Monday, December 3, 2012

Publications - update 4

The ariophantid Hemiplecta belerang sp. nov. from South Sumatra is described in this paper. It is compared with its closest congeners, from which it is geographically and reproductively isolated.

Hemiplecta belerang Cilia & Abbas, 2012 - holotype specimen 

Hemiplecta belerang, live animal photographed in type locality


Cilia, D. P. & Abbas, J., 2012. A new species of Hemiplecta Albers, 1850 (Gastropoda, Pulmonata, Ariophantidae) from Sumatra, Indonesia. Biodiversity Journal, 3 (2): 137-144. accessible here

Friday, November 30, 2012

Publications - update 3

One of the several lessepsian species colonizing areas of the Mediterranean is Brachidontes pharaonis, a bivalve with the ability to form dense mytilid mats over a range of different mediolittoral substrata. Since its initial observation from the Maltese Islands in the early 1970s, the species has consolidated its presence all over the archipelago. Close examination of the entire length of the Maltese shoreline was conducted to collect quantitative and qualitative data on the mytilid and on dominant accompanying macrofaunal and macrofloral species, in what represents the first comprehensive mapping of an allochthonous species within an island territory. Brachidontes pharaonis was found to have colonized most of the northern and eastern coastal stretches of the island of Malta, preferring limestone substrata in inlets with limited wave exposure and affected by high marine concentrations of hydrocarbons and other pollutants, where it reached individual abundances exceeding 1000 individuals per square metre.

A cluster of Brachidontes pharaonis (Fischer, 1870) from a Globigerina limestone location on the Ta' Xbiex shore. Barnacles, patellids, chitons and coralline algae are also visible.


Cilia, D. P. & Deidun, A., 2012. Branching out: mapping the spatial expansion of the lessepsian invader mytilid Brachidontes pharaonis around the Maltese Islands. Marine Biodiversity Records, 5 (e28): 1-8. DOI link

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Publications - update 2

The invasive Melanoides tuberculata (Müller, 1774), a freshwater and brackish water snail, is reported from Mosta and Baħrija in Malta. Shells from these populations are morphologically distinct from a population at Salini first recorded in 1981.

Shells of Melanoides tuberculata from Malta - specimens from Baħrija, Mosta and Salini.


Cilia, D. P., Sciberras A. & Sciberras J., 2012. Two non-indigenous populations of Melanoides tuberculata (Müller, 1774) (Gastropoda, Cerithioidea) in Malta. MalaCo, 9: 4 pp. accessible here

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Publications - update 1

A new species of olivid neogastropod from West Java, Agaronia johnabbasi sp. nov., is described according to conchological characters. It is distinguished from congeners by means of its distinctive morphology and colouration.

Agaronia johnabbasi Cilia, 2012 (left specimen). For comparison - Agaronia johnkochi Voskuil, 1990 (middle specimen) and Agaronia nebulosa (Lamarck, 1811) (right specimen). All specimens are from West Java (Pangandaran Bay).


Cilia, D. P., 2012. A new Javan species of Agaronia Gray, 1839 (Neogastropoda, Olividae). Novapex, 13 (1): 33-36.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

New Sicilian landsnails

Two new species of land snails from Sicily have been described in the latest issue of Biodiversity Journal. The first species is a clausiliid in the genus which is this blog's namesake - Muticaria brancatoi Colomba, Reitano, Liberto, Giglio, Gregorini & Sparacio, 2012, from south-eastern Sicily. It is the fourth described Muticaria and is a perfect illustration of the genetic complexity exhibited by island endemisms.

Muticaria brancatoi Colomba, Reitano, Liberto, Giglio, Gregorini & Sparacio, 2012

The second species is a slug, Tandonia marinellii Liberto, Colomba, Giglio & Sparacio, 2012. The description is included in a paper which also mentions the first finds of Rumina saharica Pallary, 1901 from Sicily, for which specimens collected by myself from the island of Marettimo were examined.

Tandonia marinellii Liberto, Colomba, Giglio & Sparacio, 2012

The island of Marettimo, from where R. saharica has been recorded


Colomba, M. S., Reitano, A., Liberto, F., Giglio, S., Gregorini, A. & Sparacio, I., 2012. Additional data on the genus Muticaria Lindholm, 1925 with description of a new species (Gastropoda Pulmonata Clausiliidae). Biodiversity Journal, 3: 251-258. accessible here

Liberto, F., Giglio, S., Colomba, M. S. & Sparacio I., 2012. New and little known land snails from Sicily (Mollusca Gastropoda). Biodiversity Journal, 3: 199-226. accessible here

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Horticultural Wednesday I

Phalaenopsis is a very popular orchid genus originating from southeast Asia, with several horticultural varieties. The fine specimen above was photographed in Puerto de la Cruz, in Tenerife.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Entomological Society of Malta - vol. 4 launch

Last Friday saw the launch of the 4th volume of ESM's excellent series of papers dealing with, as the name of the society implies, the entomology of the Maltese islands and their biogeographic context.

