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More bugs, beetles and wasps

The violet carpenter bee is a key species for the ecosystem in its role as a pollinator. Photo: Guido Bonett

The violet carpenter bee is a key species for the ecosystem in its role as a pollinator. Photo: Guido Bonett

Another bulletin of the Entomological Society of Malta has just been published, expanding our knowledge further on the Maltese insect world. This year’s bulletin provides information on 235 insects found in the Maltese islands and nearly a third of them are recorded for the first time from the Maltese islands.

Humans have long marvelled at the elegance and organisational abilities of insects. Engineers and architects has been inspired by studies on the way insects move and their structure.

Insects are among the most diverse and adaptable organisms on Earth and their ability to thrive is mainly because of a well-developed sensory system. Neuroscientists try to understand the mechanisms by which insects navigate their complex and varied environments.

Fourteen species of Pselaphine beetles are documented as occurring locally. Three are identified for the first time in Malta and one of these is new to Europe. One particular species, Amaurops mifsudi, is similar to cave-dwelling beetles as it gets by without eyes. It lives blindly in soil crevices, usually in forest habitats.

The bulletin gives an update on a type of wasp which is a useful parasite of agricultural pests such as the leafhopper. A plant virus which affects wheat and barley is spread by leafhoppers.

As a natural control, the female of this solitary wasp captures her host, stinging and paralysing it until her eggs are laid. The larvae feed on the pest and then spin a silk cocoon before emerging as mature wasps in a complete cycle.

Also mentioned in the bulletin is a type of sawfly, partial to pine cones and the first of its type recorded in Malta.

A gall or abnormal plant growth on the wild-growing evergreen rose was first recorded at Buskett in 1926 but never seen again until now. In this case it is caused by a type of wasp and has been rediscovered in three different valleys this year. Galls are induced by insects so they can feed or breed inside them.

Parasitic wasps play a major role in ecosystems. This year’s bulletin records 147 species of Chalcid wasps, half of which are new to the Maltese islands, most of which found at Buskett. Other habitats have yet to be studied for these insects, which are among the smallest of all insects.

Parasitic wasps play a major role in ecosystems. This year’s bulletin records 147 species of Chalcid wasps, half of which are new to the Maltese islands, most of which found at Buskett

The Podagrion wasp, previously unrecorded in Malta, is known to be a parasite of the preying mantis. It displays a beautiful bluish-green colour on its head and middle body. Females are enticed to mate after a dance involving flapping and vibrating of the wings and antennae by the male wasp.

A Pteromalid wasp was also discovered for the first time here in Malta. This insect produces mostly females from its eggs. Even unmated females have the ability to produce a brood of male wasps from their unfertilised eggs. This wasp is also known for its role in biological control against Drosophila flies.

A recent discovery was made of yet another new species of wasp for the Maltese islands during a study of insect visitors to the flowering caper plant. This tiny wasp, barely three millimetres long, lives in walls or old wood. Its larvae are useful as they feed on thrips and plant lice.

There are two new records of Mirid bugs which appear to be extending their range northward due to the global increase in temperature. Found in some Sicilian towns in the last 15 years, this alien species is spreading to Europe via the Mediterranean. The reason is probably importation of ornamental Cyprus trees from Asia.

A whitefly first identified on citrus fruit in Syria in 1990 is the latest to be found breeding in Malta. It was reported in Sicily in the last two years where it has spread rapidly. A chance discovery of one specimen in Msida led to other sightings of this ‘nesting’ whitefly. These are identified by the long waxy filaments and fluffy wax which form around egg-laying females.

Other updated information on cicadas, book-lice, carrion beetles and dragonflies is given in the bulletin.

The young entomologist will not be disappointed with the full-colour section: a slant-faced grasshopper, a carpenter bee and a butterfly known as the Cleopatra Brimstone. Finally there is the industrious scarab or dung beetle.

A page in this section is also dedicated to the tiny Western flower thrip from an order of insects (Thysanoptera) which can transmit viruses or damage crops directly. Despite there being about 5,500 known species worldwide, they are among the least studied insects in Malta.

The bulletin was edited by David Mifsud, senior lecturer at the University of Malta’s Institute of Earth Systems.

At the launch of the bulletin last month, Dr Mifsud stressed the importance of this knowledge for future generations as it offers them a baseline to continue this valuable scientific work on the study of insects.

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