Myrmex: A Comic Ant-thology

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How do we inspire the next generation of science explorers? Let’s start with stories. Whether it is a tropical biologist trekking through a swamp-filled jungle or an astronomical physicist peering off at a faraway galaxy, scientist-storytellers allow us to feel the thrill of discovery and learn vicariously through their experiences.

Our team of educators, scientists, and illustrators set out to achieve this very goal: to provide stories of science – to show where, when and how scientists perform their research and to help explain why their discoveries are so important to our daily lives. The result of this effort led to one action-packed, awe-inspiring, adventure-themed learning resource: a comic book! By harnessing the educational power of art and science, comics provide visually engaging stories that also address and help teach key science concepts.

In Myrmex: A Comic Ant-thology you will find stories of warring species, ancient fossils, fruitful relationships, and science mystery. You’ll learn how fire ant queens start new colonies, how army ants build living bridges, and how Argentine ants invade entire continents.

Members of Project Noah have joined in this same quest for sharing knowledge and educating others about the wonder of our natural world. By making observations and joining biodiversity missions, Project Noah participants create their own stories of science discovery and in turn share these stories with the rest of the world. These efforts not only improve research outcomes in academia, but also and more importantly, help build a community of engaged and empowered environmental stewards.

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Above: Esa’s weaver ant story and Subin S’s weaver ant sighting in Kerala, India

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Above: Caldwell’s Army Ant story, showing how army ants attack their prey and Jonathan Sequeira’s sighting of army ants eating a centipede in Costa Rica

When it comes to ants, the theme of our comic anthology, there is still an enormous amount that we do not know. How are different species genetically related to one another? Where are their current populations distributed? What are their relationships with other organisms? There is a myriad of scientific questions out there and an even greater number not yet posed, just waiting for Project Noah members to pursue in future adventures. 

An army of science explorers stands before us. Whether you are a researcher, educator, artist, or parent, let’s come together to better engage others in conservation and environmental stewardship. It is only through our collective efforts that we will be able to come to better understand this wild world we call home.

This comic anthology is the result of a partnership with the School of Ants project, a citizen-science study headed by the Your Wild Life lab at North Carolina State University. You can find a digital copy of the comic as well as paired teaching resources for classroom use on the Your Wild Life lab website – http://ants.yourwildlife.org.

For more information on this project contact Andrew Collins on twitter @ascollins or at his blog NYC Ecology

Rhinos - Fading into Extinction

Javan rhino - Fewer than 35 (critically endangered, possibly extinct) 
Sumatran rhino - Fewer than 200 (critically endangered) 
Black rhino - 4,838 (critically endangered) 
Greater one-horned rhino - 3000 (vulnerable)
White rhino - 20,000 (near threatened)
Western African black rhino - Extinct
Northern white rhino - Possibly extinct


On 22 September 2013 we celebrate the fourth annual World Rhino Day. It is with a heavy heart that I use the word ‘celebrate’. For the state of the world’s rhinos has never been worse. Confirming previous projections of the increase of poaching deaths; a profound statistic of one rhino per 24 hours killed in 2012 has leaped to one rhino every 11 hours in 2013. This is a horrific and shocking truth that much of the world’s population seems to be overlooking. Millions are aware of the situation, yet the predictions come to life monthly, weekly and now hourly. The frustrating efforts poured into raising awareness, safeguarding national parks and educating the masses seem to only escalate the demand for rhino horn. The false medicinal beliefs remain unbelievably strong. With an estimated black market value of $65 000/kg it is difficult, near impossible, to find enough ethical people to keep one rhino safe. Considering that rhinos reside in the poorest countries of the world and demand is driven by the highest populated countries, success seems improbable. Inside jobs are on the rise and morals are tested and lost with cash. This lucrative trade has proven that man can be bought. Our ability to choose between right and wrong is tipping into the crooked side and majestic mammals are lost, one by one…


The Vietnamese Javan rhinoceros (Rhinoceros sondaicus annamiticus) was a subspecies of the Javan Rhino. This rhino was distinguished from its island relative by its size - a much smaller version of the rhinos that roam Java. This delicate mammal was the second of the four subspecies of the Javan rhinos to be poached to extinction in 2010. The first subspecies disappeared in 1925; it was the Indian Javan rhinoceros (R. sondaicus inermis) once more hunted for its minute horn.  As the remaining Javan rhinos dwindle in despair as a population of near 8 billion humans looks on. 


The Western African black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis longipes) was declared extinct by the ICUN in 2011. A browser, like the black rhino, their diet consisted of leafy plants in their area of sub-saharan Africa. They were also nearsighted and relied on warnings from local birds to detect danger in their immediate surroundings. Unfortunately the call of a bird did not save them from the bullets of the poacher. A loss greater than what we can comprehend as this rhino was an umbrella species as a whole biological community’s existence relied on them; from plants to birds to amphibians. The true loss of this mammal will come to light as the dependent ecosystem fails day by day and leads to the loss of more African treasures. 


The Northern white rhinoceros (Certotherium simum cottoni) is a subspecies of the white rhinoceros. However morphological and genetic differences suggest that they are separated by at least a million years and may altogether be a different species. Sadly this rhino is at the very end of its line and has been declared extinct in the wild. The last two mating pairs known to mankind were transported from a zoo in the Czech Republic to Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya in 2009 in an attempt to begin an major undertaking to save the species from vanishing. As their very existence hangs in the balance every precaution was undertaken to secure success. All four rhinos’ horns were sawn off to prevent unnecessary injuries to each other as well as to make them less vulnerable to poaching. As of July 2013, neither female has become pregnant but a rhinoceros gestation period is 16 to 18 months and hope remains. Two more Northern white rhinos can be seen at San Diego Zoo. Sadly the female is not fertile so this is not a breeding pair. 


