Archive for the ‘Insects’ Category

The buzzing Vesak decoration on the 6th floor

May 6, 2015

Decorations adorn many buildings at Vesak – but the staff of an office in Dehiwela found a special decoration covering one of their 6th floor

The curtain of bees covering the Dehiwela office building window

windows: a close look revealed it was a swarm of bees spread like a curtain across a part of a large glass window.

The bees began arriving on the morning of Monday, April 27 around 8am. Soon hundreds, if not thousands of buzzing bees covered the window, said Rajiv Welikala who alerted wildlife enthusiasts about this unusual sighting.

“They are the giant honey-bee or ‘bambara’ in Sinhala – the same species that inhabits Sigiriya,” said bee specialist Dr. Wasantha Punchihewa who visited the site.

Contrary to the popular belief that these bees are harmful, Dr. Punchihewa said they were innocent creatures that attack only if provoked.

In Sigiriya, the occasional bee attacks are often triggered by disturbances caused by visitors but here they would be left in peace: the bee colony settled on an outside of the window of the 6th floor, so chances such as a careless boy throwing a stone etc. can be ruled out.

A closer look at the “curtain”

As the windows of the air-conditioned office are sealed off the bees are unable to come inside, so it is perfectly safe to let such hives be undisturbed, Dr. Punchihewa said, pointing out that honey-bees perform a very important service to the eco-system by pollinating flowers.

In Sigiriya and other remote areas there are enough flowers for these bees to collect nectar but this colony is in Dehiwela amidst concrete jungle, so what chance do the bees have?

“What about the coconut trees? The bees could depend on coconut’s pollen, nectar and in return pollinate the trees,” Dr. Punchihewa surmised.
A bee colony is a complex social structure in which soldier bees are responsible for the safety of the hive. They have a sting linked to a venom sac that detaches from the body in an attack, and this causes the soldier bees’ death.

Bee venom contains melittin, a histamine that is painful for many hours. If a person has been attacked, the sting should be removed without squeezing the venom sac, medical experts said.

Rajiv Welikala said the “bee curtain” looked larger on the day the bees arrived but appears to have shrunk in size as bees started concentrating to form the hive. The wax they are secreting, probably with the aim of building the hive, is visible on the window.

This bee colony could depart soon as the bees realise the difficulty of building a hive on vertical glass or they might stay there for a few months before leaving in search of a new site. Whatever happens, it is fascinating to see the bambara surviving even in populated areas such as Dehiwela, Dr. Punchihewa said.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150503/news/the-buzzing-vesak-decoration-on-the-6th-floor-147699.html

Ant-bites could be fatal, don’t ignore its allergic reactions

October 22, 2013

Ant-bites have compelled a few people in areas of Panadura to seek medical treatment. However, only people allergic to these bites need medication, and there is no need to panic say experts

Hathpolaya (c) Courtesy Medical Research Institute. and below head of Hathpolaya 

Earlier this week, it was reported that several people in Horethuduwa, Panadura, sought medical treatment for ant-bites. Upon information received, Medical Research Institute (MRI) Director, Dr Anil Samaranayake dispatched a team to investigate the matter. He said samples of this particular ant responsible for the more-than-painful bites, has been collected and brought to the MRI lab for further investigations. These ants have strong jaws and their bite can bring upon allergic reactions to certain people, warns Dr Samaranayake. However, these ants bite only when agitated, and there is no need to panic, he added.

Investigating the images of the ant, Sri Lanka’s foremost ant expert – Kelaniya University’s Prof. Sriyani Dias, identified it as a ‘Hathpolaya’ (Tetraponera rufonigra). This ant usually lives in trees and hence is an arboreal ant. The Hathpolaya’s body has a bit of colour, and is also known as ‘Arboreal Bicoloured Ant’. It is a predator that lives on insects, and is larger than normal ants, growing up to 12-15mm, exceeding the size of a ‘kadiya’.

