Saturday, May 19, 2012

Butterfly diversity peaks in June

Butterfly numbers and diversity reach their peak in June. After that month, the number of butterflies in the Maltese countryside start to decrease.
By now, many species have disappeared and will not be seen again, until next spring. At the moment the most common species and the one most likely to be seen is the small white butterfly which happens to be one of the most common butterflies during the rest of the year.
Another common species is the large white butterfly which looks very much like the small white but is usually much larger.
These two species are common because they feed on, among other things, on the leaves of wild and cultivated members of the cabbage family such as cauliflowers, kohlrabi and of course cabbages.
Up to 40 or 50 years ago in some villages in Malta children trapped these butterflies using the same methods that adults used to trap birds.
Their aim was not just to catch the butterflies.
They used to catch them by using very crude methods such as hitting them with a piece of cardboard while they were resting on a flower.
The trapping was a serious exercise which taught them the skills required, later in life, when they would start to trap birds.
In their play they copied adult bird trappers.
They prepared a trapping site by clearing it of vegetation, levelled the ground and removed all stones.
They then laid down two pieces of cloth on the ground. The cloth was attached to two thin sticks to which they attached a long piece of string.
When the string thread was pulled the sticks and cloth flipped onto to butterflies preventing them from escaping.
To make the site more authentic they even had a decoy butterfly attached to a stick by a thread. The stick could be moved up and down by means of a string to make the butterfly flutter as if it was flying. Some boys even had decoy butterflies tied to sticks stuck in the ground around their trapping site.
When caught the butterflies were placed in a carton box or tin can as trophies to be shown to their friends who had also been trapping butterflies.
The best trappers enjoyed a high status and would boast and brag about the number of butterflies they caught and recount stories about the ones that got away...

This article  was published in The Times on 03.08.2011

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