Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Giant Leopard Moth

Giant Leopard Moth
One advantage of being in Master Naturalists is that friends bring you lots of interesting bugs and plants to identify, a game called "Stump the Chump".  I sometimes have to remind them that "Master Naturalist" is an organization, not a degree.

Larry Whiteley brought this Bass Pro special today.  Fortunately he he had found a uniquely colored moth with an interesting story.  The Giant Leopard Moth, Hypercompe scribonia, is very distinctive with dramatic dark ovals and circles on its dorsal forewings resembling a leopard's spots.  This specimen was long dead so I livened it up on a floral arrangement.


Caterpillar Defensive Position- Wikimedia
Also known as the Eyed Tiger Moth, it is a member of the Arctiidae family which includes Tiger, Tussock and Lichen moths.  Its beautiful hairy caterpillar is related to the Woolly Bear caterpillar, touted as a forecaster of winter weather.  The Tiger Moths get their name from the bold bands of various colors on their dorsal wings.

Tiger Moths have a unique defense against bats, a formidable predator during their nocturnal flights.  They have long been known to produce ultrasonic sounds but now we know a reason why.  A Discover Magazine blog describes sounds the moths emit as interfering with the echolocation system of bats.  We can think of it like a fighter plane jamming a missile's radar signal.  This tactic greatly reduces the bat's successful rate of moth captures.

New studies of bat echolocation from Brown University add to the wonder.  They describe how a bat can isolate the echos of a small insect amidst all the echos from the environment (tree branches, leaves, wires, etc) and those of other bats. Since the attack sequence of a bat lasts less than a second, the moths have to react fast.  Fortunately, the moths can produce up to 450 clicks in one-tenth of a second.

7 comments:

  1. I love these moths, they are so magnificently beautiful. I posted on them back in 2010 and reported on their defense behavior. When disturbed they will emit an "eye-goo" that is distasteful to would-be predators. They truly possess a bagful of tricks when avoiding danger.
    http://mobugs.blogspot.com/2010/02/great-leopard-moth.html

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  2. Thanks for the information. The deeper we look at any species, the more interesting they are. A boring species usually means we haven't studied them enough.

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  3. I really find this blog to be informative. I've always been obsessed with nature since I was a kid and these moths really are something!

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  4. My close friend are both science teachers and both taught across the hall from me. I loved playing Stump the Science Teacher with some bizarre creature or plant. They would love your blog.

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  5. Do you have any information about centipede? I am interested about them. Thx a lot=)

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  6. Interesting. I didn't know that about the bats and the pictures were great :) tnx.

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  7. Great blog! I love reading about nature and all your posts are so interesting!

    stuffingpumpkin.blogspot.com

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