due to this species expanding its range possibly as a result of climate change.

There are no records of this butterfly ever having bred in the Maltese countryside but this does not exclude the possibility that it could breed or even become a regular breeder in the future especially if the food-plant of its caterpillar, the milkweed, becomes more common.

In Maltese it is known as farfett ta’ danaus, clearly not a folk name but a name given to it by entomologists who made up the Maltese name from its scientific name Danaus chrysippus.

This week’s bad weather might stop the arrival of more plain tigers but more might still arrive as soon as the weather changes It would be very useful if readers email me the records of any plain tigers that they have seen or that they might see in the coming days and weeks. 

This article was published in the Times of Malta on 13 November 2013.

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