Thursday, December 22, 2011

Little known moth pollinators: seed casebearers and flower moths

Seed case bearer moth Coleophora trifolii
It continues to amaze me how little we know about pollinator moths, aside from a handful of the more familiar ones. I will be covering a couple of families, somewhat related (they are members of the superfamily Gelechioidea) which is part of a larger and loosely defined group called microlepidoptera. The main thing microlepidoptera have in common is their small size, but many may not be related.

The two families I mention here may or may not be pollinators; all we can say for certain is that they visit flowers. It would be nice to know more.

Among the casebearer moths there is a handful of species known as seed casebearers. As the name suggests, the caterpillars carry a case which serves as refuge. The seed casebearers feed on seeds, rather than other parts of the plants. The adults are silvery, with long antennae. When the wings are folded they are long and narrow, like little cigars. They can be seen at flowers of the daisy family. Not much else is known about their activities.

© 2005 Lynette Schimming. Flower moth
The other flower visitors in this group of moths belong to a family with a difficult scientific name, Xyloryctidae. Fortunately the common name is nicer and self explanatory: flower moths. They look very similar to the members of the previous group. They are small and hold their wings in a similar position. These moths fly during the day and are often seen nectaring at flowers. In this case, we can be a little more certain of their function as pollinators.

Moths as Pollinators
List of articles
Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

© Beatriz Moisset. 2012

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Metalmark moths. More little known pollinators

Anthophila fabriciana. By Remo Angelini

So much to learn about pollinators! Huge numbers of moths, flies and beetles don't get enough credit for their jobs; the better known ones, bees and butterflies, get all the glory. So let us take a look at a little known moth or family of moths, the Choreutidae, better known as metalmark moths, not to be confused with metalmarks, which are butterflies. Both the butterflies and the moths get their names for the metallic iridescence of their wings.

They are small, no bigger than 10 mm (say, the size of your small fingernail); members of a larger group of moths often called micromoths. The wings are broad and square-tipped; this gives them a chunky appearance. The patches of metallic colors on their wings can be very colorful.
Saptha divitiosa by Bettaman
Metalmark moths fly during the day and can be seen often at flowers. They drink nectar with their long tongues, just as many other moths and butterflies do. Not much is know about their role as pollinators, but we can be almost certain that they perform this function for some flowers, considering their habits.

More is known about the mimicry that many of them perform with their peculiar appearance. The pattern of their wings resembles a jumping spider. They also move in a way that adds to the deception. This disguise serves them well; jumping spiders ordinarily prey on them, but sometimes are deceived to the point to behave as if they were facing a member of their own species. I have no pictures to put here, but you can see a spider mimic.

A few members of the family, called brenthia, strut around like peacocks, so naturally they are called peacock brenthia.

It would be nice to learn more about metal mark moths' role as pollinators. If anyone reading this knows more or has had the opportunity to see one of these moths in action, please, let me know. I will strive to find and photograph some of them next season.

Moths as Pollinators
List of articles

© Beatriz Moisset. 2012

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

Moths as Pollinators
List of articles
Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

© Beatriz Moisset. 2012