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Northern white rhinoceros spotted by Cindy Bingham-Keiser


A Rhino Issue Management report released on 24 July by the South African Department of Environmental Affairs revealed valuable information and an overall recognition that poachers operate with elusive international criminal syndicates in well organized operations. The inadequacy of intelligence available to the state and to private rhino owners was pointed out as a major shortcoming in the rhino safety strategy. The report examined various options and suggestions included funding; safety and security; conservation strategies including dehorning, chemically treating horns; translocations; community participation; technological options such as micro-chipping and a centralized DNA database, already in place, and the use of drones. The most controversial aspects were also highlighted by the report such as hunting, farming and trading. It is clear that the ban on the trade has not helped reduce the poaching. It is believed that as long as there is demand for the rhino horn, effective means of supplying it must be developed in order to save the wild rhino as a species. Some of the proposals put forward by the report include: announcing the intention to authorize commercial farming of rhino; a domestic trade in rhino horn; selling of rhino horn stockpiles to the international market; and South Africa possibly applying to CITES to lift the current ban on trade in rhino horn to allow a semi-permanent legal trade in horn. As yet these are mere proposals and not agreed actions. Ultimately the decision lies with the South African Minister and Department of Environmental Affairs.

Legalizing the trade in rhino horn is supported by economists who argue that if rhino horn could be traded freely, market forces would drive horn prices down, which would hopefully reduce the incentive to poach. However one needs to acknowledge the opposing viewpoint that no evidence suggests that prices will decrease with a legalized trade, and it is more likely that demand for rhino horn would increase.

In the past year some positive changes have been made. President Zuma amended the trophy hunting laws, closing loopholes exploited by hunting officers and hunters alike. A national registration system with a database of all professional hunters and hunting operators has been put in place and will prevent hunters killing rhinos in each province. Abuse of the permit will result in their removal from the register and the loss of their operating licenses. 

The biggest hurdle for anti-poaching efforts in the Kruger National Park is the inability for rangers to carry out ‘hot pursuit’ of poachers across the country’s border. Poachers escape into the neighboring Mozambique side of the park where the rangers have no jurisdiction. Ongoing discussions between South Africa and Mozambique to curb this significant problem continues.

There is no quick fix for ending the poaching of rhinos. Many short and long term strategies need to be set in place and adhered to. South Africa and other rhino range countries are in need of continued international support. Saving the rhino one calf at a time, the Rhino Orphanage in Limpopo provence South Africa was established in 2012.  A first of its kind and created out of the needs of the left over victims of the terrible trade. Baby rhinos stream into the orphanage weekly. Every orphan, a witness to the murder of its mom, is injured themselves, not to mention traumatized. The babies are often found days, even weeks, after the slaughter, dehydrated, scared and crying. It is said by those who’ve heard it, as ‘once you hear the piercing call of a baby rhino for it’s mother you will never forget it’. The thought of this horrific truth haunts me daily as I hear the latest statistics. The demise of the rhino is becoming a fact of life for most South Africans as we hear of the ever climbing number on the news; the count down of a species. We dismiss the devastating reality and continue about our daily lives. Overlooking one immense problem: Once they are gone we can’t order more on the internet.


Rhino horn is not a medicine!


Deziree Smith aka SmithZoo



The Wildlife of Indonesia

The wildlife of Indonesia is perhaps most widely known through the narrow but nonetheless spectacular lens of its charismatic/iconic species. There’s the familiar Sumatran tiger, Sumatran (and Bornean!) elephants, Javan and Sumatran rhinoceros, and the “man-of-the forest” orangutans of Borneo and Sumatra. There are sea turtles and crocodiles, king cobras and Komodo dragons. And don’t forget the magnificent fabled Papuan birds of paradise! Sadly many of these wonderful iconic species are threatened with extinction. But the story of Indonesia’s wildlife is much bigger than these species that have been made familiar to us through documentaries and conservation campaigns.

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Bornean orangutan (Pongo pygmaeus); by greenhillsumatra. 

Indonesia is one of the most biodiverse countries in the world. Depending on how biodiversity is expressed (for example, in numbers of species, in ecosystem variety, in terms of genetics, or using other parameters), Indonesia has always been recognized among the top countries (see Mongabay and Australian Government Biodiversity Theme Report). Recently many discoveries of species new to science, for example in the Foja Mountains (in the world’s third largest tropical wilderness –  New Guinea), have further bolstered Indonesia’s biodiversity credentials.

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Foja Mountains, Papua, Indonesia. Pristine montane tropical forest yielding many species new to science in recent expeditions. Photo by S Frazier.

In addition, Indonesia constitutes a large part of the Coral Triangle (a.k.a. the “Amazon of the seas”) – the global center of marine biodiversity. And at its heart, Indonesia’s Bird’s Head Peninsula (West Papua province) hosts an astonishing 72% of the world’s total coral species! Indonesia is now reckoned to support at least 20% of the earth’s total biodiversity, and is likely the most biodiverse place on the planet…at least for the present.

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A nudibranch amidst a rich coral reef at Raja Ampat, the biodiversity “bull’s eye” of the Coral Triangle; by aldo.