Prof. Dias also recalls a ‘Hathpolaya’ infestation in Matara, in 2010. Suddenly, from nowhere, these ants started to appear in several places. Investigations revealed that several large trees in the area had been felled, dispersing large ‘Hathpolaya’ colonies that had been ‘resident’ in these trees. The Panadura incident too could be for similar reasons, thinks the ant expert.
The number of Ant species found in Sri Lanka is subject to change, as scientists split new species into one and merge the existing species to single ones. According to the National Red List of 2012, Sri Lanka is home to 205 ant species. The ‘Hathpolaya’ is categorised under ‘Least Concerned’ which means it is not a threatened species.

In 2010, the Sunday Times reported the death of a woman due to a ‘Dala Kadiya’’-bite. But, can an ant’s bite be fatal?

Experts say people react to insect stings differently, where some develop allergies that could lead to severe conditions. “It is like certain people being subject to allergies reactions after consuming pineapple or prawns”. The age and how nourished/susceptible the body is due to other inadequacies within, are contributory factors to an allergy becoming fatal. “Otherwise, Sri Lanka’s ants are usually not the kind that cause fatalities. They don’t chase and attack when provoked, like bees or wasps,” insists Prof. Dias.

Symptoms of a serious allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, include itching, hives, flushing of the skin, tingling or itching inside the mouth, hoarseness, swelling of the tongue or in your throat and narrowing of the airways which causes difficulty in breathing and swallowing, dizziness, fainting, and nausea or vomiting. can be fatal.

These types of reactions usually occur within minutes of the sting, but have been known to be delayed for up to 24 hours. If you are bitten by an ant and are subject to itching and hives or welts on the skin other than around the bite, seek expert medical attention immediately.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.10.2013 on SundayTimes http://www.sundaytimes.lk/131013/news/ant-bites-could-be-fatal-dont-ignore-its-allergic-reactions-65666.html

Tiny ant makes big strides

September 3, 2013

They are a household nuisance and the sight of lines of ants marching towards food lying about can drive one crazy. But researchers from Peradeniya University studying a group of ants are excited by their discovery. The cause of the excitement was the existence of the rare endemic Sri Lankan Relict Ant (Aneuretus simoni Emery) among the sample of ants being studied.

The Sri Lanka Relict Ant may be one of the tiniest members of Sri Lanka’s unique biodiversity but it has a big reputation. As its name implies, a ‘relict species’ is a surviving species of an otherwise extinct group of organisms.

The Sri Lanka Relict Ant is the only living species of the Genus Aneuretus (genus is a scientific grouping of species that have common characteristics). This tiny creature has therefore grabbed the attention of entomologists around the world including that of prof. Edward O. Wilson, known as the father of biodiversity. He had even come to Sri Lanka to study this ant a few decades ago.

Sri Lanka Relict Ant - A worker (c) N.Wijayathilaka

Sri Lanka Relict Ant – A worker (c) N.Wijayathilaka

This ant was first discovered in Kandy as far back as 1892. In addition to Kandy they are found only in a few places including Pompekelle, Gilimale, Adam’s Peak and Peradeniya, all in the Wet Zone

The latest finding was made by young researcher Nuwan Karunarathna who is doing his undergraduate studies under Dr. Inoka Karunaratne of the University of Peradeniya. Nuwan’s research involved analysing the diversity of ant species in two forests in the Knuckles range. This resulted in discovering 48 species of ants including the Relict Ant from the Moraella lowland rain forest near Panwila, and 35 species from the Rambukoluwa semi evergreen forest.

This is also the first time the ant has been recorded in the Intermediate Zone according to the paper authored by Nuwan and Dr. Karunaratne and published in last month’s prestigious Journal of Threatened Taxa.

The Relict Ant nests are found inside rotting and crumbling pieces of wood or in logs fallen on the ground. An ant colony consists of different levels of members of social strata including the queen and workers. According to researchers The Relict Ant colonies have two types of worker ants–major workers and minor workers. Usually an ant colony consists of thousands of worker ants, but in this species, the number of workers is less than hundred. Studies have shown that colonies are composed of 18-106 minor workers and one to three major workers, says Nuwan. Some colonies could also contain more than one queen.

