The thousands of harmless moths that have invaded the homes of Santiago de Chile because of the winter are not a plague, as hundreds of reports from citizens on social networks suggest: They are neither harmful to plants nor transmit diseases.
Several users have posted photos on Twitter in which they appreciate the brown animals and black and white spots in gardens or inside homes, along with messages that raise the question of a possible invasion of these nocturnal butterflies. Some messages assure that “throughout central Chile there is a plague of moths.”
The topic became a trend on that platform in early November, when many of the Internet users warned then of the large size of the specimens found, compared to those that are usually found in the area.
“Giant (approx. 5 cm) and beautiful moth I found in my bathroom a couple of days ago”, tweeted one of the witnesses next to a snapshot of one of the moths that arrived at his house.
– Nicolás Olivares (@Nico_lasoli) November 10, 2020
A harmless “flying nightmare”
In reality, the safety of these insects and their even beneficial effect for food chains and pollination of numerous native plant species has led experts to not include them within the definition of animal plague, despite the stir they have generated.
Salvador Martínez, a young resident of the Providencia neighborhood of the capital, related that in the last week his house has become a “sea of moths.” “For me they are a flying nightmare, they are everywhere. This morning before leaving home I found thirteen and I had to stop to take them out so that I would not find myself again in the afternoon, “he complained.
Like him, hundreds of residents from dozens of neighborhoods in Santiago announced that they had suffered from this invasion.
— FelixPipeOp🎄 (@FelixPipeOP) November 15, 2020
The biggest concern of those who referred to the issue is the possibility that these animals eat clothes or get into food containers causing food to spoil.
However, entomologist Tomislav Curkovic, professor at the Faculty of Agronomic Sciences of the University of Chile, ruled out this possibility and explained that “None of these moths are harmful or have a harmful effect of any kind.”
“The only thing is that they can be scary because of their size and flutter, and because they are somewhat clumsy,” added the expert, for whom “clearly this is not a plague, but rather one insects that in fact have positive effects for nature because they contribute to the trophic chains and are ideal for pollination “.
Essential for biodiversity
This wave of insects is estimated to last until mid-December, with the end of spring – from September to December in the southern hemisphere -, a key season for animals to collaborate in the transfer of pollen, according to Curkovic.
In Chile, there are approximately 1,200 species of moths, distributed in 543 genera and 39 families, and approximately 50% of them are endemic, according to the Natural History Museum of Concepción, one of the most important in the country in this area.
The moths are POLLINATING, DO NOT KILL THEM !!! … in the absence of BEES🐝 the moths have to do the hit. We are in a planetary imbalance where different things are going to happen … please inform yourself 🙏🏽 don’t be afraid of a butterfly 🦋 pic.twitter.com/c7WRGLZw69
– Brisa Villarroel (@Brisadevina) November 19, 2020
According to information from the Ministry of the Environment, many of these species also serve as food for animals that live in the city of Santiago, such as mice, guarenes (brown rats) or bats, so they are essential for biodiversity.
Despite the fact that last June the National Association of Environmental Health Companies (Anecplan) warned about an increase in urban pests due to forced confinement in recent months due to the pandemic, experts have also ruled out that this wave of moths is related to the lockdown.
“This has happened in previous years when there was no pandemic. It is due to weather conditions and the increase this year in winter rains“, clarified Tania Zaviezo, agronomist at the Catholic University of Chile.
The months of June and July, corresponding to the winter season, were this year the rainiest in the last decade in the South American country, a punctual increase in rainfall in the midst of the mega-drought in Chile is still immersed.