WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

Can there be a "cute" moth? Indeed. Check out this photo!

Many people can understand my fascination for butterflies. But moths? For some reason, they generate an "ick" factor, especially for some women. Tiny drab moths in closets have poisoned attitudes about ALL moths. Admittedly, some moth caterpillars are can defoliate certain plants, crops, shrubs, or trees.

Here's what I point out:

(1). Although moths - on average - are drabber than many butterflies, some are quite beautiful. Although, to some extent, it's like comparing apples and oranges. How can one compare a Monarch butterfly with a Luna moth? And closer up, the scaling on even some of the drabber moths may be fascinating.

(2). Viewing, photographing, and/or collecting moths extends the day to 24/7. Dusk doesn't end one's activities. If you take a trip to a targeted place to see particular butterflies, you can check out brightly lit walls at rest-stops and convenience stores for moths along the way. If you don't find the butterfly of your desire, you still might have logged several (or more) species of moths you've never seen before. All is not lost. (Coincidentally, this makes long road trips so much easier!)

(3). This brings us to a critical point: Moths comprise a vastly bigger chunk of the insect order, Lepidoptera, than butterflies. Many more moth species are discovered and described each year. So, of an estimated 150,000 species in Lepidoptera, 130,000 of those would be moths, compared to just under 20,000 being butterflies. Result: If you just search for butterflies in a particular place, after a few years you will have seen just about every butterfly species you're likely to EVER see in your neck of the woods, apart from a rare migrant, but it takes years and years to exhaust the possibilities for moth species.

A final crazy reason: With their "fur", some moths' "faces" can actually be "cute". I have a few of those head-on photographs in my lep albums.

But this head-on photo of a Venezuelan moth from an article in the British tabloid, The DAILY MAIL, is priceless:

"Is it a bird? Is it a dog? No... it's a moth that looks like a POODLE!"...


Posted at 1:54pm on August 22, 2012 by Allan Loudell

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Comments on this post:

Thu, Aug 30, 2012 9:39am
Your comment made me ponder whether the reason there are more moths than butterflies, is because there are more predators in the day, than at night.

Butterflies and moths move slower than bees and flies. It would make sense if the reason more species evolved to prefer the night, was because they tended to live longer...

Allan Loudell
Fri, Aug 31, 2012 6:16am
Actually, kavips, the scientific consensus is that butterflies evolved from moths, not the other way around, co-evolving with the appearance of flowering plants. Put in another way, butterflies represent a modern offshoot of moths.

True, many predators exist during the day, for which some butterflies have developed defenses (i.e., "bad-tasting" Milkweed butterflies... Monarchs & Queens).

But, don't underestimate nighttime predators, beginning with bats, but also some reptiles/amphibians which are active at night. Indeed, bats & moths represent a predator--prey relationship which has spanned at least 50 million years. (From The JOURNAL of EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY)

One moth species I found in a phone booth in South Dakota (near Mount Rushmore) offers a magnificent defense against bats. It produces rapid ultrasonic clicks which wreak havoc on a bat's sonar detection. No, I myself didn't hear the clicks as I was photographing this moth! Again from The JOURNAL of EXPERIMENTAL BIOLOGY: "The tiger moth Bertholdia trigona is the only animal in nature known to defend itself by jamming the sonar of its predators -- bats." London's DAILY TELEGRAPH - in a news account about this research - called Bertholdia trigona's defenses "the insect equivalent of electronic countermeasures used in modern warfare".

Longevity: Some species of butterflies and moths live many weeks - even months - as adults. Some only last a few days. (For example, silk moths and some sphinx moths don't have ANY means to ingest fluids as adults - no proboscis - so consequently last only a few days as adults in nature. Any nourishment came from their caterpillar stage.) So there's no clear divide between butterflies and moths based on adult longevity.

Allan Loudell

Sat, Sep 1, 2012 5:23am
Just out of the blue, from your sources, what is the current consensus on how a precise GPS positioning can be transmitted genetically over 4 generations in the Monarch species, enabling the fourth generation to return to the exact site from which the first generation took off?

Just a random guess here, but do they think it is through some form of magnetic sensitivity?

Allan Loudell
Mon, Sep 3, 2012 6:41am

This is still an unresolved question in the scientific community.

The research suggests Monarchs possess photoreceptor proteins called cryptochromes that are linked to navigation in animals.

Such receptors allow detection of both UV light and the earth's geomagnetic field. Monarchs may also gain guidance from the angle of the sun. That still doesn't totally explain how Monarchs from eastern North America can find the precise overwintering sites in Mexico (which are shrinking, by the way!). One suggestion has been they can detect the odor of decaying Monarchs from the previous migratory generation; other scientists debunk that, saying the odor would have dissipated many months earlier.

So much of this requires further research!

Allan Loudell

Tue, Sep 4, 2012 7:22pm
I agree with you 100%.

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