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.
It's National Moth Week, which, according to the officials, is a time to celebrate "the beauty, life cycle and habitats of moths."
So "moth-ers" of all ages and abilities "are encouraged to learn about, observe and document moths in their backyards, parks and neighborhoods."
We remember, pre-COVID pandemic days, when the UC Davis Bohart Museum of Entomology celebrated National Moth Week with a Moth Night. (See what the entomologists collected at the 2019 Moth Night.) Earlier, Jessica Gillung, a doctoral candidate at UC Davis, posed with Atlas moths from the museum. Time flies--as do the moths.
Jessica went on to receive her doctorate from UC Davis in December 2018, writing her dissertation on “Systematics and Phylogenomics of Spider Flies (Diptera, Acroceridae)," encompassing genomics, phylogenetics, systematics, and comparative analyses. She is now an assistant professor at McGill University, Montreal.
If COVID-19 precautions hadn't temporarily closed the Bohart Museum, entomologist Jeff Smith, curator of the Bohart's Lepidoptera collection, would be there to talk moths and how they differ from butterflies.
Smith estimates that of the 17,500 described species of butterflies in the world, about 750 of those occur in North America. "However, in North America there's 160,000, easily, species of moths. Moths are far more numerous than butterflies, and in particular, with the little tiny moths, it's estimated by experts in those groups, that at least 90 percent of the species still have not been described. They are sitting waiting for someone to identify them and give a name to them. So if anybody is interested in insects and wondering if there's still something left to do, the answer is absolutely yes."
At the 2021 UC Davis Picnic Day, the 107th annual, Smith delivered a well-received presentation on "Mimicry in the Butterflies and Moths with Jeff Smith." If you missed it, it's available online on YouTube at https://youtu.be/8ZccezxhhK4.
Meanwhile, turn on your porch light and see what's flying around...like a moth to a flame (light).
If so, then when the 107th annual UC Davis Picnic Day, themed "Discovering Silver Linings," takes place virtually on Saturday, April 17, better wear your sunglasses with all that silver blasting at you.
A silver lining is a sign of hope in a negative situation, like the COVID-19 pandemic. So positivity blocks such negativity as "every rose has its thorn" or "there's a fly in every ointment" or "all that glitters is not gold."
All that glitters is silver now.
On April 17, you can discover scores of silver linings at this "all virtual" family-oriented event, which promises to be informative, educational and entertaining.
Picnic Day officials have released the schedule of events and they include entomological exhibits and talks. Think UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, Bohart Museum of Entomology and the UC Davis Graduate Student Association. (See yesterday's Bug Squad blog)
Don't miss the pre-recorded talk on the Gulf Fritillary butterfly, Agraulis vanillae, by Greg Kareofelas, Bohart Museum associate and naturalist. These orange-reddish butterflies, with their silver-spangled underwings, are glorious. (See what UC Davis butterfly guru Art Shapiro, distinguished professor of evolution and ecology, says about them on his website.) Kareofelas will showcase them and show you how to rear them, which is what he did last year during the pandemic.
Entomologist Jeff Smith, the volunteer curator of the Lepidoptera collection at the Bohart, will present a live Zoom event from 1 to 2 p.m. on Saturday on mimicry in Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). "I will briefly mention camouflage," Smith says, "and spend most of the time on mimicry for defense--mimics of toxic or distasteful species, mimicry using odors or sounds, mimics of snakes or spiders, and mimics of non-food materials such as bird feces."
To connect, access https://ucdavis.zoom.us/j/92841203978?pwd=ay91SUpFZnl5MEdnVmlzOUxmMFFZQT09
Zoom Meeting ID: 928 4120 3978
Zoom Passcode: 160485
"People who want to submit their questions to Jeff or request to see certain species from the collection can email their requests to firstname.lastname@example.org with Picnic Day in the subject," says Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. "We won't have the time or capacity to access the collection during the event for any requests. Instead, we will pull the items that are requested or relevant to the talk and have those prepared to show. Of course we may not be able to honor everyone's request, but we will do our best."
The Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane (the museum is closed now due to the pandemic), is directed by Lynn Kimsey, UC Davis professor of entomology. It houses nearly eight million insect specimens, plus a year-around gift shop and a live "petting zoo," comprised of Madagascar hissing cockroaches, stick insects and tarantulas.
It's not "officially" spring until we see--and photograph--the spectacular Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus.
One landed March 30 on an aromatic white lilac bush in Alamo Creek Park, Vacaville. It lingered long enough for a few photos and then fluttered away.
Butterfly guru Art Shapiro, UC Davis distinguished professor, Department of Evolution and Ecology, saw his first Papilio rutulus of the year on March 4 in Davis. Butterfly enthusiast and naturalist Greg Kareofelas, an associate of the Bohart Museum of Entomology, UC Davis, saw his first on March 23, also in Davis, "and since then, I've been seeing them regularly."
This butterfly's wings are a brilliant yellow with black stripes. Blue and orange spots accent "the tails" on their hindwings. The one we saw in Vacaville was missing some of its "parts," probably due to a close encounter with a predator, maybe a California scrub jay seeking a quick meal.
Professor Shapiro writes on his website: "The Western Tiger Swallowtail is basically a species of riparian forest, where it glides majestically back and forth along the watercourse. It has expanded into older urban neighborhoods where several of its host genera are grown as shade trees, and behaves as if the street were a watercourse. In the high country and on the Sierran east slope its usual host is Aspen."
"One brood (June-July) at higher elevations; one and a partial second at Washington; 2-3 at lower elevations with a long flight season (late February or March-September or October). An avid puddler. Visits Yerba Santa, California Buckeye, Milkweed, Dogbane, Lilies, Coyotemint, etc., etc. and in gardens frequent at Lilac and Buddleia. Spring individuals are smaller and usually paler than summer. Low-elevation hosts include Sycamore (Platanus), Ash (Fraxinus), Cherry and other stone fruits (Prunus), Willow (Salix), Privet (Ligustrum), Lilac (Syringa) and (in Sacramento County) Sweet Gum (Liquidambar)."
Shapiro has monitored butterfly populations across central California for more than 45 years. It's part of his continuing effort to regularly monitor butterfly population trends on a transect across central California. "Ranging from the Sacramento River delta, through the Sacramento Valley and Sierra Nevada mountains, to the high desert of the western Great Basin, fixed routes at ten sites have been surveyed at approximately two-week intervals since as early as 1972. The sites represent the great biological, geological, and climatological diversity of central California."
And one of the species is the spectacular Western tiger swallowtail, which Shapiro monitors at all 10 of his sites.