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Butterfly Valley of Petaloudes

Jersey Tiger moths at Petaloudes
Rock pools at Petaloudes Rhodes
Wooden bridge over River Pelekas

Thousands flock to the extraordinary hidden valley red wing butterflies

The Butterfly Valley of Petaloudes is one of the most popular day trip attractions on the island of Rhodes, particularly in the high season summer months from June to August.

Thousands of red-winged butterflies descend on this shady, fertile valley near the holiday resort of Tholos for the mating season, attracting tourist visitors by the thousand too.

The butterflies are not strictly what they seem, they are actually a type of moth, Panaxia Quadripunctaria or Jersey Tiger moths, but their beautiful wings and spectacular displays make the distinction moot.

The unimpressive caterpillars feed on the rich valley foliage arbutus, myrtle and rush throughout the winter and emerge from the chrysalis cocoons towards the end of May.

Normally well camouflaged and difficult to see, they reveal glorious deep red overwings when in flight and, in such huge numbers, make a delightful show of flashing red as they swoop among the trees and bushes.

It's a sight that draws coachloads of tourists to the valley which lies just five kilometres from the tourist resort of Tholos. There is a well-marked trail through the woods and around small pools and over wooden bridges across the River Pelekas which keeps the valley so green.

The river banks are peppered with Storax, or Oriental Sweetgum, a tree species that produces an aromatic raisin, which is also thought to attract the butterflies in great numbers while the valley's microclimate provides the ideal environment for the caterpillars that feed on the tender green leaves.

But the popularity of day trips to the Petaloudes valley has thrown up problems. Repeated disturbance of the mating moths has resulted in a marked decline in the valley population.

Tourist hunger for photographs and videos of the brilliant red wing displays have resulted in many shouting, clapping their hands and shaking branches in order to prompt the insects into the air.

It is thought that continual disturbance has forced the butterflies to fly around for much of the day, using up valuable energy that is normally used for mating and egg-laying.

So visitors are now urged to keep quiet and not disturb the moths unduly. It appears to make little difference to the sight as there are often scores of butterflies on the wing anyway.

The butterflies spend the whole summer into the cool, humid habitat of the Petaloudes valley and usually mate during the last weeks of August and in early September when the seasonal displays come to an end.

There is a small natural history museum at the entrance to the valley where visitors can learn about the insects and their environment as well as the valley's unique ecosystem. There is also a souvenir shop and a restaurant.

A road leads up the green hillside to the Kalopetra Monastery, built in 1784 by the exiled Greek Prince of Walachia, Alexander Ypsilantis, where there is a small cafe and magnificent views across the valley.