A reader asked: "A friend was just telling me that butterflies and moths land differently. She couldn't remember if it was a moth that landed with its wings up or down. It looks like they land with their wings down. Am I right?"
We asked three experts affiliated with the University of California, Davis, for their responses.
Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, commented: "There are moths that hold the wings erect over the back like butterflies, and butterflies that hold them out at the sides like moths. Life can be confusing."
Entomologist Jeff Smith, who curates the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, said: "It depends on the kind of moth or butterfly. Some species/genera of moths will rest with wings folded vertically over them and some rest with wings folded flat over the abdomen. Same with butterflies, and some of this may depend on which surface they want to expose to dangers around them. For example, anglewing butterflies (Polygonia) have great bark-like colors on the ventral surface and they rest with wings over the body so they blend in with the bark of trees that they choose to land on. Buckeye butterflies most often expose the upper surfaces which have the large eyespots that may deter predators. So, not a good rule of thumb."
Bohart Museum associate Greg Kareofelas commented: "Some moths land flat against the substrate, but others can land with their wings closed over their back, depends on the situation sometimes. Some butterflies land with their wings closed, then open them, etc., etc. I think every possibility is possible."
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, is temporarily closed due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions. However, it is usually open to the public four days a week and it traditionally hosts open houses throughout the year, including a Moth Night that features moth displays and blacklighting. John "Moth Man" De Benedictus, senior museum scientist Steve Heydon and colleagues set up a blacklighting system, comprised of a UC-lit white sheet, in the UC Davis Arboretum and Public Garden.
Home of nearly eight million insects, the Bohart Museum also includes a year-around gift shop (now online) and a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas. UC Davis distinguished entomology professor Lynn Kimsey serves as the director.
(Editor's Note: Check out the moth and other videos on the Bohart Museum website)
Sometimes you can't see the trees for the forest.
And sometimes you can't see the spider at all in a purple forest.
Such was the case this week when a tiny white crab spider cunningly figured out the best place to prey was in a flowering artichoke.
At first the spider crawled on top of the thistle, as honey bees dived in and out, threading through the petals, foraging for nectar and pollen. Did the bees spot the predator? If they did, they paid no attention. They were acting like kids jumping into a pool on a triple-digit temperature day on the first day of summer.
Then the spider slipped over to the edge of the purple forest and hid in the shadows. There it reigned supreme, Purple Reign. Unseen, and out of the heat.
Crab Spider: 3
Honey Bees: 0
Three sisters became breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Hunger in a purple forest.
If Cinderella were a moth, what species would she be? Maybe this tiny, shimmering one.
When we spotted this visitor during National Moth Week on a Mexican sunflower, Tithonia rotundifola, in our pollinator garden, we asked our Bohart Museum of Entomology associates for identification.
John "Moth Man" De Benedictis and Greg Kareofelas said it appears to be a Cadra figulilella, the raisin moth, family Pyralidae.
How did the raisin moth get its name? Most likely because it was first identified on Muscat raisins in Fresno County in 1928, according to Wikipedia. It's a pest in its larval stage, feeding on such dried fruits as raisins and dates. "The larvae in particular are herbivorous and prefer to feed on dry fruits on the ground or still on the plant. In particular they feed on fallen figs, ripe carob pods, grapes, cottonseed cake, cacao beans, prunes, peaches, apricots, pears, and more." This species is found throughout much of the world, including California, Florida, the Eastern Mediterranean region, and some parts of Australia, South America, and Africa.
Remember the Cinderella story? After her father died, Cinderella lived with her cruel stepmother, Lady Tremaine, and two evil stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella, who forced her to work as their maid. When Cinderella received Prince Charming's ball invitation, she wanted to wear her deceased mother's party dress but her jealous stepsisters destroyed it. Like magic, her Fairy Godmother appeared and gifted her with a a silver shimmering gown and tiny glass slippers. Bottom line, Cinderella loses a slipper at the ball, when the Fairy Godmother's magic vanishes. Prince Charming learns it belongs to Cinderella, and they marry and live happily ever after.
Not sure if this moth lived happily ever after, but poof, it vanished shortly after I took this image.
Happy National Moth Week...
The set-up? It's basically a white sheet lit by an ultraviolet (UV) light, which attracts night-flying critters.
What a treasure to see this beautiful moth!
The large tannish-colored moth (wingspan 4 to 6 inches) is known for the striking eyespots on its hind wings--which probably distract, startle or confuse predators. In fact, the name originates from the cyclops Polyphemus in Greek mythology.
