Despite its famously small size, Malta still manages to host an impressive variety of species that can only be found on our tiny archipelago. From endemic animals that are close to being endangered, to indigenous breeds that have been optimally adapted to our environment, here are eight of the animals you’ll only be able to find in Malta:
1. The Maltese Wall Lizard
Photo by Hans Hillewaert
Just in case that name doesn’t sound local enough, the Maltese wall lizard is also known as the Filfola Lizard. This species actually has four subspecies, and all of them are endemic to the Maltese Islands. What’s so interesting about the Maltese wall lizard is that specific subspecies are endemic to tiny habitats, like Gozo’s Fungus Rock and Filfla.
Speaking of Filfa, the endemic subspecies there is a large green lizard with bluish spots, and not, as Maltese urban legends have it, a two-tailed dragon. Those exist all over the world as a result of a common occurrence…although when it does happen to Maltese wall lizards, they look a thousand times more kickass.
Photo by Claudio Cini
2. The Maltese Ruby Tiger Moth
Just look at the fiery furry fellow. This moth, known as Rubini in Maltese, has a tiny wingspan of only about 3cm. The caterpillars also look furry, and are often referred to as a ‘woolly bears’. Although endemic, the Maltese ruby tiger moth is common enough throughout the Maltese Islands to not be endangered.
3. The Maltese Freshwater Crab
This little guy is somewhat of a celebrity in Malta. Known as il-Qabru in Maltese, this freshwater crab was on the 5c coin of Maltese old currency, the Lira. Since then, however, it has been declared endangered, and has been legally protected since 1993.
One of the largest (and probably last) populations of the Qabru is found in tunnels along the permanent watercourse that passes through the Baħrija Valley, but even there, rapid development and water pollution are leading to steady decline in numbers of freshwater crab. If this little kickass guy goes extinct in Malta, it’s gone forever off the face of the planet, so let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.
4. The Sicilian Shrew
Sometimes, an animal is confused with a different species from a close country, and this is what happens with the Sicilian Shrew. Found in Gozo, this tiny mammal was recently classified as a different subspecies.
5. Esther’s Gecko Mite
This microscopic parasite has a huge story to tell, and it’s as interesting as it is…romantic.
The mite is not only endemic to Malta alone, but very specifically on Moorish geckos. And that’s not all; it’s only found in Wied is-Sewda in the limits of Qormi. In the entire world. That makes it a completely new discovery to science, dubbed a “local endemic”.
This groundbreaking discovery was made by Maltese researcher Arnold Scibberas, who worked on the discovery with his colleagues for eight whole years. Throughout all those years, his wife Esther offered them great support, and Arnold showed his gratitude by naming the mite after her. “It is the only eternal gift I could ever give her,” he had said.
6. The Indigenous Maltese Goat
Photo by Darryl Grech
The indigenous Maltese goat breed is considered to be of Middle Eastern origin. Historically, goats were introduced to our islands thousands of years ago to supply the islands with fresh milk. Although there were around 70,000 recorded indigenous goats at one time in pre-war Malta, there are now only about 350 left in around 20 different flocks. Kept in isolation of each other for several years, the remaining goats are on the verge of extinction and highly inbred.
7. The Maltese Black
Photo by Darryl Grech
Subject of many a “black cock” joke, the Maltese Black was developed as a rustic, dual purpose breed capable of producing eggs and meat for consumption for rural families in the Maltese islands. Originating in 1934 from the Maltese Department of Agriculture using locally available indigenous stock of entirely black feathered chickens, the Maltese Black slowly started to be replaced with commercially available stock in more recent years. As a result, this breed is critically endangered, with only a very small number of breeding adults left.
Recently, a conservation program for the Maltese Black was put in place, focusing on the recuperation of this small genetic pool and appropriate mating schemes to breed back to standard while minimizing inbreeding.
8. The Maltese Honeybee
Photo by Sheryl Sammut
Classified in 1997, this bee is only one of ten subspecies of honeybees in Europe, and considering its limited distribution and small population in Malta, is also the most endangered of all the honeybee species. This little guy has evolved and adapted over thousands of years to the dry environment and harsh climatic conditions of the Maltese Islands. It also defends itself well against local predators like wasps and hornets.
The vast importation of non-native honeybee sub-species to our islands is severely threatening the conservation of this unique honeybee. Since drones (male bees) mate with queens (fertile female bee and mother of all worker bees in a colony) in open spaces, crossbreeding between different sub-species cannot be avoided.
Photo by Darryl Grech
Breeds of Origin is a newly-established non-profit organisation concerned with the conservation of indigenous breeds and endemic species of the Maltese islands. At the moment, together with SmartBees, the Malta Beekeepers Association and the University of Malta, Breeds of Origin are working on the conservation of our native endangered honeybee subspecies. SmartBees is Europe’s largest collaborative bee research project, between 16 partners from universities, research institutions and companies across Europe.
The organisation is also helping to raise awareness on other Maltese species and breeds that are endemic and on the verge of extinction.