Last year, Prof. Sriyani Dias of Kelaniya University too had found the Relict Ant in a forest patch in Kalutara. Prof. Dias who has been studying the etymology of ants in Sri Lanka since 2000 says more research needed to be done. According to the National Red List 2012, the conservation status of 109 ant species – more than half of the known species, were categorised as ‘Data Deficient”.

The Relict Ant has been listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the International Red List. However, perhaps due to its discovery in a few locations in Sri Lanka, its threatened level has been elevated to ‘Endangered’ in the National Red List published in 2012. The National Red List however has categorised 25 ant species in Sri Lanka as ‘Critically Endangered” with habitat loss being the major threat.

 Robert Knox on our ‘coumbias’

According to researchers systematic studies on ants in Sri Lanka were started in 1903. However, it is interesting to note that documenting ant species goes as far back as to the time of the famous British prisoner Robert Knox. In his book ‘An Historical Relation of Ceylon (1681)’ he mentions seeing six ant species in Sri Lanka.

“There are ants of several sorts, and some worthy of our remark. First of all there are the ‘coumbias’ a sort of small reddish ants like ours in England” Knox penned. He also mentions Tele-coumbias, Dimbios (dimiya), Coddia (kadiya) and termites.

Prof. E. O. Wilson, known as the ‘Father of Biodiversity’ commenting on the Sri Lanka Relict Anton Wikipedia in 1994 says, “Twenty years later it is found the species rare or absent in the same localities.” Recommending the Sri Lanka Relict Ant in the IUCN Red Data Book, the eminent professor says, “In time it became one of the first of several ants to be officially classified as a threatened or endangered ant species.”

AntGraphic (1)

Published on SundayTimes on 01.09.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130901/news/tiny-ant-makes-big-strides-60398.html

The return of the Damselfly after 154 years

August 23, 2013

An animal or plant is considered ‘extinct’, if it has not been recorded for more than a century. The Sri Lanka Emerald Spreadwing (Sinhalestes orientalis) a beautiful Damselfly that had not been recorded for 154 years and thereby considered extinct had made a re-appearance last year. The information about this rediscovery has been published few weeks ago in Asian Journal of Conservation Biology authored by young researcher Amila P Sumanapala and expert on dragonflies M. Bedjanič.

_MG_5773 (c) Salindra Kasun Dayananda

According to Amila the species with its emerald body with yellow markings is easily identifiable. The male damselfly is slightly bigger than the female and unlike other damselflies this species spreads its wings when resting, hence the name “Spreadwing”. According to researchers they are found along slow-flowing forest streams. They invariably hang from the tip of a leaf.

There are 120 recorded species of dragonflies and damselflies, collectively known as order Odonata, in Sri Lanka. Of them 57 are believed to be endemic. Damselflies can usually be differentiated from dragonflies because of their thin, needle-like abdomens and by the way they stretch their wings out when not moving. With few exceptions like the Emerald Spreadwing, the wings of most damselflies are held along and parallel to, the body when at rest. The large eyes of the damselfly differ from those of dragonflies as they are separated.

The Peak Wilderness has recently been in the news with discoveries and rediscoveries being reported from this natural habitat which has now been declared a UNESCO Natural Heritage site. Many scientists believe although Sinharaja is the jewel in Sri Lanka’s biodiversity, the Peak Wilderness could be home to many more unique fauna and flora waiting to be discovered. However, it has been a difficult terrain to research because of its mountainous, slippery and misty conditions.

Water Pollution endangering  this mosquito-killer

A female Sinhalestes orientali

A few decades ago damselflies and dragonflies were in abundance. The insects need a pool of water whether small or big to lay their eggs and for their larval stage.

