All moths and butterflies go through complete metamorphosis, from egg to larva to pupa to adult. In fact, the caterpillar stage is part of the four-part lifecycle of every butterfly and moth. Caterpillars have soft bodies, sometimes protected with hairs, and a head with chewing mouthparts, since they are avid grass-eaters. Their colour patterns are good camouflage, whilst some caterpillars are poisonous to deter predators.
Despite Malta’s small size, the insect fauna is quite considerable. In fact, about 20 species of butterflies and about 500 species of moths have been recorded from the Maltese Islands.
Perhaps the most exceptional butterfly that we may encounter in the Maltese Islands is the Maltese Swallowtail (Papilio machaon subs. melitensis, Farfett tar-Reġina/Farfett tal-Bużbież). Prior to becoming a winged insect, the mature caterpillar of the Maltese Swallowtail Butterfly is unique, with a green body and transverse black stripes spotted with red. The swallowtail is Malta’s only endemic butterfly. When alarmed, it flocks out a pair of scent glands from behind the head, orange in colour and emitting a strong smell to try to deter its predators. It is often found feeding on the fennel and rue plants, which are the host plants. The butterfly feeding on the yellow-throated crocus plants – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fr34bxMlCdo
Another caterpillar to spot during Autumn time is the Maltese Spurge Hawksmoth (Baħrija tat-Tengħud, Hyles sammuti) which often lives on the spurge plant and feeds on its leaves. The toxic liquid produced by the plant to defend against herbivores is used by the Spurge Hawksmoth caterpillar, which accumulates the poison in their body to protect itself from predators. The caterpillar is smooth and black with several white dots and a red line than runs from its head to back. In fact, the bright colour of the caterpillar is due to the absorption of poison from the plant to the caterpillar’s body, which is even endemic
Often the caterpillar makes a cocoon to protect itself before it transforms. Inside the pupal case, the moth or butterfly completes its transformation to the final stage and emerges as a winged adult, important for their roles as valuable pollinators. This time of the year is amongst the best to encounter caterpillars and butterflies in the surrounding countryside of Dingli Cliffs. The FREE guided walk of Tour B at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre allows us to appreciate more these elusive creatures.
Malta’s own Red Gold—the wild Saffron (19/11/2018)
No spice exudes luxury and quality as the Saffron, the most expensive and delicate spice in the world. Saffron spice is extracted from the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), a cultivated flower, but in the Maltese Islands, we have our own Yellow-throated crocus (Crocus longiflorus).
For 1kg of saffron from the cultivated kind, about 15,000 flowers are needed, with a price of €8000/kg – the labour-intensive harvesting and processing have meant that saffron became the most expensive spice in the world.
In the Maltese Islands, the Yellow-Throated Crocus grows from underground corns to a height of just 1.5cm, and is also found in Sicily and Italy. In the garrigue areas of Dingli Cliffs, this crocus plant grows frequently. The flowers is most common lilac to violet coloured, however occasionally white flowers are also encountered.
Join us in our of our free eco-walks on Wednesday and Fridays – For more details email [email protected] or call on 79642380.
Re-Awakening Nature during Autumn – 27/10/2018
The Mediterranean climate can be summarised as characterised by mild rainy winters and hot dry summers. Autumn corresponds to the beginning of the rainy season, where the first autumn rains bring life back to the surrounding perched countryside – a much-welcome sign of moisture in the air and soil.
Autumn time is the time to see several annual plants which complete their life cycle before the summer. Seeds are set in the dry season, which survive until the next rainy seasons triggers their germination. Several of the typical autumn flowering plants which are found in bloom now include the Autumn Buttercup (Ċfolloq), Mediterranean Meadow Saffron (Busieq), Southern Daisy (Margerita Salvaġġa) and the Late Narcissus (Narċis Imwaħħar).
Several fauna may also be encountered such as several butterfly species ranging from the common Cabbage White to others (Wall Brown, Painted Lady, Maltese swallowtail), caterpillars and even migratory birds.
Autumn’s ideal weather for outdoor activities is encouraged at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre through its FREE accompanied eco-walks. The walks offer an innovative means of recreation, whilst also learning something new about the surrounding environment and biodiversity.