The event was held under the patronage of His Excellency Dr. George Abela, and three society members (including its chairman) delivered short speeches on the importance of scientific research, peer reviews, funding and the maintenance of high publication standards. 

The scope of the talks ranged from the general, all-encompassing importance of works by luminaries such as Max Planck and Thomas Kuhn, to the specialized methodologies employed by scientists dealing in what the public may perceive as the "dinja stramba ta' dud, nemel u nsetti oħra" (lit. strange world of bugs, ants and other insects).

On to the main issue at hand - and its contents. This collection contains:

1) a catalogue of the aphid species occurring in Malta, with 48 new records, together with a list of aphid parasitoids, with three new records, and a new record of a coccid
2) observations and records of tachinid, rhinophorid and cecidomyiid flies from Malta and other Mediterranean areas
3) observations and records of nepticulid and pyralid moths from Malta
4) a catalogue of Maltese Scarabeoidea with eight new records, with a discussion on possible extinction mechanisms for these very interesting beetles
5) short features aimed at the younger demographic

A sample illustration - Scarabaeus (Ateuchetus) semipunctatus Fabricius, 1792 and Scarabaeus (Ateuchetus) variolosus Fabricius, 1787

The website was not updated in time for the launch, therefore for more information on the society please contact

Dr. David Mifsud
Entomological Society of Malta
P. O. Box 9
Marsa, MRS1000


The tag cloud generated by the local html programming on invariably translates to the drab affair shown below, copied and pasted from my own blog.

On the other hand, custom-built generators such as allow users to tweak fonts and designs according to personal taste (or lack thereof) to achieve far more interesting, attention-grabbing layouts. Here's one I finished earlier, in true pop-art abandon (click on image for a larger view).

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Death of a Phoenix

Palms are a common sight in Malta, with the warm temperatures affecting the islands throughout most of the year being a perfect catalyst for their growth and proliferation. This said, indigenous species amount to just one - the low-growing, bushy Chamaerops humilis L., now practically extinct in the wild.

Chamaerops humilis L., photographed by Aron Tanti

The recent invasion of the red palm weevil Rhynchophorus ferrugineus (Olivier, 1790) has affected several of the ornamental palms of the genus Phoenix.

Rhynchophorus ferrugineus (Olivier, 1790) from
The date palm, Phoenix dactylifera L., is a historically important North African species that may be distinguished by leaves arranged in wide silvery fronds. The picture beneath shows this species of palm affected by the Rhynchophorus beetle.

Phoenix dactylifera L. affected by the red palm weevil in Santa Venera, Malta

Phoenix sp. in Rome, Italy, with the one on the right showing symptoms of red palm weevil infestation

Phoenix canariensis Chabaud is a Canarian endemic which is frequently planted around the Mediterranean, not least in Malta. Unfortunately it is also affected by the weevil in question and several stately specimens from around the island have been destroyed.

Phoenix canariensis Chabaud in the main road of Floriana, Malta

The inhabitants of Tenerife certainly make excellent use of their endemic palm species!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Steno on Google

The 374th anniversary of birth of the 'father of geology' Nicolaus Stensen, better known by his latinized name Nicolas Steno, is commemorated today on Google with a doodle showing a stylized stratigraphic section similar to what he may have encountered to come up with his conclusions.

Steno was featured on this blog together with his contemporary Agostino Scilla in a post from 2010.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Nature class

Juniper, yew, spruce and other specimens with textbook shown below, for observation during a lesson. Photos taken at the Základní škola Lesní (an elementary school in Liberec, the Czech Republic).

The school logo is also a conifer, albeit a highly anthropomorphized version:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Field biology course for educators

A group of 27 biology teachers from Church schools recently attended a week-long course in field biology jointly organised by the University’s Department of Biology and the Curia’s Secretariat for Education at the University.

The course was aimed at updating educators on methodology related to fieldwork organisation.

It is widely recognised that the teaching of biology is most enriching and interesting for students when the learning process takes place ‘outside the classroom’ and in a ‘real world’ setting.

The course consisted of lectures, fieldwork and laboratory sessions, with a focus on the Maltese environment. During the week, participants had the opportunity to put theoretical knowledge into practice through planning and preparation for fieldwork, surveying, sampling and data collection, and processing of the data collected.

