Through the years, Malta evolved in a lot of things especially in urbanisation. A lot of the old Maltese environment has been cut down and instead buildings started to grow and from rural towns these became small cities. Luckily, in Malta there are still sites which are protected and there you can see the last remaining areas of untouched ecology. Gozo has been more rural, thus leaving a lush of greenery through the landscape. This report’s purpose is to project awareness on Maltese animals whose numbers have unfortunately declined.
We’ll start with class Mammalia known as mammals. The Weasel (Mustella nivalis) is the smallest carnivore in Malta. This species is not found in Comino and in Gozo. The weasel used to be captured in use of rabbit hunting. It is found in rural areas and is a very scarce species. In Malta there are around 9 Bat species. The bat is the only mammal capable of flight. It hunts with echolocation were it preys on other flying insects. These species are nocturnal and can be seen at night hunting. The decline of bats usually arises from disturbance in their roosts. Insecticides also decline numbers as bats are insectivores. Bats are protected by the Environmental protection act. It is even protected by the Euro Bats agreement. It is illegal to disturb, capture, kill, sell or trade bat species.
Class Reptilia known as reptiles will now be covered. In Malta we have about 4 species of snakes. I will focus on the Algerian whip snake(Coluber algirus) which is rare on our islands. It is not found in any other European country but found in some African countries. It hunts small animals by day. It is seen by day in dry rocky habitats and in piles of stone. Like all other native snakes, this snake has been protected since 1992. One cannot keep, take, kill, or pursue these reptiles. The Mediterranean Chameleon(Chamaeleo chameleon) is more common in Malta and scarce in Gozo. It is adapted to live in woodland but has adapted to survive in Garigue habitat. When threatened, it puffs up and opens it mouth letting a small roar to show its aggressiveness. All chameleon species are able to blend with the environment, having ability to change colours using pigments. It has also been protected since 1992. The Maltese wall lizard (Podarcis filfolensis) is also protected. It feeds on insects and other small creatures and even on vegetation. It is common but some sub-species are rare. The only reptiles found in our magnificent seas are 3 species of turtles. I will focus on the Loggerhead turtle (Caretta caretta) which unfortunately is a victim of fishing nets. It can be found in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans and within the Mediterranean Sea. It mainly feeds on jellyfish and when it is within shores it feeds on crabs, sea urchin and other molluscs. This is an endangered species and is protected in a lot of foreign country legislations. MEPA has been rescuing and returning loggerheads back to the sea and has been studying movements of two releases of turtles.
In Malta there is only one native species of amphibians which is the Painted frog(Discoglossuspictus). The numbers of this frog declined due to their captures. It feeds on invertebrates, smaller frogs or tadpoles and geckos. It is protected by international, regional and national legislation. It is illegal to kill, disturb or capture this species.
As for crustaceans the rarest of the crustacean species is the Maltese fresh water crab(Potamon fluviatile lanfrancoi) which is endemic and is a very rare species. It hunts at sunset feeding on tadpoles and other small animals. A long time ago it was used in soups on fasting days. This crab needs freshwater all year round so it’s right habitat is restricted. It is protected by National legislation and cannot be captured, killed, disturbed or kept.
Before hunting became restricted to Common quail’s and Turtle doves, all bird species could be hunted, including the magnificent birds of prey. The most known bird of prey is the Peregrine falcon(Falco peregrines). It is famous for its speed which can reach 320km/h. This used to be a common bird in the time of the Knights of St. John and as payment for Malta they used to give some of these falcons to the king of Spain. Now this bird is very scarce and may be luckily seen during migrations. It hunts duck size birds which it catches during flying. Another species whose numbers declined but can be luckily seen during migrations is the Barn owl (Tyto alba). It is a very rare species to see in Malta. It used to be a very common bird but hunting has declined its numbers rapidly. It feeds on mice, rats, shrews and small birds. It is illegal to hunt both species. Birds of prey are mostly hunted to embalm and decorate with.
In the sea, there are animals which are also close to extinction. One of them is the Noble pen shell(Pinna nobilis). It is a very large shellfish reaching sizes of 80cm. It can be found hidden in the seaweed. The species is protected by local legislation.
In Malta there are a lot of rare species not mentioned above including Sharks, Butterflies, Moths and Birds of song. In the past Malta was more ecological and the species above were more common. We have to be more responsible for the environment around us. The animals should not be harmed because if a species is wiped out, it is lost forever and it is irreversible.