Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Insect diversity

Last Sunday I photographed a soft-winged flower beetle at Wied Qirda. This is a small shiny green beetle known in Maltese as ħadranija tal-ward

It is a common species often seen on yellow flowers such as the Cape sorrel (ħaxixa Ngliża) and the crown daisy (lellux). The beetle I photographed on Sunday was spotted by my three year old son.

 I did not see it myself because it was walking on the stem of a grass about 10 cm from the ground and out of my line of vision. Children have a different perspective of their surroundings and often manage to see things which grownups miss. 

I often encountered adults who say that they remember seeing more flowers and insects when they were young. They remember more than anything the gourd ladybird (nannakola tal-faqqus il-ħmir) an insect that lives on the squirting cucumber (faqqus il-ħmir). Both the squirting cucumber and the ladybird are still common in the Maltese countryside. These people fail to see them because they do not know where and how to look.

This does not mean that insect numbers have not gone down. The amount of countryside has shrunk drastically during the last 50 years and it continues to be gobbled up at an alarming rate in spite of the fact that we are more aware about the need to conserve it. 

Changes in agriculture, especially the use of pesticides have had their toll as well. Pesticides kill insects and many kill indiscriminately. They kill pests as well as other species some of which are beneficial such as bees especially if they are used indiscriminately. 

For several decades farmers have been urged to spray their crops. As the pests became immune to the pesticides stronger pesticides in larger doses had to be used. Now they are being told to stop using them and many are confused. Some have been spraying their crops throughout their whole life and do not know otherwise. 

Although many are now realising that something is wrong they find it hard to accept that what they have been told for the past thirty or forty years was not exactly right and find it hard to change. A small number are now starting to practice more environment friendly agriculture and more should do so for the benefit of everybody including nature.

This article was published in The Times on 03.03.2010 

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