What is it that has endowed Indonesia, a country that comprises just 1.3% of the world’s land surface, with its huge wealth of wildlife and flora? To begin to get a handle on this, one must look at Indonesia’s unique and complex biogeography including its island biogeography which has also made it host to many natural centers of endemism. The biogeography of Indonesia has been the product of the dynamic interplay of continental drift (more precisely, plate tectonics), volcanism and seismicity, land building and subsidence, sea level rise and fall, latitude, and the evolution spurred on by these and other processes and attributes, in repeating cycles of natural introductions (bridging and mixing) and isolation of species and biological communities, over millions of years.

Several biogeoraphic boundaries separating distinct faunal regions and eco-regions run through Indonesia. These have arisen due to the mentioned processes, the most familiar eco-zone boundary being the Wallace Line named after Alfred Russel Wallace, the famed British naturalist. Wallace wrote the “Malay Archipelago” about his exploration and research there, which included much of present day Indonesia. The Wallace line marks the southeastern edge of Asia (along the leading edge of the Sunda Shelf) and coincides with a transitional zone referred to as Wallacea (in Wallace’s honor), between the Asian fauna (known for its primates) and the Australian (Sahul) fauna (known for its marsupials). However another later described border, Weber’s Line to the east and running through the Tanimbar Islands group, is considered a more precise biogeographic boundary. Wallace independently conceived the theory of evolution through natural selection, along with Charles Darwin, which they jointly published in 1858.”

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Map of Sunda and Sahul and the Wallace Line, the Lydekker Line and the Weber Line. (Author: Maximilian Dörrbecker)

Indonesia is an archipelago of over 17,500 mostly uninhabited islands, an “emerald necklace” stretching 5,400 kilometers (3,400 miles) from Sumatra and the Indian Ocean to the middle of New Guinea in the Pacific Ocean. This is a greater distance than the breadth of the continental US as is illustrated by this map. Amongst this vast expanse is a staggering diversity of topography and landforms (mountains, valleys, coral atolls, coastal plains, mighty rivers, etc) and ecosystems (lowland rainforests, peat swamps, wetlands, savannahs, montane cloud forests, mangroves, and more).

Indonesia’s island geography contrasts sharply with that of monolithic Brazil, the other country vying for the top biodiversity spot. However it is interesting to note that most of Indonesia’s land area (—land is just 16% of the country’s national territory) is concentrated in some rather large contiguous (is)land blocks. Within those thousands of islands are five of the world’s 15 largest islands (see previous map link): New Guinea (2nd largest; shared), Borneo (3rd; shared), Sumatra (6th), Sulawesi (11th) and Java (13th).

One aspect of Indonesia’s geographic situation that also contributes greatly to its role as a storehouse of global biodiversity is its tropical latitude. Of the 17 megadiverse countries identified in 1998 by Conservation International, all are located at least partially in the tropics. In general, the closer a country or region is to the Equator, the greater its biodiversity. Indonesia straddles the Equator with the major islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Sulawesi all crossed by it. 

Let’s now take a look at a small sample of that amazing Indonesian biodiversity as depicted in wild spottings from Project Noah.

MAMMALS

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A Sulawesi warty pig (Sus celebensis) and monitor lizard; by RonnyBuol. 

Indonesia has more mammal species than any other country (515 species by most counts!). This is about 12% of the world total. Unfortunately about a third are threatened. See spottings of a bat, a monkey, a weasel, a possum and a deer.

BIRDS

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A pair of Oriental pied hornbills (Anthracoceros albirostris); by Mona Pirih. 

There are about 1539 bird species known to inhabit (about 430 endemic species) or visit Indonesia. This represents 17% of all bird species! See spottings of a stork, an egret an eagle, a duck, a shorebird, a dove, a cockatoo, a sunbird, and a finch.

HERPETOFAUNA 

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The world’s largest tree frog, a white-lipped tree frog (Litoria infrafrenata);  by S Frazier. 

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Malaysian cat gecko (Aeluroscalabotes felinus); by KaraNorby.

Indonesia is home to about 16% of all reptile and amphibian species (about 781). See spottings of a common tree froggolden tree frog, a toad, an agamid lizard, a monitor lizard, a turtle, a mangrove snake, a cobra, and a flying snake.

FISHES 

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A manta ray (Manta alfredi) swims in the highly biodiverse waters of Raja Ampat, West Papua; by CatalinIenci. 

Information on the number of fish species in Indonesia is ambiguous among on-line sources but what is clear if that the Coral Triangle has more “coral reef fish species” than anywhere else in the world, hosting 37% (2,228) of the world’s 6,000 species. See spottings of a clown fish, an angler fish, a carpet shark, a moray eel, and a barracuda. There are only a couple for freshwater fish spottings for Indonesia in Project Noah, a panchax killifish and a blue-spotted mudskipper.

 

MARINE INVERTEBRATES

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A cuttlefish from the seas around Bali, Indonesia, in the Coral Triangle; by ChrisP.  

Arthropods and mollusks also contribute to the high biodiversity of Indonesia’s coral reefs. See a crustacean, flatworm and a nudibranch.

TERRESTRIAL ARTHROPODS 

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A spectacularly colored Eupholus sp. weevil from the forests of Papua; by S Frazier. 

Indonesia is home to some 250,000 insect species, or 33% of the world’s total. Add to that the other arthropod classes and the number is even more mind-boggling! See a caterpillar, a grasshopper, a shield bug and a scorpion.

