Why Am I Seeing So Many Mammoth-Sized Moths Around?

Large, dark-coloured, mostly palm-shaped moths are being spotted by Malaysians and Singaporeans, raising questions about the cause for such sightings.

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Have you been seeing large, dark-coloured moths like the one below around you lately?

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Well, you're not the only one. Just like in Malaysia, even Singapore is being invaded too.

"made friends with moth"

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Large, dark-coloured moths are the new big thing in Singapore's social media sphere. Social media users have been posting sightings of the insect - on the ground, outside their windows, at HDB void decks and even on the train.

"There's a moth in the train"

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While some appreciate the company of these insects in urban cities, others are less pleased by the rapid and widespread occurrence of the moths

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Is it normal to be seeing so many moths lately?

The Tropical Swallowtail Moths, otherwise known as the Lyssa zampa, are "in season" now and a "population outbreak" is the reason for their recent abundance. Experts say that the numerous documentation of sightings this time round and heavy flowering due to rainfall could be reasons for the bumper crop of moths this year.

Are they dangerous?

Lyssa Zampa, or Tropical Swallowtail Moth, worlds 2nd largest.

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"These moths are totally harmless. If you touch them you'll probably hurt them more than they'll hurt you," said butterfly expert Khew Sin Khoon, who is also an honorary research affiliate at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

What's the cause? And how come they are being seen in such numbers now?

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"Many flowers serve as a nectar source and it is well known that higher nectar abundance increases butterfly and moth populations," said NUS ecologist Anuj Jain, who also heads the butterfly interest group at Nature Society of Singapore.

While the emergence of the moths happens throughout the year, it peaks from May to July, with early signs in April. N. Sivasothi, a lecturer at the Department of Biological Sciences at NUS, said that the sightings this time are believed to be the largest since 2005. So far, he has received more than 700 records of the sightings from netizens who spotted them all over Singapore.

The moths, found also in neighbouring countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, are believed to have emerged from forested areas "where the caterpillars would have eaten leaves of plants and eventually pupated", said Mr Sivasothi, a research associate at Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum.

"When they emerge as moths, they would fly away in search of mates and suitable egg-laying sites. Many reach urban areas, attracted by the lights."

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