However, their numbers have declined drastically in recent years due to the pollution of water bodies. In the chapter about dragonflies in RedList 2012 by Dr.Nancy van der Poorten and Karen Conniff the writers point out water pollution as a serious threat to this species. As a result of agricultural production, many chemicals end up in the drains and streams where odonates breed. RedList-2012 also cites an example in Balangoda. For the past five years, the stream has become filled with soap and algae due to increased human population and some species of dragonflies that used to be seen there are no longer found in that body of water.

Damselflies and dragonflies are also bio-control agents as they devour harmful insects. Damselflies like dragonflies are predators and feed on harmful insects including mosquitoes in flight. More importantly, the nymphs (larvae) –of damselflies feed on mosquito larvae.

A male Sinhalestes orientalis. Pix by K. Dayananda and D. Randula

Published on SundayTimes on 18.08.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130818/news/the-return-of-the-damselfly-after-154-years-58434.html 

A mosquito genus new to country discovered

August 9, 2013
MRI researchers say since these species were known to eat the larvae of other mosquitoes, more studies being done to find out whether they could be used in the control of deadly dengue – Malaka Rodrigo 

Two species of mosquitoes belonging to a genus new to Sri Lanka have been discovered, scientists at the Medical Research Institute (MRI) have announced. The mosquitoes of this genus, known as Topomyia, are found in countries like India and Thailand. These species are also known to feed on the larvae of other mosquitoes, therefore they have the potential of being used to control the dengue mosquito, a senior Entomological Assistant at MRI, N.W.G. Premaratna said. However he said more research would have to be done in this field.

Larvae that revealed new discovery

These specimens were collected from water collected on habarala leaves in the Agalawatte area in Kalutara district. The water also consisted of dengue-mosquito larvae. The researchers therefore believe this could be nature’s way of controlling dengue and other disease-carrying mosquitoes. Mr. Premaratna said the MRI team would conduct more scientific investigations before publishing their discovery. They also pointed out that there was very little research done on mosquitoes like many other insect species and that made the task of identification more difficult.

Although people are mostly aware of the existence of mosquitoes that spread diseases such as dengue, malaria and filaria, about 140 species of mosquitoes inhabit Sri Lanka. The Topo myia genus would be the 17th genera of mosquitoes in Sri Lanka. The researchers say based on studies done in other countries, Topolmyia mosquitoes are not known to carry any diseases. Therefore, if the researchers succeed these species could be used as a means of bio control of dengue mosquitoes.

Mosquitoes have been around for more than 30 million years and there are 3,500 named species of mosquitoes, of which only a couple of hundred sting or bother humans.

One of the newly discovered species

Published on SundayTimes on 04.08.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130804/news/two-new-mosquito-species-found-here-55764.html

Warrior bees are back on Sigiriya Rock

September 19, 2011
By Malaka Rodrigo from Sigiriya
Last year, there were reports that the giant bee hives of Sigiriya had been removed by authorities using various chemicals or local exorcism rites, or shanthi karma. A series of bee attacks on visitors to this world heritage site last year gave rise to these speculations, but the Sigiriya bees are back again this year re-colonizing the rock. As many as 20 large bee hives can be seen hanging on the rock above the giant ‘sinha padaya’ (Lion’s paw).

According to local guides, the bees started re-colonizing the rock about three months back. They also shrug off speculation that the bee hives were burnt last year. “Nothing like that happened,” says Punchi Bandara, a local guide who acts as a translator for foreign visitors to the site. Punchi Bandara who lives in a village closeby and has been a guide for 30 years said such a move could not have happened without the villagers becoming aware of it.

The Beehives close to the Lions Paw

He said that the Sigiriya bees are seen on the rock only during particular months of the year. They settle on the rock during the dry season and move to the dense forest below after the rains start.

According to this veteran guide, there were three main reasons for the bees to get disturbed. One was the noise caused by the visitors, particularly when climbing the steps adjacent to the area where the hives hung from the rock; secondly white uniforms, worn by students that reflected light; thirdly the presence of the ‘gale kurulla’ (bird on the rock) – a raptor that attacked hives.