Pickled onions and Maltese Sunshine – 29/07/2018
Pickled onions are one of traditional delicatessen produce in the Maltese Islands typically left to dry on roofs. In the past, they would be accompanied by the drying of homemade cheese lets, sun dried tomatoes, olives in brine and even pumpkins.
Small pickling onions are put in a jar with vinegar, together with some bay leaves and red peppers for added flavour. The jars are placed somewhere where they are easily hit by sunlight, since the onions have to mature in the sun first. Then they are often placed in the dark, resting for another two months before they can be eaten.
At The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, homemade pickled onions are served with our One Kilometre Platter, alongside other traditional Maltese food produce, including goat’s cheese, sundried tomatoes, pickled vegetables, marinated olives, capers and artichokes!
Take a look at our innovative menu, featuring local produce and educational information here!
Sardinian Warbler chicks ready to flee the Nest – 23/07/2018
The Sardinian Warbler (Sylvia melancocephala, Bufula Sewda) is one of the breeding birds that may be found in the Maltese Islands.
This little passerine bird, which weighs just about 19g, builds its nest hidden in low shrubs or bushes – in fact, within the site area of The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, there has been a nest with several chicks in a small shrub.
Whilst this active warbler is quite common in the Maltese Islands today, this bird was previously an uncommon winter visitor, and it has only been breeding in the Maltese Island for about 150 years. Nowadays, the bird breeds in southern Europe till Turkey and in North Africa.
The breeding season of this warbler is from February to August, with clutches of between 3 to 5 eggs. Males and females are very different in colour, but both share building the nest, incubation and feeding the chicks. After hatching, the young take about 13 days to fledge and they still depend on their parents for the first couple of weeks.
For more information on the biodiversity of the Maltese Islands, especially that of Dingli Cliffs, join us in our of our free Eco-walks organised by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre – fill our online booking form or call on 79642380.
2018 Anders Wall Award Environment for The Cliffs Interpretation Centre – 14/07/2017
La Pinta Ltd, the Company that planned, built and manages The Cliffs Interpretation Centre, at Dingli,won a prestigious Diploma of Recognition for the 2018 Anders Wall Award, in the Environment Category.
The prestigious Anders Wall Award Environment is dedicated to recognise individuals or organisations for their special contribution to the rural environment within the EU, with achievements related to preserving the landscape and cultural heritage, providing biodiversity and contributing to sustainable local development. Initiatives considered for this award must have significant positive environmental impacts at a local, national and European level. The Award is organised by the Anders Wall Foundation in association with the European Commission, Directorate General for the Environment, the Royal Swedish Academy of Agriculture and Forestry and the Friends of the Countryside.
This year’s Anders Wall Award ceremony was organised at Constance Lake, Germany. La Pinta’s project at Dingli, The Cliffs, was amongst numerous initiatives from all Europe nominated for this award. During the ceremony, La Pinta Ltd was invited to address the guests and fellow nominees, to explain the innovative concept adopted through its sustainable investment at Dingli.
Living at Dingli, having a sense of belonging to the rural environment and being linked to all stakeholders in the area, La Pinta Ltd saw the need to blend the environment, tourism, culture and local aspects in one comprehensive experience. At The Cliffs, visitors can make use of several public facilities, including information resources, walking guides, all-year round free eco-walks, meeting and exhibition spaces, and catering facilities.
The self-sufficient project helps in the vitality and viability of the rural area by using the revenues from the catering facilities to provide visitors with the necessary free information, expertise and support resources to explore the Dingli Cliffs area. The Cliffs is also actively engaged in the scientific study of the area, which is designated as one of Europe’s Natura 2000 areas of ecological importance, as specified in the EU’s Habitats and Birds Directive. La Pinta Ltd. employs a qualified environmental specialist to assist visitors and to contribute to the ongoing scientific study of the area, in collaboration with the national environmental and heritage authorities.
Mario Muscat, La Pinta Ltd.’s director states that the innovative approach of the centre is both self-sufficient and sustainable, and amongst others it offers all environmental-education activities for free, education and public convenience running of the site, together with all interpretation centre related aspects resulting in costs endured by La Pinta Ltd. of around €80,000 annually with no requests for Public funding.
