Black-Rimmed Prominent and Celery Looper

2012 December 19

Here are a couple more moths from the night I left the garage light on and the door open (May 19, 2012). First is the one that was perched on the control lines to the garage-door opener:

Like a lot of moths, it was practically comatose in daylight. When I poked it, it fell into my hand.

It wasn’t dead, though, and after a bit it righted itself.

The wing pattern looks like the Black-Rimmed Prominent, Pheosia rimosa.

These are common moths that obviously emerge from their pupae in the spring, although it sounds like they may be around for practically the whole summer. Their bodies are sufficiently woolly that the head is almost obscured, so I can’t see the mouthparts.

The caterpillars eat poplar, aspen, and willow. The caterpillars also apparently resemble a sphinx caterpillar, right down to the horn on their rearmost segment, so I’ll have to keep that in mind when trying to ID what I think are sphinx caterpillars.

At the same time, there was another very similarly-shaped moth sitting on the roof of the car just below it. The position was awkward and so I only got one picture, but I think it is good enough for an ID.

I originally thought this one was closely related to that first one, and so looked for it under the Prominents, family Notodontidae. I didn’t find it, and so the search had to be broadened. I finally found a good candidate: the Celery Looper, Anagrapha falcifera, has the same white mark on the middle of the wing and the same double-humped outline. The thing is, this is one of the Owlet Moths in the family Noctuidae, which are only distantly related to the Prominents. They are more closely related to each other than either is to, say, butterflies[1], but not by much.

Which just goes to show that one needs to be careful about making snap judgements about what family a given insect belongs to.

[1] Time for a Taxonomy Note! Traditionally, people consider the order Lepidoptera to consist of Butterflies and Moths. The thing is, this is a vast oversimplification: First, the insects known as “Butterflies” are actually two related superfamilies; the true butterflies (Papilionoidea), and the skippers, (Hesperioidea). And then, the “moths” are a huge mass of all the other Lepidoptera, comprising another 31 superfamilies. Most of which are no more closely related to each other than they are to the supposedly-distinct “butterflies”! While it is probably much too late to change the common usage now, it would be much more accurate to think of “butterflies” as being a particular group of moths that have mostly readapted to fly during the day[2], than to think of them as being a separate thing from moths.

[2] It looks to me like the moths had to specialize in night-flying to avoid being eaten by birds, but then the ancestors of what became butterflies developed the ability to sequester toxins from their foods into their bodies so that the birds wouldn’t eat them. This made it possible for them to come back out during daylight with near-impunity, while their non-toxic relatives had to stay in the dark. And then they could evolve the bright, beautiful patterns that people like so well in butterflies, because instead of hiding they were now better off advertising their presence. Of course, now a lot of butterflies aren’t toxic anymore, because they developed sufficient speed and maneuverability that they don’t need the hassle of trying to deal with toxins without getting killed themselves. A lot of them still are toxic, though, so in general I don’t recommend eating butterflies.

2 Responses
  1. December 21, 2012

    Isn’t it amazing that moth predators evolved at the same time as moths? If you think about it, just a century or two of offset would have resulted in total deforestation.

    Lovely photos. Fuzzy moth photos make KT happy.

  2. December 21, 2012

    This was an interesting post.
    So there are two groups of butterflies plus a group of not very close relatives that are moths?
    It seems very complex.
    The butterflies certainly got the better deal than the moths in the evolutionary lottery.

    The first moth looks very much like Molly –my mother-in-law`s new puppy. She is very rug-like and plush.
    The second moth looks like a crumpled up piece of paper with a poem scrawled on it.

    I cannot figure out how you identify these creatures. I mean to me that second moth looks nothing like the first moth so I have no idea why you would think they are close buddies.
    They all look mysterious to me and I would be too impatient to go look their names up.

    I am curious what their DNA sequences are like. Is there a genome bank for butterflies and moth with an ongoing DNA sequencing project going on? Are there Nabokov-type folks who are mad enough to attempt to sort this mess out at the DNA sequencing level?

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