Giving a scientific explanation, Dr.R.W.K. Punchihewa, a veteran on bees said these bees were a migratory species on the move towards the hill country from the coastal zones. He said their journey coincided with the seasonal flowering of some plants such as Nelu. He said they arrive usually around January-February and start moving further south from July onwards.

Bees in Sigiriya are a species known as Rock Bees or Giant Honey Bee scientifically categorized as Apis dorsata. Referred to as ‘Bambara’ in Sinhala, they feed on pollen and nectar of flowers. But these Giant Honey Bees are also mistakenly commonly referred to as wasps and debara in Sinhala, which is a carnivore that feeds on other insects.

Since the recent colonization, no bees attacks have been recorded the local guide said. He said two years ago a child died due to an attack by the bees and there were occasions they had to assist stranded visitors on the rock during an attack. Although there is an enclosure covered by mesh (bee hide) close to the Lion’s Paw where the visitors could find safety during an attack it was too small to accommodate the crowd he said.

As a solution to the problem, Dr.Punchihewa suggests an ecological barrier. These bees fly downward in search of flowers encountering humans on their route. When a bee is accidentally killed, it emits a chemical known as Pheromones that signals trouble to the other soldier bees. This warning triggers a swarm of attack where bees sacrifice themselves in order to protect their hives.

Bees die after one single sting, as their venom sac detaches from their body with parts of the abdomen). Dr.Punchihewa suggests planting some trees etc. to alter their flight path to minimize encounters with human beings. However, these suggestions have not been acted upon and so the problem continues, he said.

In case of an attack

The key is not to panic. A large percentage of those admitted to hospital after an attack are those who have sustained injuries caused by falls. If you are stung, the tubular tooth should be removed as quickly as possible to avoid venom entering the body.

This also helps to deter other bees who will continue to swarm around the victim attracted to the Pheromone chemical that continues to be emitted. When removing the tubular tooth, you should be careful not to squeeze the venom gland, as it will make the injection of the venom faster. 

Published on SundayTimes 18.09.2011 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110918/News/nws_24.html 

Another pest, another tree

June 30, 2010
Hard on the heels of the Mealy bug invasion on Araliya and the coconut leaf wilt disease is a new pest attack — on the Eucalyptus – Malaka Rodrigo reports


Eucalyptus, those stately giants of the hill country slopes introduced to Sri Lanka as a forest plantation species, along with teak and mahogany, have had a controversial reputation. Though found to be useful for “railway sleepers” and industrial timber,they were severely opposed because of their adverse effects on soil fertility, hydrology and biodiversity.Now comes a new cause for concern with a fast spreading invasive pest attack affecting areas of Eucalyptus in the hill country.

Different stages of the Gall Wasp attack

The Forest Research Centre in Badulla was alerted to the problem in early May. Researcher Dr. K.M.A. Bandara studied some trees in Passara and found the bug, which was sent to entomologist Dr. Wijesekera. “Up to now, only young trees that are about 5-6 metres in height have been infested,” say Dr. Bandara. Removing the insect from the trees is recommended for now but will not be possible if the disease spreads.

When attacked, the leaves of the infected Eucalyptus trees start developing abnormal bulbous swelling on the leaves or stems. These are called galls and are, in fact the plant’s attempt to protect itself from an unusual occurrence. In this case the larvae of the insect after hatching out of eggs remain in a cavity formed within the plant tissues and feed on the tissues which results in formation of galls. The insect has been identified as a Eucalyptus Gall Wasp.

“This is the first time a Eucalyptus Gall Wasp has been reported in Sri Lanka,” says entomologist Dr. Anura Wijesekera. “But we are still at the early stages of our research and need a little time to carry out a comprehensive study to understand the nature of the new pest,” he says. According to Dr. Wijesekera, there can be several different species of Eucalyptus Gall Wasps and one species has been identified from Eucalyptus plantations in Lunugala, Koslanda and Ragala that were reported as infested.

