Time to spot the Caterpillars! – 23/11/2018
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.