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Spanish moths commemorated in newly issued stamps

Teresa Farino
08/02/2010 11:35:09

On 20 January 2010, the Spanish Postal authorities (Correos) delighted Lepidoptera enthusiasts in the country by issuing stamps depicting two Iberian day-flying moths: Artimelia latreillei and Zygaena rhadamanthus.

Posted in: Butterflies and Moths | La Rioja | Mainland Spain, Mainland Portugal

0Zygaena rhadamanthus © Teresa FarinoNew Spanish stamp portraying
Zygaena rhadamanthus
As part of the series entitled ‘Fauna’, Correos has just issued two extremely attractive, self-adhesive stamps portraying the tiger moth Artimelia (Ocnogyna) latreillei (34 cents) and the burnet moth Zygaena rhadamanthus (64 cents). Both stamps are illustrated with photographs of specimens pertaining to the entomological collection of Tomás Latasa, president of ADEMAR (Asociación para la Defensa del Medio Rural del La Rioja). The Artimelia latreillei specimen is a female captured by Tomás en Villaverde de Rioja on 24 May 1991, while the specimen of Zygaena rhadamanthus was collected from a colony discovered by the president of Ademar on the hills around Campana-Pasalamata de Nalda, in 2009.

Zygaena rhadamanthus - Aragonese Pyrenees © Teresa FarinoZygaena rhadamanthus
Benasque, Aragonese Pyrenees
© Teresa Farino
As you can see from the images here, the burnet moth Zygaena rhadamanthus is a very distinctive insect, characterised by dark forewings – covered with characteristic grey scales – emblazoned with six large, red spots, some of which are edged with black, particularly along the proximal and distal borders. Its range extends across Iberia (except the north-western quadrant) into southern France and eastwards to the Italian Riviera. The adult moths are on the wing between April–May and July – the exact date being altitude-dependent – and favour dry, flowery grasslands from sea level right up to 2000 metres. The larvae feed predominantly on species of Onobrychis, Dorycnium and Lotus.

Zygaena rhadamanthus - Northern Castilla y León © Teresa FarinoZygaena rhadamanthus
Palencia, Northern Castilla y León
© Teresa Farino
Zygaena rhadamanthus is an extremely polymorphic species across the Iberian Peninsula, and although no less than 18 subspecies have been described, the general consensus of opinion nowadays is that colonies show a progressive gradient of variation, radiating out from Alicante and Murcia into southern, central and northern Iberia, including such extremes as completely melanic examples from the País Vasco, and aberrations from Alicante where the red coloration of both wings is replaced with yellow.

In my travels across Spain, however, I’ve only encountered this species in northern Palencia (Castilla y León) and in the Pyrenees (both Benasque and the Segre Valley, in Catalunya), in all cases in mid to late June.

Artimelia latreillei © Teresa FarinoNew Spanish stamp depicting
Artimelia latreillei
Artimelia latreillei, by contrast, is an Iberian endemic, although within the peninsula its range covers all but the northern coastal fringe. This said, the colonies are known to be widely dispersed, with little contact between them, such that considerable variation in the amount of black on the forewings is found between individuals from different parts of Spain, while an albino form has yellowish, rather than crimson, hindwings.

Otherwise known as Ocnogyna latreillei by some authors, and christened Latreille’s Pellicle by Patrice Leraut, this Arctiid (tiger) moth flies in March and April, in hot, sunny localities from sea level to 1500+ metres, although it is commonest at low and middling altitudes. The larval host plant is principally Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum), but the caterpillars have also been Graellsia isabellae © Teresa FarinoSpanish stamp of
Spanish Moon Moth
Graellsia isabellae
© Teresa Farino
known to feed on other brooms and greenweeds – for example, Spanish Gorse (Genista hispanica) – as well as species of Scabiosa and Plantago. I’ve not seen Latreille’s Pellicle in the wild, but having found out a little more about it, you can rest assured that I’ll be keeping a very close look out come the spring, when I venture south over the Cordillera Cantábrica.

Other Spanish Lepidoptera honoured by Correos in the past are the Spanish Moon Moth (Graellsia isabellae), in July 2009, and the Apollo (Parnassius apollo) and Zullich’s Blue (Agriades zullichi), in January 2000.

In addition, on 1 April 2010, we have stamps portraying Marsh Fritillary (Euphydryas aurinia) and Spanish Festoon (Zerynthia rumina) to look forward to….

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