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Friday, December 2, 2011

Black-and-yellow lichen moth, a little known pollinator

We are very familiar with the pollinating role of butterflies and we are aware that a number of moths, such as the hummingbird moth also visit flowers frequently and provide pollinating services. But we seldom pay attention to the countless other flower-visiting moths and their roles as pollinators.
Lycomorpha pholus (Black-and-yellow Lichen Moth), a very likely pollinator

The black-and-yellow lichen moth is a very attractive, rather slender moth often seen visiting goldenrods and some other flat, open flowers. It is widely distributed throughout the continent, from Canada to Texas and Mexico. Adults fly from June to September. The larva may take longer than a year to complete its development.

Its wings are black and yellow or black and orange as its name indicates. The body and legs are black or blue-black. The caterpillar of this moth and a number of its relatives feed on lichens; that is what the other part of the name refers to. It resembles the lichens it feeds on in color and appearance; a convenient disguise that hides it from predators.

The adult performs another interesting trick of mimicry. It bears an astonishing resemblance to some beetles, called net-winged beetles, especially the end band net-wing or Calopteron terminale. These beetles are poisonous and are avoided by hungry birds. The contrasting colors serve as advertisement of their bad taste. The black-and-yellow lichen moth is also poisonous and so is the orange-patched smoky moth, another one with a similar pattern. The resemblance seems to be beneficial to all of them. Birds need to learn only one kind of warning signal to avoid all these unrelated species and so more beetles and moths survive than if they exhibited different alarm signals. This is called Mullerian mimicry in honor of Muller, the first one to describe and explain this phenomenon.
Calopteron terminale (End Band Net-wing), a poisonous lycid beetle

Orange-patched Smoky Moth, a member of the mimicry complex

Little is known about the black-and-yellow lichen moth's role as a pollinator; but given its flower-visiting habits it is almost certain that it performs this function. This is just another example of how much we need to learn about moths and their role in the ecosystems. If anybody reading this knows of some information on the subject, please, point me in the right direction. We all need to learn more about this and many other moths' capacity as pollinators.

Another view of the black-and-yellow Lichen Moth


See: Bugguide.net
Moths as Pollinators
List of articles
Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

© Beatriz Moisset. 2012

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