PLANTS

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A New Guinea creeper (Mucuna nova-guineensis), one of several plants called “Flame of the Forest”, from Papua; by S Frazier. 

There are about 28,000 species of flowering plants in Indonesia, including about 2,500 different orchids species, 122 species of bamboo, over 350 species of rattan and 400 species of Dipterocarpus hardwoods. Indonesia’s forests have a diversity of plants equaled only in Amazonia. See the world’s largest flower species, its tallest flower, an orchid, and mangroves.

FOOTNOTE

I think you’ll agree Indonesia supports an astonishing array of wildlife. And whereas this feature is meant to be a celebration of that huge natural bounty I would be remiss not to mention that this wealth has undergone, and continues to face, daunting challenges. Indonesia is a nation of 240 million people, with the 4th largest population in the world, situated on just 1.3% of its land area. Yet there are vast wild areas with relatively low population density. Nevertheless the greatest challenge faced by its terrestrial wildlife is illustrated by the fact that in a period of just 30 years, 80% of Indonesia’s forests have been lost to a number of factors especially conversion (e.g. to rubber, oil palm, and pulp plantations). This, of course, has ramifications for threatened species (like the tiger and orangutan, among many others) and climate change (carbon emissions from deforestation). In the east, Papua and West Papua provinces contain half or more of the world’s third largest tropical wilderness. As forests are depleted in other parts of the country pressure mounts on this eastern wilderness. But Indonesia from west to east is truly a repository of global biodiversity. Loss of this natural wealth including vital ecosystem services is a loss for us all.

Scott Frazier with special thanks to Mona Pirih and Jacob Gorneau.

References and Further Reading

Alfred Russel Wallace 

Biodiversity in the Indo-Pacific Region 

Coral Triangle Atlas 

Coral Triangle Facts, Figures, And Calculations 

Fauna of Indonesia 

Flora of Indonesia 

National Parks of Indonesia 

The Bug Chicks and Project Noah

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We are The Bug Chicks, entomologists who specialize in fun, accessible, educational content. We’ve made over 50 videos to teach people about the amazing world of arthropods—insects, spiders and other animals with exoskeletons.

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Sometimes when inspiration strikes you think why didn’t we think of this 5 years ago? It’s so simple— it makes so much sense! Our latest project is a perfect blend of nature, education and the power of social media.  

We had an idea, to film America’s awesome bugs while promoting strong female role models and positive science programming. On our epic road trip, we’re bringing a vintage, green velvet couch and placing it into diverse ecosystems across the states, inspiring people to “get off the couch” and explore America’s backyard wilderness. You don’t have to visit the Amazon or Borneo to see cool animals – there is an amazing world to discover here in the United States!

Nature programming has been leaning toward fear and myth lately, and we find it alarmingly sad. The natural world is mind-blowing; we don’t really need to embellish it. We want to inspire wonder in the natural world. Also, where are all the women on television/web who are smart, funny and kind to each other? We have been told that we are great role models for young girls and boys (we’re best friends and real people who are in turns funny, smart, capable, silly and passionate about our work).

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When we teach, we tell kids to look with their eyes, before they look with their iPhones. However, linking mobile technology with kids and nature seems like a no-brainer. Phones and hand held devices aren’t going anywhere, and if educators are going to compete with games and apps and the internet we have to embrace the change and use the technology effectively instead of fight it or take it away from kids. This is why our partnership with Project Noah is so exciting!

During our filming trip, people can follow along via Project Noah on a Bug Chicks Mission! They can upload photos of arthropods we might see along our route, ask questions and be a part of the show. We will be putting pictures and interactions into the final show, so this becomes a user-generated web series to some extent. The final show will air online in mid-November, on Project Noah’s website as well as NPR’s Science Friday blog

We never really understood that phrase ‘an idea whose time has come’ until this past week. Our project has caught the notice of many different groups with various interests from pro-girl organizations to famous bug-bloggers, national citizen science organizations and everyone in between. And just this week we signed an agreement with Honda. They are lending us a new 2014 Odyssey for our epic road trip vehicle. This is real. This is happening! Will you help us to make it as awesome as it can be?

Please consider supporting our efforts. If you support strong female role models, positive programming, science and fun educational content—this show is for you!

Feel free to share our Indiegogo link far and wide. We can’t wait to create this show and highlight the amazing diversity of America’s arthropods. 

The Bug Chicks

BIO:  Kristie Reddick and Jessica Honaker are The Bug Chicks. They received their master’s degrees from Texas A&M University and partner with several government and non-profit organizations including the US Forest Service, the National Ag Science Center and the UN Decade on Biodiversity on various educational projects. You can read their weekly blog on NPR’s Science Friday website.

Woodpeckers around the world

Many of you may have seen woodpeckers striking trees while they search for their meals. They can hear grubs moving in the wood and it is thought that they can smell the odor of formic acid excreted by insects. But did you know that woodpeckers have adapted over time to protect their brains from damage when they repeatedly peck away at wood and trees?

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Banded woodpecker (Picus miniaceus) spotted by Roy Sim in Singapore

These adaptations include small brain size, the placement of the brain within the bird’s skull, and a short duration of contact between the brain and skull when pecking. Just before they make contact with wood, their eyes are also protected from flying debris by the closing of a thick nictitating membrane and their nostrils are protected by special feathers for the same purpose. The force of the drilling impact is further mediated by strong muscles at the base of the beak, which act as shock absorbers. This is helpful as they may tap on wood, as well as utility poles, trash cans, rain gutters and other resonant objects, up to 8,000-12,000 times a day (22 times per second) as they search for food, make nests and drum on trees and other objects as part of their courting behavior. In fact, scientists who studied the golden-fronted woodpecker’s head and neck to determine how the bird withstood this pounding used their findings to design a mechanical shock absorption system to protect microelectronics.