Eucalyptus is native to Australia and it is believed the Gall Wasp too originated there. Large scale attacks were first reported from northern and eastern Africa, the Middle East and Mediterranean countries, but the pest has spread like wild fire in every continent according to some reports, even in neighbouring India where it was first noticed in 2001 at Mandya district in Karnataka and later in 2002 at Marakkanam in Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu.

Dr. Wijesekara says we still do not have enough information on how this invasive species came to Sri Lanka. However, in recent years there have been several insect attacks – first it was the uncontrollable Mealy bug invasion on Araliya trees and more recently the insect attack causing leaf wilt disease in coconut trees in the Southern region.

The global fight against the Gall Wasp has had a breakthrough with Israel finding a natural predator that could be used to control this pest biologically.

Last week it was reported that Israel would help India to introduce this biological control. Whether this is the answer for Sri Lanka is not known but action must be taken quickly to fight the pest.

What’s being done

A tree under attack by the Gall Wasp in Passara. Pic by Dr. K.M. A. Bandara

“The situation is still not alarming, but we are aware of it and will take steps to stop the pest spreading with the support of all the relevant parties,” said Conservator General of Forests Anura Satharasinghe.

As the first step, the Forest Department has requested the technical support of entomologists and conducted two workshops for managers of Eucalyptus plantations in Badulla and Nuwara Eliya on how to identify the symptoms of Gall Wasp infestation.

Plans are being made to set up a ministerial committee with experts in the field to discuss the actions to be taken.

Eucalyptus: The good and the bad

Love them or hate them, Eucalyptus trees play an important part in forestation in Sri Lanka. Native to Australia, the Eucalyptus was introduced to Ceylon in the latter part of the 8th century by planters who had links with Australia.

A more organized attempt was made by the Botanic Gardens staff who obtained 50 Eucalyptus seeds in 1880 – most of these were sent to Hakgala Botanical Gardens where a plantation was cultivated in 1882. Some 20 of these still survive in Hakgala Gardens and are now enormous.

Eucalyptus like any other fast growing tree sucks up water from the soil rapidly and there is a danger of the substrate drying up. Like other analogous trees, Eucalyptus forests are very poor in biodiversity, compared to forests with native trees.

But on the plus side, they grow quickly, meeting the country’s timber needs. Eucalyptus is now planted in Sri Lanka to meet the requirements of sawn timber, railway sleepers, transmission poles and fuelwood. It is also used for producing paper pulp. Eucalyptus oil has pharmaceutical, antiseptic, repellent, flavouring, fragrance and industrial uses.

Eucalyptus is also used as a windbreak. The establishment of trees on the patana grasslands in the upcountry began in the 1930’s with planting of eucalyptus in compact blocks on the crests of ridges and hill tops as windbreaks.

Forest Department highlights these windbreaks have helped to protect villages from strong winds.
The Forest Department at present owns about 12,000 hectares of Eucalyptus plantations and a large extent is under privately owned estates.

According to 1991 statistics of the Forest Department, Eucalyptus cover was 29,600 hectares. Prof. J. Costa of University of Peradeniya at a recent seminar on Carbon stocks and Carbon Sequestration revealed the plantation forests including Eucalyptus, Pinus and Teak etc absorb about 5% of Sri Lanka’s total carbon emissions.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100627/Plus/plus_01.html published on SundayTimes on 27.06.2010

Meet the Moon Moth

June 5, 2010
When Gamini Mayadunne’s fellow worker Maduwanthi showed him a large winged insect she had caught from her garden in Gampola near the 7th Milepost on the 10th of May, thinking it was a butterfly, he knew this was something special. It had a wingspan of about 8 inches and had been resting on an Anoda – Custard apple tree. An amateur naturalist, Mayadunne – a photographer and the owner of “Upali Studio” in Kadugannawa realized it was no butterfly, but one of the largest moths in Sri Lanka.

