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An unfriendly, squeaking beetle

The mulberry long-horned beetle can reach more than four centimetres in length.

The mulberry long-horned beetle can reach more than four centimetres in length.

The list of animals and plants inhabiting a particular area constantly changes with time.

Some species arrive on their own while others are imported by man and are wittingly or unwittingly released in new areas.

During the past decade or so, we heard about several new insect species appearing on the Maltese Islands.

The Asian tiger mosquito is a nuisance and carrier of dangerous diseases and the red palm weevil, which also visited our islands a few years ago, has decimated many palm trees.

Another alien species that is causing great damage is the mulberry long-horned beetle. This species originated in central Africa. It was first noticed in Malta in 2000.

When it first arrived, this beetle laid its eggs in black mulberry trees (siġar tat-tut) and, later, on white mulberry trees (siġar taċ-ċirasa). It destroyed many old trees.

It has also been recorded on fig trees, which are related to the mulberries.

This beetle does not seem to have any natural enemies in the mulberry tree and is free to reproduce unhindered. The larvae live in deep tunnels, which they dig in the branches and are not easily reached by insecticides. The adults are mainly nocturnal and thus spraying of insecticide should be carried out during the night to be more effective.

The adult beetle is large and can reach more than four centimetres in length. The antennae are as long as the rest of the body. When picked up, it makes a squeaking noise which probably distracts predators.

The mulberry long-horned beetle has been given the Maltese name ħanfusa tal-qrun twil tat-tut. It probably arrived in Malta as a larva or pupa with wood or logs imported for the wood industry.

It has not yet spread into the rest of Europe, except for parts of France and we should do our best not to let it spread and cause havoc in neighbouring countries.

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