Saturday, May 19, 2012

Moths on the Maltese islands

Moths are far more common than most people believe. They are not as familiar as the closely related butterflies because with the exception of a very small number they are nocturnal insects. They spend the day trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. They often settle on a surface with the same colour as their body, they place the antennae close to their body and keep their wings flat and close to the surface to avoid making a shadow.

Several hundred species of moths have been recorded from the Maltese islands. Some of which are endemic to Malta, that is they are found only on the Maltese islands. Some are very common while others have been seen only once or twice and more species will be added the list as this group of insects is still being studied by lepidopterists.

For many Maltese a moth is a baħrija but for others especially country people who learnt about nature from their parents, moths are known as farfett ta’ billejl (butterfly of the night) or just farfett. For them the baħrija is a hawk moth. 

Moreover the baħrija was associated with either good or evil. If a hawk moth entered a house it meant that somebody was about to die. 

There are several species of hawk moths in the Maltese islands but the one which was believed to be the portent of death was probably the humming bird hawk moth which is known in Maltese as ħabbara (messenger). This species is one of the few day-flying moths and often enters houses.

Many species of moths that are plant pests are known as susa a word that is more widely used for the woodworm (susa tal-injam). 

The caterpillar of these moths lives in the branches, leaves or fruit of plants and like the woodworm feeds on the plant inside which it lives. 

This article was published in The Times on 20.07.2011

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