Clandestine Dart

2012 June 20

Sandy and Sam found a nondescript brown pupa buried in the garden in spring of 2010, so they brought it in the house and put it in a jar to see what would come out. And on June 2, 2010, this is what we got:

With that particular pose, the dark head and shoulders, the charcoal-gray wing color, and the broken-oval markings on the wings, the best match looks to be the Clandestine Dart[1], Spaelotis clandestina. This is one of many kinds of “dart” moths, whose larvae tend to be cutworms.

The antennae are pretty long, but not feathery like a lot of other moths. For a lot of moth types, the threadlike antennae would indicate a female, but browsing through pictures of related moths it looks like the cutworm and dart moths don’t have feathery antennae even if they are males.

The head was pretty dark, making it hard to see details, so I kicked up the brightness of the image in this next picture so we can see the eyes better.

The caterpillars are your basic cutworm, chewing off plants of a variety of species just underground. A lot of cutworms overwinter as nearly-grown caterpillars, and given how early in the spring this one pupated, I expect that’s what this one did, too.

[1] “Clandestine Dart” sounds like something from a spy movie. Maybe some tiny dart carrying a potent toxin, fired from an air-gun disguised as an umbrella.

4 Responses
  1. June 20, 2012

    So is there chitin beneath all that fur?

  2. June 21, 2012

    Oh, yes, there’s chitin under there eventually. Heavy-furred moths seem to do well around here. Most of the larger ones have a lot of body fur, particularly the ones that emerge in early spring.

  3. June 24, 2012

    Insects must have capillaries that go right to the edge of their shells to bring oxygen to those cells, right? Or do they breath through the chitin?

  4. June 25, 2012

    Insect breathing is actually very unlike the way that we breathe. The big difference is that their “blood” doesn’t need to carry oxygen, because their whole body is a lung. They have breathing spiracles that branch into tracheal tubes that branch further into channels that carry oxygen to all of the living parts of their bodies. The non-living parts, like their wings, exoskeletons, and any hair or fur they might have, don’t need to be supplied with air.

    So they sort of have “capillaries”, but they carry air directly, not blood with dissolved oxygen. This system works OK for small creatures, but doesn’t scale up well. Which is one of the reasons why insects these days aren’t generally very large.

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