Petaloudes: The Valley of Butterflies

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The Valley of Butterflies, also known as Petaloudes Valley, is located on the western side of the Greek island of Rhodes, about 25 kilometers away from the city. The valley is home to thousands of butterflies of the Rhodes subspecies of the Jersey Tiger Moth (Euplagia quadripunctaria rhodosensis), who make their annual appearance after the rainy season, towards the end of May, covering the entire landscape in a thick but delicate blanket.

During the rainy period, the butterflies live in the Mediterranean thicket in the caterpillar stage feeding on foliage. At the end of the wet season, the caterpillars metamorphose into butterflies. As the dry season approaches, the butterflies migrate, travelling at night in search of humidity, following the water course, and end up in the valley. The butterflies are attracted by the aroma from the valley’s Oriental Sweet gum trees. Once they reach their destination, they settle lightly on the trunks of trees and rocks and whatever surface is available, in great numbers.

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The butterflies spend the entire summer in the cool, humid habitat of the valley. Then they mate during the last weeks of August and in September. Most females fly away from the valley, in some cases they fly for more than 25 km, to lay their eggs in safe dark places, preferably among bushes and the plants, and then die. The baby butterflies pop out of their cocoons in spring spreading throughout the surrounding area. In June they grow into full-blown butterflies. The heat and the smell of the gum trees draw them back to the valley, and the entire cycle repeats all over again.

Unfortunately, the valley is open to visitors and the increased foot traffic is straining the butterfly population. The Euplagia has no stomach, instead they live entirely off their body fat which they had stored during their previous lives as caterpillars. Constant disturbance from visitors such as clapping or whistling startle the butterflies, forcing them to fly away frequently from their resting place. The activity consumes valuable energy that cannot be replenished. Many butterflies run out of energy and die before they could reproduce.

Visitors are encouraged to visit the valley but they are advised not to disturb the butterflies or make loud noises.

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Sources: Rhodes Guide / Rhodes Travel / Discover Rhodes / Wikipedia

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