Thursday, 28 June 2018

What I saw on my holidays

Penny and I have just had a lovely week in southern Greece, re-aquainting ourselves with the Swallowtails and Scarce Swallowtails whose abundance on Continental Europe thrilled me on my first visits there as a teenager. I suppose that I am a bit blasé half a century later, so that they no longer turn my head. But I love to see them floating around above scented bushes or occasionally speeding away at top speed.

Even after many visits, there is also much to stalk and hunt, and this time I was delighted to persuade a male Cleopatra, like a Brimstone but with striking orange blotches on its forewings, to settle for a while. They are almost as powerful flyers as the Swallowtails and much less prepared, at least in my experience, to stay still. They remind me, too, of a famous butterfly hoax which you can read about here. It involved the curious looking creatures top and bottom in the trio on the left (with a standard Brimstone in the middle). As my link describes, the painted fakes were declared to be a new species by Linnaeus but later unmasked by Fabricius - and you don't get more eminent among classifiers than those two. They were stamped on in a fury when they were exposed, but luckily a painstaking entomologist re-assembled them and they are now in the British Museum of Natural History in London.

I was creeping about in search of Cleopatras when something even more orange caught my eye, at rest on a strongly-scented mauve shrub which grew in large bushes by the beach, a sort-of mixture between buddleia and spiraea. As I cautiously drew nearer, it upped and went, giving me time only to register it as some sort of Tiger moth. We have recently had Scarlet Tigers in Oxfordshire in their usual Summer abundance, but this was different. Ever-hopeful, I edged quietly to the other side of the bush and there it was, happily nectaring and happy to take part in a prolonged photo session which allowed me to take it from almost every angle.  As I was doing so, another British couple came up and were extremely pleased to join in the photoshoot. In my little insect-hunting excursions from the beach, which was as colourful as the butterflies and moths in a different way, as you can see from the small photo left), I met half-a-dozen other enthusiasts for photographing butterflies and moths. Update: Many thanks for the Comment below - I completely forgot to add the vital fact that this is a Jersey Tiger, a moth which is notably disloyal to its name. I even had one in Leeds. Abroad it has different titles, for example L'Ecaille chinée in France, or the Chinese Tortoiseshell. The moth is famous in Greece for swarming at the 'Valley of the Butterflies' on Rhodes which is one of the island's most heavily-promoted attractions.

Not to mention other insects. The village and its surrounding countryside were full of curious creatures. The ghostly-green grasshopper above was bestriding a small shrub which the custodian of an old castle had planted amid the dusty ruins, one of a number of plants which he was carefully watering when we arrived. He had missed this one out and when we asked why, he said: "I do not like bugs."  Thus we discovered the beautiful - and harmless - creature. He still preferred to keep away, so Penny watered the plant for him, so skilfully that (admittedly rather to his dismay), the grasshopper stayed put.

Here are some composite photos of other finds, with a couple of Scarce Swallowtails above, each missing a different tail, plus a glorious version of the Comma butterfly. It seemed brighter and quite a lot larger and I must check if there is a Continental species different from our own.

More of the same, above and below, including our own Swallowtail - not that many of us are likely to see it here in the UK - and a sinister-looking spider, top left below, balanced by a tiny wooden ladybird which we found in the village street.


wdigbirder said...

Looks like a Jersey Tiger

Martin Wainwright said...

Hi there and many thanks - indeed it is. I meant to say so but in my enthusiasm about other people's enthusiasm, I completely forgot. Thanks very much! They are great wanderers in my experience. Many years ago, one turned up in our greenhouse in Leeds, much to my startlement and excitement. All warmest, Martin