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Golden-fronted woodpecker (Melanerpes aurifrons) spotted in Mexico by Maria de Bruyn

This interesting bird species attracts people’s attention and has become the subject of a famous cartoon (Woody woodpecker, seen in countries such as Brazil, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Russia, the United States and Yugoslavia), as well as of proverbs. For example, in Malawi, people are advised that “When a dead tree falls, the woodpeckers profit from his death,” whereas a Malayan saying warns that “When a dead tree falls, the woodpeckers share in its death.”

The IUCN and Birdlife International have assessed 172 species of woodpeckers and listed four as critically endangered: the imperial, ivory-billed, Kaempfer’ and Okinawa woodpeckers. Six more species are considered vulnerable: the Fernandina’s, Arabian, Sulu, Helmeted, and Red-cockaded woodpeckers. The imperial woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis), last seen in Mexico in 1956,  preferred open montane forests comprising pine and oak trees. Mating pairs needed about 10 square miles (26 km2) of untouched mature forest to survive. It likely became extinct due to habitat loss and hunting for use in folk medicine; the nestlings were also consumed as a delicacy by some ethnic groups. About 160 museum specimens are all that remain of this bird.

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Imperial woodpecker (Campephilus imperialis) photographed by Christine Fisher at the Moore Laboratory of Zoology in California

 Woodpeckers live in all areas of the world except for Australia, Madagascar, New Zealand, some oceanic islands and the distant polar regions. Most of them are found in wooded habitats, save for a few species that live in deserts and on rocky hillsides. Their life spans average about 4-11 years. They vary in color, with some having spots and others patches of color.

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Philippine pygmy woodpecker (Dendrocopos maculatus) spotted by KdonGalay in the Philippines

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White-naped woodpecker (Chrysocolaptes festivus) seen by Nishant in India

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Great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major) spotted by Jeannette in Denmark

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Golden-naped woodpecker (Melanerpes chrysauchen) photographed by jmunozcr in Costa Rica

The smallest known woodpecker is the bar-breasted piculet, which measures about 3.25 inches (8 cm); the largest was the imperial woodpecker, which measured 23 inches (58 cm). Of the surviving known species, the largest is now the great slaty woodpecker, a bird seen in Southeast Asia that measures about 20 inches (50 cm). Woodpeckers have two forward-facing and two backward-facing toes which help them walk vertically up tree trunks, giving them “zygodactyl feet” (an interesting trivia question!).

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Yellow-fronted woodpecker (Melanerpes flavifrons) spotted by Aisse Gaertner in Brazil

Woodpecker species are important to their ecosystems. Woodpeckers not only help control insect populations; their nest cavities are also used by birds and animals (deer mice, raccoons, flying squirrels) that cannot create cavities themselves. Woodpecker species that use their bills for probing soil rather than regular pecking often have longer and more decurved beaks. Their long sticky tongues have bristles that help them grab insects. Some species also drink tree sap and eat fruit, nuts, acorns, seeds and suet. There are three species of woodpeckers that live on the ground, the Andean flicker (Colaptes rupicola) and campo flicker (Colaptes campestris) of South America and Africa’s ground woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus).

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Ground woodpecker (Geocolaptes olivaceus) seen by Adam Riley in South Africa

Some woodpecker species are solitary, while others live in groups; the collective name for a group of woodpeckers is a “descent”. Woodpeckers’ strong beaks enable them to bore holes into trees – and other structures! – for their nests.  In most species, the nest excavation is done by the male, who also helps incubate the eggs for about 11-14 days. Nestlings fledge after 18-30 days. A few species are known to use nest boxes which are built with the proper specifications;  a downy woodpecker used a bluebird box in my yard as its night-time refuge over the past winter.

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Downy woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) spending a winter night in bluebird box; spotted by Maria de Bruyn

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This pileated woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus) bored through the wall of an office building in Florida to excavate a nest; spotted by Mick G 

Adult woodpeckers, nestlings and eggs fall prey to a variety of predators, including hawks, owls, starlings, snakes and raccoons. Threats to woodpeckers around the world include habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, forest fires that eliminate dead wood, and insecticides that decrease their food sources. Where deadwood increases in forests, however, species may proliferate as shown for the white-backed woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos) in Switzerland. 

Maria de Bruyn

 

For further reading:

http://www.facts-about.org.uk/facts-about-woodpeckers.htm

http://birding.about.com/od/birdprofiles/a/15-Fun-Facts-About-Woodpeckers.htm

http://carolinabirds.org/HTML/AF_Pici_Woodpecker.htm

http://carolinabirds.org/HTML/AS_Pici_Woodpecker.htm

http://woodpeckersofeurope.info/

http://carolinabirds.org/HTML/SA_Pici_Woodpecker.htm

http://www.ecologyasia.com/verts/birds/woodpeckers.htm

International Tiger Day – a focus on Bengal tigers in India

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Spotting by Akshay Kumar Manjunath, Nagarhole National Park

The 29th of July is celebrated as International Tiger Day as a way to increase awareness worldwide about the need for tiger conservation. The annual celebration was created in 2010 at the Saint Petersburg Tiger Summit with the goal of promoting a global system to protect tigers’ natural habitats.

