Sunday, March 11, 2012

Zygaenidae, more little known pollinators

Harrisina americana (Grapeleaf Skeletonizer) on common milkweed

Another family of moths with a number of species that visit flowers is Zygaenidae. Many of them are day flying moths and, as usual, they are more colorful than night flying ones. Some are known to pollinate orchids. Their larvae feed on foliage, eating everything but the veins of leaves, so one common name for them is leaf-skeletonizers.
Acoloithus falsarius (Clemens' False Skeletonizer)

Two of them are frequently seen on milkweed flowers, the grapeleaf skeletonizer and Clemen's false skeletonizer. They are both dark blue or blue gray with a bright orange collar. The Clemen's moth is smaller than the grapeleaf skeletonizer. What is interesting about this imitative pattern is that it also mimics that of another common flower visitor, the yellow-collared scape moth. As mentioned before, the latter is toxic to predators and uses its colors to advertise its toxicity. The same thing is true of members of the Zygaenidae family. These, as well as some beetles, form part of a large mimicry complex, a fine example of Mullerian mimicry, in which they all benefit from this use of a similar warning pattern; predators need to learn their lesson only once, so more members of the guild escape attacks.
Cisseps fulvicollis (Yellow-collared Scape Moth). An unrelated moth member of the guild

Asclera ruficollis (Red-necked False Blister Beetle). A bettle member of the same mimicry guild

Another Zygaenidae that frequents flowers is the orange-patched smoky moth. Its wings are dark gray or black near the farther tip; the front half is orange. They too are members of another group of moths and also beetles with a pattern that warns predators. You can see some in a previous post: the black and yellow lichen moth and the end band net-wing lycid beetle.
Pyromorpha dimidiata (Orange-patched Smoky Moth)

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

© Beatriz Moisset. 2012

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting! I wasn't aware of this guild of mimics and will be more careful as I approach identifying some of the moth species that obviously belong to it!