La Pinta Ltd. would like to thank the Dingli Local Council, for entrusting it with this important project and for its ongoing collaboration to ensure that the important heritage of the Dingli Cliffs area continues to be enjoyed and appreciated by thousands of residents in Malta, and foreign visitors, every year.
For more information, or to plan your next visit to the Dingli Cliffs and nearby attractions, visit www.thecliffs.com.mt or contact The Cliffs on [email protected]
Local agricultural practices at Dingli (30/04/2018)
The 15th edition of the annual Wirja Agrarja event was organised by the Local Council of Dingli, yesterday at Buskett Gardens. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre contributed to such promotion of local agriculture and related rural activities.
Apart from The Centre’s stand and personnel informing visitors about the regular free eco-walks organised by The Centre, special short 30-minute walks were also organised on the day focusing on Buskett Gardens. The highlights of the walk included the different habitats and trees of Buskett, the historical aspect and also wild edible produce.
Publicising the importance of environmental and agricultural consciousness (25/04/2018)
The recent National Agricultural Policy for the Maltese Islands identifies several strategic policy objectives, one of which is dedicated to food presentation, labelling and traceability. Amongst the policy issues under this strategic objective is dedicated to key marketing perspectives, whereby “When the private sector or local councils embark on promotional activities, authorities should assist in order to promote healthy eating, zero kilometre concept, climate change adaptation and mitigation as well as other relevant matters that would in turn lead to reduce expenses in health services, help sustain local producers, improve the sustainability of the rural environment, and expand the national economy” (MSDEC, 2018, p. 212).
The Centre indirectly promotes healthy eating and well-being through its gastronomical practices. The Mediterranean diet, which is a healthy eating plan based on typical foods of Mediterranean-style cooking, incorporates essential foods of healthy eating. Vegetables prepared at The Centre are often brought from local vegetable producers, and local herbs and spices are used to flavour food. Sustaining local producers provides benefits to the local economy, such as through serving cheeselets from the last local shepherd roaming Dingli Cliffs.
The diet promoted at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre is based on a number of skills and traditions based on preparing food and local produce. Through local produce, The Centre aims to continue promoting conservation and enhancement of the traditional knowledge systems of the local community. It has only been through its motto “A new concept…local produce” that The Centre has managed to keep the links between gastronomy and agriculture, whilst at the same time promoting the importance of the environment.
Furthermore, the free eco-walks, which are organised by The Centre continue to strengthen such links. Through walking in the surrounding areas of Dingli Cliffs, visitors learn to appreciate all that area has to offer and its interdependent factors, whilst at the same time, they would be engaging in a recreational activity.
All the above facilities and landuses are channelled to increase the eco-agriculture consciousness.
27th September 2016 – The Honey Buzzard
Different Honey Buzzards sighted close to Dingli Cliffs in September 2017 (All photos by Dunstan Saliba)
The Honey Buzzard, a bird of prey is a type of bird species that is occasionally sighted in the Maltese Islands.
This bird feeds mostly on insects, but also small mammals and small birds. It soars on flat wings, and the sexes are quite easily identified by the colour of their plumage. The Honey Buzzard travels over long distances when migrating, and hence it uses magnetic orientation and visual memory of landscapes to navigate. It also prefers to soar on thermals, rising air over land, hence avoiding large expanses of water surfaces.
The Honey Buzzard, similar to other migrating birds, travels from its European breeding grounds to its African wintering ground in autumn, returning back to the breeding grounds in the springtime. The Maltese Islands are not a major stop-over point, but several species can be sighted, especially at Clapham Junction site overlooking Buskett Gardens, one of the landmarks of The Cliffs Trail Map produced by The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
Education is recognised as an ideal way forward to protect and conserve biodiversity. The Cliffs Interpretation Centre had hosted the first seminar to local hunters by an ornithologist, with the aim of such seminar to enhance hunters’ knowledge on birds and their behaviour by taking photographs.