This is an urgent need, as pointed out in a previous blog on critically endangered large cats,  since all six extant tiger species are listed as endangered by the IUCN. Over the past century, we have lost an astounding 97% of our world’s wild tigers, with perhaps only 3,200 of these cats left at large. Today, we will look at some of the negative and positive news regarding these cats in India, home to the Bengal tiger (Panthera tigris tigris).

In 2010, it was estimated that slightly more than 1,700 tigers still roamed natural areas in India. The severe decline in their numbers over the past 100 years has meant a great loss in genetic diversity. Recent research revealed that 93% of the DNA present in tigers killed during the time of British occupation is no longer present in India’s tigers today, which implies that considerable inbreeding may be occurring.

Currently, India has 43 tiger reserves in 17 states and the government envisions opening up several more areas. Camera-trap evidence of tigers in Goa, for example, is being used to bolster a proposal for a new reserve there. Some of the reserves are doing well and maintaining or increasing their tiger populations, while others are facing difficulties.

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Spotting by Shazaad Kasmani in Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve

 

Threats to the tiger

The Bandhavgarh Tiger Reserve, one of six tiger habitats In Madhya Pradesh state, had 59 tigers living in enclosed areas according to a 2010 census. This is a high density for the area, and has led to two concerns: possible inbreeding and fighting among the animals, which are by nature solitary cats. The discovery in early July 2013 of a tiger who died after being attacked by another cat resulted in strengthened recommendations that some cats be relocated to less densely populated reserves.

The Sundarbans Tiger Reserve is part of an extensive mangrove forest along the Indian Ocean. The delta has 102 low-lying islands, 48 of which are inhabited. This area, which protects coastal regions from storm surges and wind damage, is home to one of the largest wild tiger populations. Climate change is threatening this habitat, however; this mangrove forest and tiger habitat may be wiped out by 2070 unless efforts are undertaken to deal with rising sea levels. In the past 20 years, four islands have already been completely submerged.

Illegal mining is leading to tiger deaths and habitat loss in the Ranthambore National Park and Sariska Tiger Reserve in Rajasthan. The Sariska Reserve is also under threat from two other factors. Illegal vehicular traffic continues to cross the habitat on two forest roads that used to be state highways. In addition, illegal grazing of cattle from 28 villages in and outside the reserve is depleting the natural environment, with incidents of physical violence taking place against forestry staff by cattle owners and police refusing to intervene on behalf of the forestry staff.

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Spotting by Deepankshi Chittora in Ranthambore National Park 

In the late 1990s through about 2005, several reserves lost many or all of their tigers due mainly to poaching for the illegal wildlife trade (for example, Sariska and Ranthambore). In the last decade, Madhya Pradesh state lost 63% of its tigers (453 of 710 cats). The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) and Wildlife Crime Control Bureau are tasked with enforcing the law and engaging states and local communities in preservation efforts. To increase cross-border collaboration in ending wildlife trafficking, India’s Central Bureau of Investigation collaborated with Interpol’s Environmental Crime Program to organize a five-day capacity-building workshop in June 2013 on “Integrated Investigative Capacity Building and Operational Planning for Asian Big Cat Related Crimes for South Asia.” Participants came from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The NTCA is also collaborating with TRAFFIC-India in “tigernet”, an online compilation of authentic records on the mortality of tigers and other key wildlife species across India.

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Spotting by anoorag.saxena

 

Preservation and conservation work

Efforts to protect the big cats include research and practical measures. The Wildlife Institute of India is partnering with the NTCA in a new five-year study to determine the density, abundance and demographic ratio of tigers, co-predators and prey species in the Tadoba-Andhari Tiger Reserve and adjoining landscapes.

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Spotting by DesiTraveler in Tadoba Andhari Wildlife Sanctuary, Mahara

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) has worked with the Indian government to connect fragmented tiger populations by establishing corridors to link habitats, reducing conflict between humans and tigers in the process. IFAW also participates in rescuing and rehabilitating orphaned cubs of poached mothers so that they can be reintroduced into the wild.

Following reports of canine distemper in tigers in Indonesia and Russia, the NTCA recently asked officials in all tiger range states to take measures to prevent spread of the virus, including regular vaccination of stray cats, dogs and cattle that live around tiger reserves. The chief wildlife wardens have also been asked to report all cases of tigers behaving abnormally (inability to hunt, disorientation, vomiting and diarrhea) and to take tissue samples from dead animals to determine whether the canine distemper virus was the cause of death. It is thought that the increasing proximity of human habitations with domestic dogs to tiger habitats is leading to spread of the disease, which also has the unfortunate side effect of making the cats less fearful of people because infection can cause brain damage. 

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Sundarbans Program aims to increase the participation of local stakeholders in dealing with the effects of climate change in the area. Since February 2010, efforts have been made to assess the number of tigers in this coastal mangrove area using techniques such as camera traps, DNA sampling, pug mark surveys and assessment of tiger claw marks on trees. In 2013, camera trap surveys led to an estimate of 77 tigers, a higher number than the official government estimate. 