Karofelas, a longtime naturalist and avid photographer, decided to rear the species and photograph the life cycle. He credited UC Davis entomology student and researcher Gwen Erdosh (who goes by "Gwentomologist" on Instagram) with showing him "how to keep it alive in a critter cage.”
The Polyphemus silk moth laid flat, light-brown eggs, and the eggs hatched into larvae or caterpillars. They fed on the leaves of a host plant, the Valley oak. Kareofelas said he reared and released a total of nine moths. They emerged as adults on June 21. The entire process, from egg to larva to cocoon to adult, took less than two months.
This Polyphemus moth is thought to be the same species that Alice of Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" encountered, Kareofelas related.
Excerpts from the book:
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence....
'Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, 'I — I hardly know, sir, just at present — at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'
'What do you mean by that?' said the Caterpillar sternly. 'Explain yourself!'
'I can't explain myself, I'm afraid, sir' said Alice, 'because I'm not myself, you see.'
'I don't see,' said the Caterpillar.
'I'm afraid I can't put it more clearly,' Alice replied very politely, 'for I can't understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.”
This moth is just one of some 250 different species of moths that Kareofelas has recorded in his backyard. Blacklighting is something anyone can do, he says.
"Polyphemus moths are our most widely distributed large silk moths," according to Wikipedia. "They are found from southern Canada down into Mexico and in all of the lower 48 states except for Arizona and Nevada."
"Polyphemus caterpillars gain protection from predators by their cryptic green coloration. When threatened they often rear the front part of the body in a 'Sphinx' pose--possibly to make them less caterpillar-like to a predator. If attacked, polyphemus caterpillars as well as those of many other bombycoid moths make a clicking noise with the mandibles-- sometimes as a prelude to or accompanied by defensive regurgitation of distasteful fluids. Brown et al. (2007) found that ants and mice were deterred by the regurgitant of the polyphemus caterpillars and suggested that the clicking is a warning of the impending regurgitation."
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus, is temporarily closed to the public due to COVID-19 pandemic precautions. COVID, however, hasn't stopped the Bohart scientists from publicly celebrating National Moth Week via videos posted on their home page (more to come).
The Bohart is the home of nearly 8 million insect specimens, plus an gift shop (now online) and a live "petting zoo" (think Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas.) The insect museum is directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis distinguished entomology professor, Department of Entomology and Nematology. Entomologist Jeff Smith curates the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) collection.
They say good news comes in threes.
Sometimes it comes in fives!
Congrats to the five UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology faculty members for their outstanding academic achievements.
- Molecular geneticist and physiologist Joanna Chiu, vice chair of the department, was recently promoted from associate professor to full professor
- Community ecologist Louie Yang, promoted from associate professor to full professor
- Community ecologist Rachel Vannette, promoted from assistant professor to associate professor (with tenure)
- UC Cooperative Extension apiculturist Elina Lastro Niño, honey bee scientist and educator, promoted from assistant to associate specialist
- Ecologist Richard "Rick" Karban, professor, selected to the high campus honor of UC Davis distinguished professor.
Professor Chiu, who serves as the vice chair of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, joined the faculty in 2010. She centers her research on molecular genetics of biological timing and posttranslational regulation of proteins. She uses animal models including Drosophila melanogaster and mice to study the mechanisms that regulate circadian and seasonal physiology and behavior. Major grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation fund her biological rhythms research. In addition to her research in biological rhythms, Chiu also aims to leverage her expertise in genomics to address key issues in global food security.
In 2019, Chiu was named one of 10 UC Davis Chancellor's Fellows, an honor awarded to associate professors who excel in research and teaching.
Chiu and Yang co-founded and co-direct (with Professor Jay Rosenheim) the campuswide Research Scholars Program in Insect Biology, launched in 2011 to provide undergraduates with a closely mentored research experience in biology. The program crosses numerous biological fields, including population biology; behavior and ecology; biodiversity and evolutionary ecology; agroecology; genetics and molecular biology; biochemistry and physiology; entomology; and cell biology. The goal is to provide academically strong and highly motivated undergraduates with a multi-year research experience that cultivates skills that will prepare them for a career in biological research. (See more on UC Davis Department of Entomology website.)
Professor Yang, who joined the UC Davis entomology faculty in 2009, was named a UC Davis Hellman Fellow in 2012. The Hellman Family Foundation contributes funds to support and encourage the research of promising assistant professors who exhibit potential for great distinction in their research. In 2013, he received a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award of $600,000.
Yang won the 2018 Outstanding Faculty Academic Advising Award from NACADA, also known as the Global Community for Academic Advising; and the 2017 Faculty Advisor Award of Excellence in NACADA's Pacific Region 9, comprised of California, Nevada and Hawaii.
