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Moselle Valley, Germany

Introduction

The Moselle (German: Mosel) is a river flowing through north-eastern France, Luxembourg and western Germany. The German part of the Moselle valley is famous for its spectacular scenery, picturesque towns and medieval castles. The region’s mild climate not only enables the production of wine, but also supports a large diversity of plant and animal species many of which one would normally expect to find much further south.

Cochem Bremm Reichsburg Cochem Burg Thurant
Top: The town of Cochem with the Imperial Castle (Reichsburg) high above the Moselle. Bottom-left: The town of Bremm. Top-right: Another view of Cochem’s Imperial Castle. Bottom-right: Thurant Castle (Burg Thurant) at Alken.

Butterflies

The Moselle valley’s mild climate supports a large number of butterfly species whose main geographic range is usually much further south in the Mediterranean regions of southern France and Italy. One such species is the spectacular Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius) which thrives along the steep, rocky sections of the Moselle valley where a hot micro-climate creates the necessary conditions for its survival. Scarce Swallowtails are territorial and will fiercely defend their territory against any intruders. They are also known for their ability to effortlessly glide through the air by making use of warm updraughts.

Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius)
Scarce Swallowtail (Iphiclides podalirius).

Another jewel of the Moselle valley is the Apollo (Parnassius apollo). Once widespread across Germany’s mountain regions, destruction of its habitat has led to a serious decline of Apollo populations all over Europe. The last remaining populations in Germany are today found in the Alps, the Swabian and Franconian Jura, and the rocky slopes of the Moselle valley where this spectacular butterfly can still be seen in large numbers on warm and sunny days in late spring and early summer. The Apollo is the only European butterfly species to be protected by the Washington Convention (CITES).

Apollo (Parnassius apollo)
Apollo (Parnassius apollo).

The warm, rocky slopes of the Moselle valley are also a paradise for various species of Hairstreak (Theclinae). These small butterflies are named after the short tail decorating the hind wings of most species. The first species to appear each year is the Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi), which is Germany’s only green butterfly and can be seen as early as April. Other commonly encountered species include the Purple Hairstreak (Neozephyrus quercus), the Ilex Hairstreak (Satyrium ilicis), the Sloe Hairstreak (Satyrium acaciae), and the Blue-spot Hairstreak (Satyrium spini), all of which fly in late spring and early summer. The last species of the year is the Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) which is on the wing from mid to late summer.

Blue-spot Hairstreak (Satyrium spini) Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae) Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi)
Top: Blue-spot Hairstreak (Satyrium spini). Bottom-left: Brown Hairstreak (Thecla betulae). Bottom-right: Green Hairstreak (Callophrys rubi).

Several other endangered butterfly species can be encountered along the Moselle. These include the Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros), the Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma), and the rare and critically endangered Chequered Blue Butterfly (Scolitantides orion) which unfortunately I have never seen.

Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros) Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma)
Left: Large Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis polychloros). Right: Spotted Fritillary (Melitaea didyma).

Among the more common butterflies of the Moselle valley are several species of White (Pieridae), including the Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines), the Pale Clouded Yellow (Colias hyale), and the Brimstone (Gonepteryx rhamni).

Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines)
Orange Tip (Anthocharis cardamines).

Reptiles

The mild climate of the Moselle valley also makes the region a paradise for reptiles, with several snake and lizard species known to live there. The most common snakes are the Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) and the Grass Snake (Natrix natrix). While the Smooth Snake is most abundant along the warm, rocky slopes of the valley, the Grass Snake prefers slightly cooler and moister habitats. The Moselle valley is also known to be the location of one of Germany’s last remaining populations of the critically endangered Dice Snake (Natrix tessellata) which requires natural and undisturbed river sections for its survival.

Among the numerous lizard species found along the Moselle valley, the most spectacular one is the Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata). This large lizard can grow up to 40 cm in size and is easily recognised by its overall green colour. Western Green Lizards are mainly found across France and Italy, and the Moselle population is among the northernmost populations of this species in Europe. Other common lizards encountered along the Moselle are the Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) and the Slow Worm (Anguis fragilis), a species of legless lizard.

Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata) Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca)
Top-left: The Wall Lizard (Podarcis muralis) is the most common lizard along the Moselle valley. Top-right: The spectacular Western Green Lizard (Lacerta bilineata). Bottom: The Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca) thrives in the steep cliffs and vineyards of the Moselle valley.

Other Insects

During the summer months, the air is abuzz with countless insects, a small selection of which is shown below. This includes large numbers of beetles, among them such spectacular species as the Stag Beetle (Lucanus cervus), the Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha) and the Rose Chafer (Cetonia aurata), as well as several species of grasshoppers and crickets, such as the endangered European Bushcricket (Ephippiger ephippiger) and the Red-winged Grasshopper (Oedipoda germanica). Lastly, a large number of bees, wasps and flies can be seen almost all year round. A notable species is the Large Bee Fly (Bombylius major), which mimics the appearance of a bee and can be seen in large numbers during springtime.

European Bushcricket (Ephippiger ephippiger) Large Bee Fly (Bombylius major) Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha)
Top-left: European Bushcricket (Ephippiger ephippiger). Top-right: Large Bee Fly (Bombylius major). Bottom: Cockchafer (Melolontha melolontha).

Wildflowers

Lastly, the Moselle valley bursts into colour each spring and summer when numerous wildflowers emerge and turn the rocky slopes of the valley into a sea of colour. A small selection of characteristic wildflowers is depicted below, including the common Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor).

Unidentified flower Kleines Immergrün (Vinca minor)
Left: Unidentified flower. Right: Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor).