The tourist literature for Rhodes is rather light on natural history, save for one well-publicised attraction, the Valley of the Butterflies. Maybe that's a bit harsh, there is a Bee Museum (which we didn't visit) which is more prominently signposted than the airport! I guess the fact that the Valley of the Butterflies features in the tourist information is a big clue as to what sort of experience it will be, but we were intrigued to see what was there.
The valley in question is located south west of Rhodes town, in the hills beyond the airport. It is a steep-sided, rocky ravine, sufficiently wooded to provide plenty of daytime shade from the glare of a summer sun. Boardwalks, bridges and a path snake through the valley, following a small stream and corraling visitors to one bank or the other to minimise disturbance to the butterflies.
This is not one of those artifically-created insect attractions. For the butterflies are here naturally, to rest, or aestivate as it is termed, keeping out of the heat of the day and conserving their energy.
Hang on... butterflies? Really?
There are a great many of them, clinging to rocks, tree trunks, fence posts and any surface they can find. It is an awesome sight, especially when the occasional insect takes flight to move to a different location, its fiery red/orange underwing suddenly revealed, before it alights again and the black and white striped forewings perfectly camouflage it in a landscape that is all shadows and sun beams.
We read the signage explaining the life history of the butterfly. We note the warnings about not making any sudden movement or noise, which might alarm the creatures and cause them to take flight. And we can't quite shake off the feeling that they're not butterflies at all, they're freaking moths!
I guess Valley of the Moths doesn't sound so glamorous, does it?
However, despite the Great Lepidopteran Scam, it is an incredible place. Even now at the end of the flight season, there are thousands of moths in this valley, it is quite spectacular. If you stand still and watch a particular spot, eventually it will become a swirling mass of fluttering wings, briefly flashing red, before all is still once more (spookily, I was reading Michael McCarthy's Moth Snowstorm at the time).
But it is a tourist attraction, so there are hordes of visitors, tacky gift shops and, oh no, a natural history museum!
If there's one thing that's worse than having the wool pulled over your wildlifey eyes, it's a series of rooms full of things that used to be alive but which are now dead. In fact, worse than dead, they're decrepit, falling apart due to the usual difficulties of curation - temperature, humidity and, ironically, the ravages of small insects. Here, again, there are more interpretation boards. It's all about the butterfly, Panaxia quadripunctaria.
I later learn that even the Latin name has been updated. It is now Euplagia quadripunctaria, the Jersey Tiger, as it would be called in the UK.
Stepping out of the depressing museum, back into the sunlight, I am greeted by a tree covered in blossom. No-one else is looking at it, yet it is teeming with life: bees, wasps and several Hummingbird Hawkmoths. In fact, we do see several actual butterflies during the visit, but no-one pays them any heed. A few huge Swallowtails flollop along, ignored by the masses. This is a deeply weird place.
|It's a |
|A little Lepidopteran afternoon delight|