Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Melange of Moths

Conspicuous, colorful and often beautifully patterned, the butterflies tend to monopolize the Lepidopteran spotlight. Although many moths are indeed small, cryptically colored and only come out at night, this isn't always the case.

With a wingspan of about 55 mm the Virgin Tiger Moth (Grammia virgo) is one of the larger "tigers", and like many of its Arctiid cousins it has contrasting patterns and flashy colors to warn bats or birds of its toxicity. As a rule these moths rest with their wings closed but luckily this one showed off its stunning red and black hind wings.

The Beautiful Wood-Nymph (Eudryas grata) also sports bold patterns but for an entirely different reason – to imitate a bird dropping (the real thing can be seen to the right in the first photo). When the moth is perching on a wall, the fuzzy front legs spread at a wide angle help contribute to the illusion of a random "splat".

A mating pair of Rose Hooktips (Oreta rosea) masquerading as a dead leaf.

The variety of disguises, deceptions and impostures are seemingly endless, for example, this male Virginia Creeper Clearwing (Albuna fraxini) gives a pretty good impression of being a small wasp.

A Short-lined Chocolate (Argyrostrotis anilis) ...

.... and an Orange Mint Moth (Pyrausta orphisalis) ... hmmmm ... chocolate and mint, this is starting to sound yummy ...

Lepidoptera larvae are natural works of art in their own right, sometimes boldly colored like the adults to advertise their inedibility, or covered in bizarre arrays and clumps of hairs or spines – often toxic or irritating – to make them less appetizing or at least tougher to swallow. Ofttimes many of the more strikingly colored caterpillars metamorphose into the aforementioned drab, cryptically colored adults – click on the names to link to an account at Butterflies and Moths of North America.

Haploa, not sure which species

The well-known and beloved Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar)

Do not touch! The caterpillar of the Io moth (Automeris io) is covered in stinging spines that can cause dermatitis (speaking from experience, it feels like brushing against a Stinging Nettle).

When it feels threatened the larva of the Pandorus Sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus) pulls its head and true legs inside its natural version of a turtle-neck sweater.

And what kind of a moth might this be? The pupa was just laying on the ground out in the open; the shed caterpillar skin, complete with the head, is toward the right of the picture. It appears to be alive and undamaged, so its been placed in a "bug cage", and who knows what will eventually emerge? – a moth, or has the pupa been parasitized by a wasp? Time will tell ...