20th October 2016 – The Spurge Hawkmoth (Caterpillar)
The caterpillar of the Maltese Spurge Hawksmoth (Baħrija tat-Tengħud, Hyles sammuti) lives on the spurge plant, by feeding on the leaves. The spurge plant is typical of the Maltese Islands, which often thrives in garrigue vegetation communities. This wild plant defends itself from herbivores such as goats and sheep, by producing a toxic milky-white liquid. The poison found in the plant is used by the caterpillar of the Spurge Hawkmoth, which accumulates the poison in their body to protect itself from predators. In fact, the bright colour of the caterpillar is due to the assimilation of poison from the plant to their body. In Malta, the species of the spurge hawksmoth is protected since it is endemic and can only found in the islands. The caterpillar is smooth and black with several white dots and a coral line than runs from its head to back. A fully grown caterpillar may be about 10cm long.
In their adult life form, hawk moths are large sized with narrow wings and stout bodies. They have powerful wings built for speed, over long distances. Some hawkmoths can fly at 50 kilometers per hour and are among the fastest insects. In the Maltese Islands, this species is endemic.
3rd October 2016 – the Mediterranean Tiger Moth
The Mediterranean Tiger Moth (Cymbalophora pudica, Żarżur), identified by its tessellated pattern made of black shapes on a light background, can be seen from September to October. The tiger moth that was photographed at The Cliffs Interpretation Centre was recorded during the day and it appeared to be resting, since this moth is nocturnal. The meaning of the Maltese name is that of buzzing, since while flying the moth makes a buzzing sound. The female moths lay eggs in autumn, and by the following spring the caterpillar is fully grown. The pupa changes into adult form after the first autumn rains, and that is when the moth can be seen.
8th September 2016 – Autumn migration and the vibrant bee-eater
September is one of the best times of the year to meet across several of the migratory birds that fly by the Maltese Islands during the autumn season.
A common bird migrant that often visits the Maltese Islands during this time of the year is the Bee Eater (Merops apiaster, Qerd in-naħal) with pointed wings and very distinguishable colourful plumage. Their extravagant bright colours often catch the eye of the observer, or else you may hear its very particular repetitive call. The bird has social habitats – it is often seen in large flocks and breeds in colonies.
The bee-eater is a specialist in catching insects whilst in flight. Despite its name, only one of the ten insect that it catches is a bee. In the Maltese Islands, this bird feeds mainly on wasps, dragonflies, butterflies and grasshoppers. During the past years, this birds was also noted breeding in the Maltese Islands.
Tiny dots in the clouds…a large flock of the Bee-eater over Buskett
One of the best sites for bird-watching during Autumn is Buskett Gardens, the largest woodland area in Malta, located about 2km from The Cliffs Interpretation Centre.
10th August 2016 – The unmistakable sound of summer…from the Cicada
Heard everywhere in summer is the songs of the male Cicada (Cicada orni, Werżieq ta’ b’inhar). This insect is the most active during the hottest times of the day, that’s why it sings throughout the day. The sound originates from the blur-speed vibration of part of this winged insect’s abdomen.
The cicada appears when the larvae dig out of the soil and climb onto trees. Upon metamomorphisis, the cicada turns into its adult life form. Only males sing to attract females to mate. Eggs are laid in the soil and these hatch in late summer. The newly hatched-larvae spend the majority of their lives in the soil.
This winged insect makes one of the loudest animal sounds, but it is difficult to see one, since when threatened the cicada stop singing. Once mating occurs, adult cicadas start dying. That’s why end of summer is characterised by such a silence!
28th July 2016 – The Mediterranean Chameleon
This chameleon was rescued whilst crossing a road close to Dingli Cliffs. It was then released in a shrub. Currently, from mid-July to September, during the mating season, one might see pairs of chameleon, but throughout the year, the chameleon is a solitary reptile. It is important to note that the chameleon is protected by law and and one should not keep, kill or sell them.
The Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeoleo chamaeleon, Kamalejont) was brought to Malta from North Africa and introduced in a residence in a private gardens in St. Julians in the mid-1800s, but it then spread all over Malta.