Topics covered during the course were related to shore and terrestrial ecology.

During the shore ecology fieldwork, held on the Għallis coast, participants identified flora and fauna that inhabit rocky shores, and collected data on the abundance of selected fauna. During the terrestrial ecology fieldwork, held at Clapham Junction and Buskett, participants observed typical Mediterranean vegetation communi­ties: garigue, steppe, maquis, and woodland.

The knowledge and applications learnt during the marine and terrestrial fieldwork sessions was synthesised during a site visit to Għajn Tuffieħa.

A variety of habitats was explored there, ranging from banquettes of Posidonia oceanica wrack deposited on the sandy beach, to the terrestrial boulder scree that constitutes the typical Maltese rdum habitat.

The lectures, field and laboratory sessions were led by Joseph Borg, Patrick Schembri and Sandro Lanfranco from the University’s Biology Department.

Originally published in The Sunday Times, 9.X.2011.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Ups and downs

down by cable car from Ještěd, the highest mountain of the Czech Republic

stream in statek Ondříkovice, Frýdštejn, Czech Republic

conifers in Malá Skála, Czech Republic

Monday, October 3, 2011

Into the forests of Liberec

Along a stream, dewdrops on a delicate horsetail (Equisetum sp.) capture sunlight, scattering it into a miniature forest buzzing with insect life, amongst which is the common yet striking Pyrrhocoris apterus (Linnaeus, 1758). This heteropteran frequently shows aggregating behaviour and is found large populations, here photographed on the bark of the Czech national tree Tilia cordata Mill.

Equisetum sp., Liberec, Czech Republic

Pyrrhocoris apterus (L., 1758) on Tilia cordata Mill.
The periphery of the forest is characterized by a colourful scatter of berry clusters belonging to rowan (Sorbus aucuparia L.) and elder (Sambucus nigra L.), both of which have been traditionally used for food and medicine by settlers all over Europe. Further into the forest, as shade and shelter become predominant, ferns and mosses cover most of the clearing and make use of the abundant leaf litter.

Sorbus aucuparia L.
Sambucus nigra L.
Ferns on the forest floor
Conifers of the area include pines (Pinus sylvestris L.) and spruce (Picea abies (L.) H.Karst), sometimes bearing evidence of food-seeking woodpeckers on their old trunks. Angiosperms such as beech (Fagus sylvatica L.) are also common, with their deceased offering an excellent resource for several fungal specimens. 

seeds of Fagus sylvatica L.
Fagus sylvatica L. compost
fungus 1
fungus 2
clues left by woodpeckers

Nymphalis antiopa (Linnaeus, 1758) and Vanessa atalanta (Linnaeus, 1758) are two beautiful and conspicuous butterflies found within the forest and elsewhere.

Nymphalis antiopa (L., 1758)
Vanessa atalanta (L., 1758)
A dead specimen of the European slow-worm Anguis fragilis Linnaeus, 1758 was a surprising find, and one of the very few vertebrates making an appearance on the day.

Anguis fragilis L., 1758

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pesticide with a difference

This is just what you need to kill sinister sinistrals and restore your snail population to one made up of normal, dextral pests.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Phillumenic conundrum

Prior to this event I had never heard of the obscure hobby of phillumeny, but what should have been a casual glance inside an antiques shop in Santa Cruz necessitated some brushing up on the matter. I could not resist leaving this singular item to gather dust on a shelf unless that shelf was mine.

this is all I know about this set
A defunct (?) match factory in Las Palmas (capital city of Gran Canaria), Fosforera Canariense, produced this nice set of 24 matchboxes sometime last century after its foundation in 1935. Information regarding such items is hard to come by, on-and-offline, therefore not much more is known at this stage.

click on image for large version
The set is called Caracolas Marinas (marine snails) and features 24 species of molluscs (inexplicably consisting of one bivalve and 23 predominantly tropical, not-all-marine, gastropods) heavily inked onto a pale blue background. The way they are packaged makes it impossible to see what is on the hidden side of each matchbox, and where, presumably, the species identifications are printed.

click on image for large version
Now, I am sorely tempted to tear open the polythene covering holding the set together in order to read them; on the other hand, doing so will detract from the neatness and value of the boxed set. I'm a stickler for 'accurate' identification (as opposed to mere Cypraea, Murex, Lambis, Harpa, Conus, Architectonica, Mitra, Cymatium etc.) but these cardboard versions will have to remain a mystery, at least until curiosity gets the upper hand.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

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