White-Spotted Sables

2012 July 11

I’ve got two moths this time, both the same species but photographed a couple of years apart. First up is one we saw through the window glass on July 31, 2010. Unfortunately, these are very flighty moths, so when I tried to go outside to get pictures of it from the other side, it flew off. So, for a while now all I’ve had were these pictures of its underside.

When all I could see was the underside, I thought maybe it was a grape leaf-roller or grape leaf-folder in the genus Desmia. There are two in particular, Desmia funeralis and Desmia maculatis which both look kind of like this specimen, and are practically impossible to distinguish from each other from photographs. If this was what they were, then their caterpillars would eat the leaves of grapes, and of the related virginia creeper[1], which we have growing in abundance just north of the house [2].

But then, just recently (on June 5, 2012) Sandy spotted another one[3] and we netted it as it rested on the side of the house. I had to put it in the refrigerator to slow it down. At which point it tucked itself into a neat “delta” shape.

Once it warmed up, it popped its wings open more fully so we could see all the spots. At this point, it started taking off and flitting about every time my camera flash went off.

OK, so now that we can see the top side, I was obviously wrong. These aren’t grape leaf roller/folders at all, but are White-Spotted Sable Moths, Anania funebris. These are small, attractive moths that live in northern regions all around the world. The caterpillars eat goldenrod, which is a ludicrously common wild plant around here. Which would be why these moths are fairly common as well. Goldenrod tastes kind of nasty, so I’d expect that these moths taste nasty too, and that their rather striking black and white pattern with orange shoulders is yet another case of warning coloration.

Anyway, with these two I’ve finally gotten caught up on my formerly massive moth backlog! So next time, we’ll have something different, to take a break from moths for a bit. Maybe a nice spider.

Won’t that be lovely? Hmm?

[1] I hadn’t realized that virginia creeper was in the same family as grapevines, although in retrospect they do both make the same general type of dense, leafy vines that smother whatever is underneath them. They both have berries, too, but virginia creeper berries are toxic (they are full of oxalic acid, and maybe other things), so it isn’t a good idea to eat them.

[2] Grape leaf rollers/folders are a minor pest of grapes, sometimes eating enough of the leaves that the ability of the plants to produce grapes is reduced (although they usually don’t kill the plants). Of course, that is more of an issue if one lives somewhere that grapes are actually a viable crop. While there is something of a wine industry in the lower peninsula of Michigan (along the Lake Michigan shoreline, which has a comparatively mild climate), the grapes that we can grow up here tend to be the small, sour kind. So for us, this probably isn’t that much of a concern.

[3] Actually, she spotted one a few weeks earlier than that, but wasn’t able to catch it. It was pretty striking, and we were having a lot of trouble identifying it strictly from her memory. Once we had pictures, though, we were finally able to pin it down.

3 Responses
  1. July 11, 2012

    Wow, what a stunning moth! Reminds me of the spotted bat (pretty good photo here http://www.desertmuseum.org/kids/bats/Spotted%20bat.php). Nice. =)

  2. July 11, 2012

    It turns out the moth’s brain is pretty complicated. It needs vision so it doesn’t fly around blindly and hearing to avoid predators like bats. All those sensors shown in the first two photos have to get processed by something and that results in a non-trivial central nervous system.

  3. July 11, 2012

    I’ve never thought about a moth’s brain before.

    I’d just assumed they lacked brains since most of the ones I have seen have been devoid of any mental capacity whatsoever intent as they have been on dashing out their brains on the porch lights.

    If they have all these sensors to detect predators and not be blindly floating along garden paths—-then why the heck don’t they avoid the suicidal amorous attentions to the beloved (the porch lights)?

    You would think if they had a well developed central nervous system this neural center—would have pinged them to “think” –obstacle! Assume avoidance stance!
    But no, there they go, right now as I speak, giving themselves to death in their obsession for the lights.

    These moths are very fur coat plush. They would also make lovely floor rugs. They would be far too hot right now in Alberta where we are slowly broiling to death without such furry accessories.

    You take very exact photographs that I have never been able to replicate in my insect studies—- since everyone of my insect photographs— is a blur (bug flies off). I like the antennae on these specimens and the branches of their limbs (underside shot). You have such interesting vermin around your house.

    Thank you for considering Reader ennui with reference to your fetish for moths. I actually don’t mind you going on and on about moths since I have never seen such putrid moths around Edmonton or for that matter anywhere in the world.

    However, I must admit that a nice spider with a bulging egg case would be really interesting (I’ve always wondered what Charlotte’s children looked like) and a change from the views of the intimate appendages of moths.

    With reference to the spiderlings, I mean I know they would have been handsome like Charlotte, but the dimensions of the many spiderlings was something I have puzzled over. How did they all fit in the case? How do they all hatch out of the silken pouch? Is there some sort of Jack in the box mechanism? I should go look on Wiki.

    Sorry for the length of this comment. I am trying to avoid reading a biology 20 textbook that my older boy is supposed to read.

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