Mayadunne got in touch with Tharanga Aluthwattha of Peradeniya University, whose research interest is the Lepidoptera species (butterflies, skippers and moths). The insect was identified as the Indian Moon Moth or Indian Luna Moth (Actias selene), usually a nocturnal creature. The Moon Moth has a very soft colouration of very pale green forewings with white at the base. It has four spots on its wings, perhaps to confuse predators who would love to take the large insect as their meal.

“Despite the bigger size, Moon Moths also have an interesting life cycle,” said Tharanga, who is studying Lankan moths for his postgraduate degree. The Luna Moths don’t eat at their last stage when they transform into a winged insect. In fact Moon Moths don’t even have a mouth and their sole purpose of living is to mate. The Mature Moon Moths only live for about a week.

“The one we found lived for nine days and laid about 200 eggs for three days,” said Tharanga. These eggs started hatching after another three days giving rise to tiny spiny caterpillars. The caterpillar of the Moon Moth feeds on a common woody plant locally known as ‘Hik’ (Lannea coromandelica).

Tharanga is now rearing caterpillars and studying their interesting life history. The caterpillars too like the winged insect are interesting to watch. They change colour on different larvae stages. According to literature, the Moon Moth Caterpillar goes through five different larvae stages and changes colour from reddish-brown to red to green. Tharanga raises these caterpillars in a small enclosure made especially for the ‘offspring’ of the Moon Moth found in Kadugannawa.

The Luna moth is considered rare and Tharanga recalls his first sighting on a field excursion to Algama Ella while he was still a schoolboy. “The flying insect reminded us of the Paradise Flycatcher (Sudu Redi Hora) with its long tail in flight. But to our surprise it sat on a rock for a while showing its beauty,” Tharanga recalls.

The Moon Moth belongs to the family Saturnidae which has both the largest moth in the world as well as the largest moth in Sri Lanka. The former is the Hercules Moth and the Atlas moth the largest one in Sri Lanka that can grow upto 12 inches.

Tharanga also showed us a photo of the Atlas Moth photographed as recently on January 10, 2010 resting on a parked truck beside the Colombo – Kandy road near Kegalle. He thinks the moths may have been attracted to the headlights or the heat of the engine.

Moths of Sri Lanka

According to past studies conducted before the 1900s, about 1915 different species of moths have been recorded from Sri Lanka. But the studies in the last century have increased the number.

The ongoing revision of Sri Lankan hawk moths by Tharanga has seen the number change from 39 to some 50. Moths perform an important ecosystem service of pollination. Both Diurnal and Nocturnal moths are important pollinators, but the flowers that bloom at night usually with pale colours/ white and pleasant scent depend on nocturnal moths for pollination. However, the larvae of many micro moths are also considered pests of coconut, paddy, beans, cabbage and some fruit species as well. For example the Paddy leaf roller (“Kola hakulana dalambuwa”) and paddy stem borer (‘Puruk Panuwa’) that have already become a headache for farmers are caterpillars of moths.

Moths can be commonly seen in our gardens too, though often misidentified as butterflies. Moths usually have a thick and fuzzy body compared to the thin smooth body of butterflies. Moths hold their wings flat against their bodies when resting, but butterflies usually held their wings vertically.
The ends of the antennae are thin or often feathery in moths while butterfly antenna ends with rounded clubs.

The Tiger moth is a common and attractive day-flying moth in our gardens. You may also have seen some big green “worm” in Wathusudda bushes. This is the caterpillar of the Oleander Hawk Moth which has a camouflage suit with a Kfir (aircraft) like body.

If you walk across the grass in your garden you will see some small insects fly off and hide under grass blades or other leaves.

They may possibly be micro moths. Also observe how many different moths are attracted to light in your home, says the Moth expert asking the readers to open their eyes to these least studied creatures.

By Malaka Rodrigo, Pic by Gamini Mayadunne

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/100606/Plus/plus_12.html published on 06.06.2010 on SundayTimes