WWF is also working to diminish wildlife-human conflicts, for example, by installing solar lights along pathways so that people can travel more safely. Between 2001 and 2011, killing of tigers by villagers was reduced to zero through positive engagement of the local population in forest protection and eco-development committees. Human life is still occasionally lost to big cats, however, and Wildlife Vets International (WVI) is planning to study whether canine distemper is leading healthy tigers in the Bangladeshi portion of the Sundarbans to attack humans and walk unperturbed into villages. Their findings will undoubtedly complement the Indian research efforts on this disease.

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Tiger showing a flehmen response (smelling with the Jacobson’s organ located at the base of the nasal cavity), photographed by Karli

In July 2012, India’s Supreme Court banned tourists from entering the tiger reserves as a measure to help combat environmental degradation of habitats. Given the economic importance of tourism for local economies, however, the Court reversed its decision after four months and mandated that state-run reserves must enforce and implement NTCA guidelines, which call for restricting tourism to 20% of a reserve’s core areas and limiting construction in the tigers’ primary habitat areas. The policy is not applied uniformly by all states; some reserves are continuing to function as before, while those in Madhya Pradesh have cut the number of safaris and seen a 50% decline in tourist visits. Civil society groups are monitoring state compliance with the guidelines.

Citizen scientists are also making major contributions to tiger conservation in Andhra Pradesh state. The Hyderabad Tiger Conservation Society (HyTiCoS) was established in 2001 by 30 individuals who have worked for 20 years to build a network of citizen science stakeholders. These volunteers have trained Andhra Pradesh Forestry Department staff and local citizens to become “animal trackers” who conduct tiger and leopard monitoring research. HyTiCoS members undertake GIS-based habitat analyses, observe the behavior of tigers and other carnivores, collect DNA evidence, and track numbers of animals using camera traps and other methods.

HyTiCoS was able to initiate collaboration with scientific researchers based in Arizona in the United States. Through their Team Tiger Project, camera trap photos and reports from Indian volunteers are sent to individual donors in the USA so that the Indian group has developed a financial donor base.

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Spotting by Debbie Stewart  

 

Some reasons for hope

While some tiger reserves in India are still losing tigers due to poaching and other threats, a few reserves are seeing increases in their populations, which is a reason for hope. For example, a census of tigers taking place currently in the Srisailam Tiger Reserve indicates that they may have 75 animals compared to the 60 counted in 2011. With new cubs among the tigers seen, the forestry department is growing fodder in a 15-acre area to increase the number of grazing animals on which tigers prey. The forest reserves in Kerala state have seen an increase in their tiger population from 70 to 100 animals.

A final note: some tiger reserves are attempting to become more environmentally friendly in other ways. Madhya Pradesh’s Satpura Tiger Reserve, established in 2001, uses green energy in 110 camps. Using solar-powered pumps, they are also creating new water holes and artificial lakes for the big cats and their prey. Panna and Kanhais tiger reserves in Madhya Pradesh also use solar power. A two-day conference in April 2013 was organized by the Ecotourism Society of India to discuss how traditional tiger tourism can be shifted toward a more environmentally friendly approach nationwide.

Maria de Bruyn

For further reading

Dog disease infecting tigers, making them fearless 

WWF’s Sundarbans work 

International citizen science for Indian tiger conservation 

Interactive map of 41 Indian tiger reserves

tigernet 

http://www.tigersintheforest.co.uk/Tiger_News.html

Castniidae

Castniidae are a small family of day-flying moths with approximately 200 species. Most species are found in the neotropical area of Central and South America, with a few in Australia and Asia. In Europe there is only one species, Paysandisia archon, originally native to South America. It was accidentally introduced during the end of the last century and is now rapidly spreading through the Mediterranean area to southern England. It is considered a pest species because its larvae feed on the stems and trunks of palms; In its natural range, the species has natural predators and pathogens that control its numbers so that its impact is minimal. In Europe however, these natural controls are not present and the species causes extensive, and sometimes fatal damage to native palms.

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An example of the damage caused to native palms by Paysandisia archon in Greece © StavrosApostolou  

The golden sun moth, (Synemon plana), from Australia was once considered as a pest as well. Nowadays it is on the list of endangered species, due to the loss of its natural habitats. Their females are usually flightless and the adults only live for a few days, since they can not feed anymore. When the females emerge from the cocoon they already have fully developed eggs in their body. Its caterpillars are relatively unspectacular and inconspicuous, mostly maggot-like, feeding on palm trunks and stems of sugar cane, banana trees, orchids, bromeliads and many other plants. They are also called cane borer or stem borer moths. They pupate in a cocoon surrounded by palm fibers.

The moth itself is a day-flying with the corresponding club-like antennae, usually of grayish or brownish ground color, some with white stripes and spots and some with yellow or orange parts on the hindwing. The female moths have more colorful marked hindwings to attract the males and they do not have any organs to produce pheromones. At first sight it looks dull but if you get closer you will see quite a colorful and beautiful moth. The body is usually quite thick, so you might guess that it is a very large skipper butterfly. They fly very rapidly and are hard to detect.