This reptile inhabits trees, shrubs, low-lying vegetation and open countryside, using its four tours to grasp branches and its tail to maintain balance. It can grow up to 30cm and is normally green or brown in colour with pale markings. When threatened, it changes colour, puffs its body and opens its mouth to appear fiercer. The chameleon feeds on insects, using its protractible long tongue, which is often two times the length of its body. Its eyes can be rotated independently from each other. Thus, the chameleon, has a full 360° arc of vision, and can focus on two different objects simultaneously.
Date: Thursday 28th July 2016
Place: Dingli Cliffs, Chameleon was rescued and then released in its natural environment.
2nd July 2016 – Animal friction
An encounter between a gecko and a bat was riddled with friction, when sounds were heard coming from a circa two meter high spacing in a wall within an agricultural area at Dingli Cliffs in the evening of 2nd July.
The Moorish Gecko (Wizgha tal-Kampanja) is native of the Mediterranean region. Its flat head and transparent eyelid. The encounter was photographed in the evening, attributing to the very light colour of the gecko. Bats, which are the only flying mammals are nocturnal animals. They often roost in sheltered areas such as caves and cliffs, but also man-made structures such as walls and buildings.
22nd February 2016 – Spot the Common Starling
The Common Starling (Sturnell, Sturnus vulgaris) is a very common bird, which often spends winter in the Maltese Islands. Often, the Starlings visit the Maltese Islands in October and return back to Europe before spring.
The bird is alike to a thrush in size but has a glossy black body. White spots appear in later summer when the bird moults, giving the starling a speckled appearance. By the following summer, the feather tips wear off and the plumage is no longer spotted with white. Common starlings can often be encountered in huge flocks. It is thought that this is a defence mechanisms against birds of prey.
Starlings eat mostly insects, seeds and fruits. They are often regarded as pests since they devour sprouting crops and feed on fruit trees, whilst also causing noise nuisance due to their large roosts. However, in the Maltese Islands, the starlings do not damage fruit trees; albeit eating olives abandoned by farmers in trees.
16th November 2015 – The Swallowtail butterfly
The endemic Maltese Swallowtail butterfly, a subspecies of the European Swallowtail is only found in the Maltese Islands, locally called “Farfett tar-reġina/bużbież/fejġel”. It has an impressive wingspan of between 8 -10cm. It is identified by the bright yellow and black wings, blue band and red spots on the hind wings. Its name is attributed to the pair of protruding tails on the hind wings of this butterfly. The Maltese Swallowtail is elusive, it often flutters its wings as it feeds on flower nectar, moving from one flower to the next.
The life history of the swallowtail starts from a single egg laid on the larval host plant, most often under the leaf of a Fennel plant. The larva, which hatches from the egg feeds on the host plant for about 4 weeks, producing a pupa. The adult butterfly then lives for about 20 days, during which the female lays its eggs to complete its life cycle. The endemic Maltese Swallowtail butterfly can be seen from February to November since it produces two or three broods. Populations of the Swallowtail butterfly have remained relatively stable because the wild fennel is common in the Maltese countryside.
Date: Sunday 15th November 2015
Time: 9.30 am
Place: Dingli Cliffs, along The Cliffs Trail
14th October 2015 – The Eurasian Dotterel
Eurasian Dotterel Birwina Charadrius morinellus
Kevin Francica Kevin Francica
Observed: Mainly in Autumn, however is also seen in Winter and Spring
Description: The Eurasian Dotterel is a small long-legged wader of the plover bird family, about 20-22cm long with a wingspan of 57-64cm.
Population: The population size is very large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Ecology: This species is fully migratory and travels non-stop on a broad front across Europe, staging first at a number of traditional sites. It departs from its breeding grounds from August to September, the return migration in the spring beginning in late-February or March. The species breeds from May to August in solitary well-dispersed pairs.
Behaviour: There is a sexual dimorphism in the size and plumage of the dotterel, since the female is larger and brighter than the male. This species shows a reversal of sexual roles; the female attracts a mate through its plumage displays, while the male helps incubate the eggs and tends the young chicks.
Local Habitat: Garrigue and bare arable land with sparse vegetation.
Breeding Habitat: The species breeds on flat open uplands, on mountain ridges and plateaus with sparse vegetation, and on coastal and inland Arctic tundra of moss, short grass or lichen and bare patches of rock.
