Friday, October 4, 2013

Day-flying moths over Panama

During a short break in the work, someone pointed to me a "butterfly" resting in the window of the office.  A quick glimpse and I was able to see many of the day-flying moth Urania fulgens flying eastward, plus the one resting behind the window. These moths have many common names, one of the most widespread used is Swallowtail Moth.  Confusion is expected because these moths show a remarkable resemblance of the butterflies of the genus Papilio, both in physical appearance and in flight behavior.
They present a natural spectacle during its annual migration through Central and South America, specially during those years of "population explosion", every 8 to 10 years approximately when millions of individuals are observed at our fields and cities, almost everywhere. There is still much to learn about these movements, which seems related to food-resources availability, specially its hosts which are vines of the genus Orephaga.
These moths are toxic, a fact indicated by its bright coloration. Its toxicity is derived of the alkaloids present at the plants that they eat during its larval life.  I took the first photo with my phone, through a dirty window, so the colors are not very apparent, but these moths are beautifully patterned in black and electric green.  Well, definitively october is the migration month in Panama!

Literature consulted:
1. Neal G. Smith. Migrations of the day-flying moth Urania in Central and South America.  Carib J Sci 1972; 12: 45-58. 

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