sexta-feira, 5 de novembro de 2010

Lemonia philopalus, the incredible Iberian winter-night flier

Who would imagine that away from all the huss and fuss of Spring and Summer, away from the balmy nights that bring up so many interesting insects to our porch lights there would be something flying in mid winter?

Did you know there are moths, beetles, caddisflies, mayflies, bugs and other insects still flying through the year in temperate regions? Of course there are less species, life is more difficult in the cold... but what you see is usually quite unique so if you don't venture out, you won't see some of the best adapted species in our fauna.

This post is about one of them, a peculiar moth called Lemonia philopalus (Lepidoptera: Lemoniidae) which we can find only in southern Portugal and Spain and Morroco+Algeria.

It flies in winter nights (November-January) when it rains heavily and temperatures are freezing cold! No wonder why it has been discovered in Portugal only a mere 7 years ago, in spite of its size and beauty.

Females are larger than males and fly a bit less easily. One can distinguish them easily by the more flimsy antennae.

As for now, this species is only known from the wide peneplains of Alentejo where this pretty much acts like a steppe species adapted to survive in quite open situations, it seems to favour traditional agricultural practices and an intensive use of soil without semi-natural pastures seems to affect its populations.

The catterpillars feed on dandelions (Asteraceae) like Taraxacum officinale, Lactuca sp. but especially on Sonchus oleraceus and Crepis capillaris which are in full bloom in March and April when we can see the hairy caterpillars.

In a recent study, we have discovered that this species is seriously threatened by intensive farming practices in Alentejo, especially olive groove monocultures which use lots of herbicides eliminating foodplants, mobilizing soil in a manner incompatible with the pupal stage (underground) and improper management of roadsides and hedgerows.

It's our duty to know more and do our best to conserve rare species like this moth.

terça-feira, 18 de maio de 2010

Triturus marmoratus

Recently I was in France and was susprised to see a newt which is widespread in northern Iberia, reaching central areas of France.

The Marbled newt belongs to the group of the crested newts (T. cristatus, T. carnifex, etc.) and the ancestor of this species and T. pygmaeus (the Pygmy Marbled Newt) evolved in the Iberian Península, its presence in France may be the result of a post-glacial expansion in the last 10 000 years.

sexta-feira, 19 de fevereiro de 2010

Acherontia atropos

The Death's Head Hawkmoth is one of the largest moth species in Europe and is a very interesting species from many points of view.

Belonging to a mostly tropical offshoot of the Sphinginae (true hawkmoths) and widespread in the Afrotropical region, it ventures into the southern Palaearctic region during the Summer where it is to be found often in abundance.

The caterpillars feed mostly on Solanaceae (potatoes and nightshades) but also Oleaceae (Olea europaea, Ligustrum spp.) and Verbenaceae (Alloysia triphylla) and are striking.

In Portugal this is mostly a late summer migrant species having been found through the country but with most records from the south (Alentejo, Algarve) and the coasts.

4th ínstar larva.

close-up of 4th ínstar larva

young 5th ínstar larva

older 5th ínstar larvae can grow up to 12cm long.

Before pupation, the caterpillar builds a well enclosed earthen chamber deep into the soil. As a pupa, they can overwinter in milder places but in tropical conditions this phase only lasts for about a month.

The adult is a stunning moth with a well-known pattern on the thorax, resembling a Death's Head!

sábado, 13 de fevereiro de 2010

Cabo da Roca, Portugal - The westernmost tip of the European Continent. A truly beautiful place though quite a natural disaster: there are 3 portuguese endemic species of plants from the area, though most is quite overgrown with Carpobrotus edulis, a south-african low growing creeping plant.

sábado, 23 de janeiro de 2010

Chamaeleo chamaeleon

Algarve, Portugal