Sunday, November 11, 2018

HumBug: Lepidoptera

Posted By on Sun, Nov 11, 2018 at 11:00 AM

click to enlarge Mylitta crescent on dried Queen Anne's lace seed head. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Mylitta crescent on dried Queen Anne's lace seed head.
Walking along the Van Duzen River today after three frosty nights, I noted four different kinds of butterflies. We saw many Mylitta crescents (Phyciodes mylitta), got a brief glimpse of what was most likely a woodland skipper (Ochlodes sylvanoides) and a West Coast lady (Vanessa annabella). A California sister (Adelpha californica) flitted up and posed at the last minute.
click to enlarge West Coast lady that may well be a male. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • West Coast lady that may well be a male.
click to enlarge Woodland skipper. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Woodland skipper.
Butterflies and moths make up the order lepidoptera. Although butterflies get a lot more attention, many experts find moths more interesting. Typically, butterflies fly in day and moths by night. While butterfly antennae are thin and end in a knob, moth's antennae have other shapes, from thin filaments to elaborate fronds. In North America it is estimated there are about 700 species of butterfly,  while moths may number more than 11,000. Some experts consider butterflies merely a family of day-flying moths.
click to enlarge California sister showing some wear on its wings (gender undetermined). - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • California sister showing some wear on its wings (gender undetermined).
In the age-old arms race between insectivorous bats and night flying moths, moths have developed several survival strategies. One strategy is early detection of the bat's sonar, which triggers evasive flying tactics. Others have developed a form of acoustic stealth. Many night-flying moths are extremely fuzzy. A recent article in Science News points out that this fur can deaden the bat's sonar echoes.
click to enlarge Fuzzy moth showing plumose antennae and what may be nature's anti-sonar stealth suit. - PHOTO BY ANTHONY WESTKAMPER
  • Photo by Anthony Westkamper
  • Fuzzy moth showing plumose antennae and what may be nature's anti-sonar stealth suit.
As there are so many more types of moth than butterfly and they have been around so much longer, it stands to reason they might have an even more diverse set of lifestyles. Like butterflies, the majority of moths mainly eat higher plants as larvae and sip nectar as adults, but there are exceptions. Some moth larvae are known to eat natural fiber fabrics, a couple of species of wax moths inhabit beehives, eat wax and can actually digest some plastics.

Perhaps the oddest moth lifestyle is that of the genus, Calyptra. Known as “vampire moths,” they do indeed suck blood from higher mammals, but have no fear, that group doesn't live anywhere near here. Yet.
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