Yang says of the research underway in his lab: “We study how species interactions change over time. We apply a diversity of approaches and perspectives to a diversity of systems and questions. We do experimental community ecology. We also use observational methods,meta-analysis, conceptual synthesis, ecosystem perspectives, and theoretical models. We like data, and we like learning new things.” (See more on UC Davis Department of Entomology website.)
Associate professor Vannette, a member of the UC Davis entomology faculty since 2015, received a Hellman Fellowship grant in 2018 and a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Award in 2019 to study microbial communities in flowers and a National Science Foundation grant to support work on solitary bee microbiomes.
Of her research, Vannette says: “All plants are colonized by microorganisms that influence plant traits and interactions with other species, including insects that consume or pollinate plants. I am interested in the basic and applied aspects of microbial contributions to the interaction between plants and insects. I also use these systems to answer basic ecological questions, such as what mechanisms influence plant biodiversity and trait evolution.”
“The Vannette lab is a team of entomologists, microbiologists, chemical ecologists, and community ecologists trying to understand how microbial communities affect plants and insects (sometimes other organisms, too),” she says. “We often study microbial communities in flowers, on insects or in soil. We rely on natural history observations, and use techniques from chemical ecology, microbial ecology and community ecology. In some cases, we study applied problems with an immediate application including pathogen control or how to support pollinators. Other questions may not have an immediate application but are nonetheless grounded in theory and will contribute to basic knowledge and conservation (e.g. how can dispersal differences among organisms affect patterns of abundance or biodiversity?)” (See more on UC Davis Department of Entomology website.)
Extension Apiculturist Niño, who joined the faculty in 2014, is known internationally for her expertise on honey bee queen biology, chemical ecology, and genomics. She maintains laboratories and offices in Briggs Hall and at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Niño serves as the UCCE Extension specialist for honey bees for all of California. She is the director of the California Master Beekeeper Program (CAMBP), which she launched in 2016. The California Master Beekeeper Program is a continuous train-the-trainer effort. CAMBP's vision is to train beekeepers to effectively communicate the importance of honey bees and other pollinators within their communities, serve as mentors for other beekeepers, and become the informational conduit between the beekeeping communities throughout the state and UCCE staff.
Niño is also the faculty director of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, the department's half-acre educational bee garden located next to the Laidlaw facility, which serves as the outdoor classroom for the Pollinator Education Program, lovingly known as PEP. (See more on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Professor Karban, an international authority on plant communication and a 39-year member of the UC Davis entomology faculty, is now a distinguished professor, the highest campus-level faculty title.
The honor is awarded to those scholars “whose work has been internationally recognized and acclaimed and whose teaching performance is excellent.”
Karban, whose research interests include the population regulation of animal species and the interactions between herbivores and their host plants, currently focuses his research on two main projects: volatile communication between sagebrush plants that affects resistance to herbivory and factors that control the abundance and spatial distribution of wooly bear caterpillars.
Karban is the author of landmark book, Plant Sensing and Communication. He is a fellow of the Ecological Society of America (ESA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the recipient of the 1990 George Mercer Award from ESA for outstanding research.
The UC Davis ecologist is featured in the Dec. 23-30, 2013 edition of The New Yorker in Michael Pollan's piece, The Intelligent Plant: Scientists Debate a New Way of Understanding Plants. Zoe Schlanger featured him in a Nov. 21, 2020 Bloomberg Quint article titled The Botanist Daring to Ask: Do Plants Have Personalities? (See more on the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology website.)
Nine UC Davis Distinguished Professors
The UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology now has a total of nine distinguished professors: six current faculty--Bruce Hammock, Frank Zalom, Lynn Kimsey, James R. Carey, Jay Rosenheim, and Richard Karban--and three emeriti faculty--Harry Kaya, Howard Ferris and Thomas Scott.
In addition, emeritus professor/chair Robert E. Page Jr. is a UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor, as was the late Robbin Thorp (1933-2019). The campus presents one distinguished emeritus professor award annually.
The department, chaired by nematologist and professor Steve Nadler, is ranked as one of the top entomology/nematology departments in the nation. Part of the UC Davis College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, it is headquartered in Briggs Hall.
"Our scientists investigate a very broad range of fundamental questions involving insects, nematodes, and spiders -- and the plants, microbes, and various animals they interact with," Nadler writes on the home page. "Our department also disseminates practical knowledge resulting from these investigations, such as methods of integrated pest management, with the goal of improving agriculture and the environment for California and beyond. As you explore our website, you will be introduced to this exciting and comprehensive research-- and the teaching and outreach programs of our department."