Diet: Its diet consists of insects, (mainly beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and ants), spiders, snails and earthworms, as well as plant matter such as leaves, seeds, berries and flowers.
Breeding site: The nest is a shallow scrape on bare ground or in short vegetation. The species is a solitary nester but where suitable habitat is restricted it may also breed in loose groups of 2-5 pairs.
Main threats: Some of Scotland’s most popular birds are suffering a severe drop in numbers, a study has revealed:
Mon, 09/12/2013 – 16:46 — Henk Tennekes
Scientists from the RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and Natural Research have revealed the startling decline in bird populations in the State of UK Birds 2013 report. The mountain species dotterel (Charadrius morinellus), one of the rarest breeds in Britain – with two-thirds living in the Cairngorms – has declined by about 40 per cent in just over a decade. The results found that the estimated number of dotterels had fallen from 630 breeding males in 1999, to just 423 breeding males in 2011, continuing a longer-term decline since the first survey in 1987-88, which estimated the number of breeding males at 981. Mark Eaton, of RSPB, said: “Scotland’s Highlands provide an important home for dotterel and the species’ presence offers a good indicator of the health of our mountain landscapes. To see such a significant drop in their numbers over the past three decades is deeply concerning.
Eileen Stuart, SNH head of policy and advice, said: “The declining numbers of some birds, particularly the drop in dotterels, is obviously very worrying”. Colette Hall, a species monitoring officer with the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, was concerned that the figures show the breeding ranges of waders are drastically shrinking. She said: “We’re losing much-loved species like snipe or lapwing completely from parts of lowland Britain. The list of countryside birds which are declining also includes willow tits, cuckoos, whinchats, starlings, wood warblers and yellow wagtails.
Source: The Scotsman, 9 December 2013
In northern England, a historical decline since the mid-nineteenth century has been attributed to overgrazing by sheep causing a degradation in the quality of breeding habitat, although pollution and human recreational disturbance may also be involved in preventing a recovery (Galbraith et al. 1993). The main threats for the species are loss of habitat due to alteration in mountains,-the construction of ski stations, tracks and urbanization.
Latest encounter along The Cliffs Trail: Sunday 4th October 2015, two hunters along the Cliffs Trail at Dingli Cliffs managed to take some photos of the wonderful bird, which rested for some time in a field prior to continuing its journey.
31st August 2015 – The spectacular Lobed Argiope
The Lobed Argiope at Dingli Cliffs (Source: The Cliffs Interpretation Centre)
The striking Lobed Argiope (Argiope lobata, Brimba kbira tal-widien) is the largest spider in the Maltese Islands with a striped black and yellow abdomen. The males have a body length of only 6mm, but the females’ body length reach 25mm, and its legs reach 40mm.
As the other members of the Argiope genus, the Loped Argiope decorates its large spherical web with a prominent zig-zag silk structure to immobilise and captures its prey, which it also poisons.
The Lobed Argiope is frequently found in vegetated areas, such as valleys. The photo above shows its presence at the garrigue habitat of the Dingli Cliffs.
6 June 2015 – Mating Western Whip Snakes
(product of THE CLIFFS Interpretation Centre)
The largest snake in the Maltese Islands is the Western Whip Snake, which can grow up to 1.5m. Known in Maltese as “Is-Serp Iswed”, it is the most common snake in Malta. It lives in dry places along valley sides, maquis and open rocky ground, where it is occasionally found basking on rocks or rubble walls. It usually feeds on lizards, mice, shrews, young birds, smaller snakes, frogs and large insects.
Although some people are afraid or dislike snakes, native reptiles are part of our Maltese heritage and should be safeguarded. The Western Whip Snake, like all native snakes, has been protected in Malta since 1992. One should not pursue, take, kill or keep these fascinating reptiles. According to a report compiled by MEPA in connection with the EC Habitats Directive, the population status of the western whip snake is considered to be favourable and positive trends have been predicted.
Date: Saturday 6th June 2015
Temperature: During day maximum 28 degrees Celsius
Wind: Low North East.
Place: Dingli Cliffs, along The Cliffs Interpretation Centre trail.