Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Grapevine Moth

Dorsal view - note feathery moth antennae- Click to enlarge
As we were working up a little sweat planting seedling trees on a 55 degree day, there were some small black flying critters flitting around recklessly.  One landed on John Mihalevich, probably fueling up on salt, and stayed a second too long.  It ended up chilling out temporarily in our refrigerator in a baggie on top of the butter dish.

Ventral - view of underside
Its feathery antennae indicated it was a moth.  The forewing was jet black with a fuzz like velvet.  There was a distinctive white patch on the forewing but when it spread its wings a bright red-orange hindwing patch was exposed.  Once bagged so I could see the underside, the hindwing patch was easily seen.

The body was thick and fuzzy when seen in side view.  I didn't notice another detail until I enlarged the side view photograph.  When viewed with the right angle of light, the edges of the forewing had an almost metalic shine.

Side View
This little moth with a wingspan around one inch is a grapevine epimensis,  Psychomorpha epimenisIt is a day-flying moth which at first glance I could have mistaken for a butterfly except there are no small black butterflies in Missouri.  It had only been listed in BAMONA in Greene County (by Kevin Firth) and Columbia.  With abundant grapevine host plants it isn't rare but since it doesn't come to lights it probably isn't captured often.

This moth nectars on plum, redbud and cherry, which reminds us of the importance of early blooming flowers to these small creatures.  They fly only from late March to mid May in Missouri, mating, laying their eggs on grapevines and then die.  Their larvae will hatch, grow and then pupate and over-winter in wood or dense moss.

The caterpillar is a beauty, captured by fellow Master Naturalist David Dawson of the Meramec Hills Chapter.  It forms a shelter by rolling up the lower edge of a grape leaf and tying it up with silk.  Many other species do this and finding rolled or folded up leaves to inspect is a good game for young and old.

The scientific description is much more detailed than mine, but mentions that no other species resembles it.  You will have to forgive my photography as the pictures were taken through the baggie so I could report its presence in Christian County to BAMONA.  Once it was out of the bag for a more formal portrait, it warmed up quickly like most small moths and butterflies and flew away before I could get another picture.

Bob Moul
Bob Moul
More of the late Bob Moul's beautiful photographs are at this Pbase site.
There is a detailed description of P. epimenis at this link.

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