Thursday, October 30, 2014
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Euchromia: the Handmaiden or Hornet moth.
Versions of this spectacular beauty are found from Southern Africa through East Africa and Madagascar to India Australia and Indonesia.
The fist thing you notice about them after ogling their dazzling array of warning colors is their reluctance to flitter off, as moths are wont to do. That’s when you realize that something else is going on here; creatures that are over-confident usually have a reason.
The warning colors are real; you do not want this gaudy speck in your cereal bowl! They practice what is called “Pharmacophagy” A jawbreaker that taken literally means, “ They eat (nasty) chemicals” so that they increase their biological fitness. This constitutes the habit of consuming drugs, that they get from their food plants so that they can themselves, become toxic to other animals.
Some food plants give off toxic nectar that gets them a devoted set of insect pollinators. The plants that the Hornet moth uses falls into this group. It is significant that the moth does not need this chemical for the ordinary nutrition of its body.
Euchromia also has a constriction on the abdomen that makes it look enough like a hornet, for predators to leave it severely alone. We have seen three of these moths in the last month at the AISM. As we increase the numbers of indigenous plants, I expect we will have more and more of these beauties to enjoy at school.
Len de Beer
Monday, October 6, 2014
Friday, September 5, 2014
This stunning aposematic (warning colored) day flying, moth probably derives protection from looking like a scary wasp.
Monday, August 11, 2014
The Verdant hawk moth (Euchloron megaera)
Verdant is a lovely word, it speaks of forested hills with lush, dripping vegetation. An oasis, the kind of landscape that I return to in my thoughts. Madagascar was the first place I saw this flying green leaf, which is unusual, seeing that it is much more common in Mozambique. Think of the stamina that it took to cross 4-500 km of unrelenting ocean to the red island, and you gain some respect for the ability of this tiny green creature to somehow endure, and make the crossing.
This emerald hawk moth employs three different strategies to keep it off the lunch menu of the ravenous birds, spiders, and other predators in Africa.
Firstly it vanishes when sitting on a patch of foliage, secondly it may flash its orange and black hind wings in a display called warning color or aposematism. This may be enough to deter a pursuing bird, and finally, when in flight it may suddenly fold its wings making the orange disappear instantaneously and confusing the predator altogether.
We live with these jewels all around us, ( I see at least one a month in summer) lets stop and admire the foliage, there may be more present than at first meets the eye.
Thursday, June 5, 2014
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Wednesday, May 21, 2014
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
Thursday, May 15, 2014
Spooky Sphingidae (Hawkmoths)
Acherontia atropos, is a hawkmoth with possibly the most dire reputation of any insect! Let it be noted.., for the most ridiculous reasons.
There is a supposed “skull” on the thorax…That is, you can see it if you have been smoking your socks. It has yellow ribs on the abdomen making it look like a skeleton? …if you have been conducting an in depth investigation into the joys of caipirinhas, and it makes a high-pitched squeaking noise if you disturb it…well Duh!
“It is regarded not as the creation of a benevolent being, but the device of evil spirits - spirits enemies to man - conceived and fabricated in the dark, and the very shining of its eyes is thought to represent the fiery element whence it is supposed to have proceeded. Flying into their apartments in the evening at times it extinguishes the light; foretelling war, pestilence, hunger, death to man and beast.” (Harris, 1840)
So, not satisfied with wiping out habitats at an alarming rate, our species of course proceeds to demonize species that it does not appreciate. The “ Deaths head moth’ among them. The entomologists that named this moth played to the audience by placing it in the genus Acherontia derived from Acheron, the “River of Pain” in the underworld, and gave it the species name “Atropos” name of the Fate who cuts the thread of life.
In popular culture the moth can be seen in the movie “Silence of the Lambs” where a deranged killer (As if there were some other type) places a pupa of this moth in the mouth of his victim.
In reality Acherontia has a fascinating life style, being able to sneak into the hives of bees and subdue the colony by emitting a high pitched squeak that mimics the frequency sound that the new queen bee uses as she emerges from her cell and proceeds to hunt down and kill all the rival queens that have developed along with her. The queen emits this squeak to calm the nest of bees as she fights the other would-be queens in the battle for supremacy.
It may also be chemically invisible to bees because it produces the exact same odours that the colony makes, on its exoskeleton. One consideration that it needs to take into account is that it will not be able to produce the colony-calming whistle once its “Stomach” is full. This means it needs to be near the exit before its full. Long may these beautiful creatures visit us here in Mozambique, and let all the superstitious mumbo-jumbo exit our culture.