Gray Half-Spot

2014 December 10

On June 1, 2014, I also found this moth. It is one that we’ve seen before, a Gray Half-Spot, Nedra ramosula.

This one was a bit less tattered than last time, and photographed a bit better. And the “half-spot” on the wings is clearly visible against the more wood-grain texture of the rest of the wings.

The caterpillars are supposed to eat the various plants in the genus Hypericum, which are collectively known as St. John’s Worts. These have medicinal properties, in particular they are supposed to be useful as antidepressants and for promoting wound healing. Of course, this is another case of “the dose makes the poison”; small amounts of the plant may be useful medicines, but large amounts are going to be poisonous. And, since the Gray Half-Spot caterpillars are fairly prominently colored (pink with a white stripe), it is a likely bet that they are sequestering the active compounds from the plants that they eat to make themselves poisonous to the small birds that would be likely to try to eat them.

Which means that to animals larger than birds (like humans) the caterpillars (and maybe the moths) will have too low of a dose to be toxic, and instead are probably antidepressants!

And even if they aren’t, well, to paraphrase Mark Twain a bit: Eat a live caterpillar first thing in the morning, and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day!

5 Responses
  1. December 12, 2014

    “Gray Half-Spot” is such a bland name for a creature that looks like a Latvian nobleman wearing a fur-trimmed cape. This should be the “Count Balodis Moth” or something like that. It would conjure up images of a dark and handsome man, striding purposefully into the ball, his cape swirling behind him as he takes the hand of the young lady and she falls into his arms for the waltz.

    And afterwards, she lays eggs and their tiny grubs eat some leaves.

    Hmm. I may have ruined the mood of the whole thing.

  2. December 12, 2014

    Common names are funny things. They just kind of arise when one person coins a name, and other people pick it up. Since they aren’t official species names, there is no real central authority to control this. If there were, then we wouldn’t have situations like “Daddy Long-legs” being used as a name for pretty much every leggy insect and spider in existence. I suppose one could start calling these “Count Balodis Moths” and see if other people can be persuaded to do the same.

  3. December 12, 2014

    Incidentally, who’s Count Balodis? Anybody in particular, or just a generic Latvian nobleman?

  4. December 13, 2014

    A quick Googling gave me Balodis as a common Latvian last name. I like the sound of “Count Balodis.”


  5. December 13, 2014

    I suppose if a Latvian read this, it would sound about as exotic as “Count Smith.”

Comments are closed.