Saturday, May 19, 2012

The lappet moth family

Lappet Moth (Gastropacha quercifolia)
The lappet is a large moth that is found in all of Europe as well as in northern and eastern Asia. It belongs to a large family of about 2,000 species known as the eggars, snout moths or lappet moths. 

The family is characterised by having feather-shaped antennae, and an atrophied proboscis. The caterpillars are covered in short hair which is used as a defense mechanism as well as to build the cocoon in which they turn into a pupa. Four members of this family have been recorded in the Maltese islands.

The lappet is very common throughout the islands between May and June and from August to October. The caterpillar has decorative skin flaps on some of its legs hence the name lappet. 

It feeds on the leaves of fruit trees and is sometimes considered as a pest. When fully grown the caterpillar descends to the ground and builds a cocoon in which to pupate. The caterpillar is covered in short hair. This hair, together with silk which the caterpillar itself produces is used to build the cocoon.

Female lappet moths are larger than males. They produce a pheromone which smells of charcoal or burnt wood to attract males. When resting, lappet moths are very well camouflaged. They fold their wings in the shape of a tent to look like oak leaves hence its Maltese name werqa niexfa.

In the lappet, the snout, which is a characteristic of members of the snout family, resembles a petiole (the part of the leave attached to the twig or branch). This adds to the resemblance of the moth to a dried leaf and enhances its camouflage.

In the same family as the lappet we also find the oak eggar (baħrija tal-ballut) which is common especially at Buskett and its surroundings, the grass eggar (baħrija tas-silla) which is also common and the lackey moth (malacosoma) which has been recorded in Malta once in 1956. 

This article was published in The Times on 17.08.11

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