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Telchin licus from Colombia © Dan Doucette:

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Synpalamides phalaris from Brazil: © Sergio Monteiro

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Castniomera drucei from Costa Rica, dorsal and ventral view © Dominik Hofer

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Xanthocastnia evalthe from Colombia: © Dan Doucette

Interesting news: There is also a Oligocene fossil castniid moth called Dominickus castnioides, found in Colorado. If you look at the genus name, you know why I love these beautiful moths! That they are often considered as a pest is not really the problem of the moth…

bayucca aka Dominik Hofer

Sources and more information:

http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/cast/castniidae.html

http://lepidoptera.butterflyhouse.com.au/cast/cast-moths.html

http://sabutterflies.org.au/moths/synemon-sunmoths.htm

http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/frank/bromeliadbiota/LEPIDBROM.HTM

Noctuidae

The Noctuidae or owlet moths are a massive family of stout-bodied, often hairy moths, considered taxonomically as the most evolutionarily recent moth lineage. Members of this family are generally medium to large, but a few are very tiny and could be confused with micromoths. Many fold their wings over their abdomen at rest, while others rest with their wings spread like members of the Geometridae. A large number are nondescript or even somber in appearance, clad in shads of gray or brown, often with intricate and contrasting patterns on forewing. Most are nocturnal and likely to be found only at lights or sugar bait, though a small number are diurnal. 

Although there are about 35,000 species of Noctuidae worldwide; some speculate that there could be as many as 100,000 total species. Research shows that some Noctuids are able to hear the echolocation of bats, and this stimulates a reflex in the wing muscles to move the moth randomly in an attempt to avoid the bat. Some larvae of Noctuidae are able to eat poisonous plants, helping them be less desirable as food sources, many species have patterns that enable them to almost disappear when they are resting on the bark of a tree. Ponometia candefacta, the olive-shaded bird dropping moth, below, mimics bird feces to appear distasteful to potential predators.

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Moths in the subfamily Acontiinae are quite effective bird dropping mimics. Although many species are similar in appearance, the relationship of many genera is considered incertae sedis, which means “of uncertain placement.” This means that while some genera are placed in tribes (the classification below subfamilies and above genera), lepidopterologists are unsure of the relationship of other genera. Many moths in this subfamily are small in size and are longer than they are wide. There caterpillars can be likened in general shape and size to the caterpillars of moths in the Geometridae family.

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Many moths in the subfamily of Acronictinae are known as dagger moths. They are called dagger moths due to striking black or gray markings with sharp edges, similar to that of a dagger, as demonstrated by Acronicta psi, the grey dagger, above. The larvae of Acronictinae vary in appearance, with some being hairy, and others with just a few hairs. The caterpillars are usually quite colorful as well. The hairy caterpillars can be easily mistaken for members from the Erebidae subfamily of Lymantriinae. 

The Agaristinae consist mostly of moths known as “foresters.” They are diurnal, usually nectaring in open fields, but can occasionally be found at lights in small numbers.

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Copper underwing (Amphipyra pyramidoides)

Amphipyrinae Members of this global subfamily are either medium-sized moths that rest with wings held flat, or chunkier moths that usually rest with their wings tented above their back. These inhabitants of woodland and field edges often run around on bark in a mouselike fashion.

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The Balsinae are small, rounded-winged moths that can be commonly seen in woodlands and gardens in the northeast of North America. They are predominantly gray, patterned with black lines and streaks, like the many-dotted appleworm (Balsa malana), above. 

Bryophilinae is a small subfamily of moths which come from various areas of the world. Some moths in this family feed solely on lichens!

Condicinae is a subfamily of small Noctuid moths known as groundlings. Although there are only a few genera, the subfamily is widespread throughout the world.

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Cuculliinae is a subfamily consisting of distinct moths, especially in the genus Cucullia. “Cucullus” is Latin for “hood,” describing the scales which point over the head of the moth. In North America, moths of the Cucullia genus are known as hooded owlets, while they are known as sharks in Europe. The caterpillars are usually vibrant yellows, and sometimes have blue or red! The larval form of the shark moth, (Cucullia lychnitis), above, is also known as the striped lychnis.

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Owlet moth (Cydosia nobilitella), a member of the Cydosiinae, a genus of just 3 species, all native to the Americas.

Dilobinae is a subfamily of moths best represented in Europe and North America. Its largest genus is Raphia, which contains many moths known as “Brothers.”

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Eriopinae  are small complexly patterned noctuids that rest with their wings tightly folded. They have tufts of hairlike scales on the thorax and the inner margin of the wing sticks up at rest, as you can see on the pink shaded fern moth (Callopistria mollissima) above.

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Heliothinae are small to medium-sized, often beautifully patterned noctuids of woodlands, fields, and prairies. Many species, like the primrose moth (Schinia florida) above, are regularly encountered during the day taking nectar from flowers. 

Plusiinae are a distinctive group of sleek noctuid moths that mostly occur in open habitats, such as old fields. A few species are active during the day, though most are nocturnal. Taxonomy is changing now that the scientific community is able to use DNA to determine relationships between species. There is speculation that in the future, Plusiinae might become a family, in which case it would be known as Plusiidae.

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Noctuinae are medium-sized moths with long, moderately narrow forewings. Many are late season fliers found in fields and gardens. They are mostly nocturnal, but a few can be found taking nectar from flowers during the day. The larvae of some Noctuinae species are generalist feeders which makes them potential agricultural pests. The vibrant Spanish Moth (Xanthopastis regnatrix), above, is a particularly colorful member of the Noctuinae family.

Oncocnemidinae contains moths known mostly as Sallows and Brocades. Common names are a little confusing in this subfamily because it is very similar to the Noctuinae subfamily, which also contains moths known as Sallows and Brocades! Their imagines (an imago is the adult form of a moth, the plural of this term is imagines.) are usually brown and gray. The larvae can be interesting yellows, grays, and blacks.

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The larvae of Pantheinae could be comparable to Acronictinae as some caterpillars could be mistaken for the Lymantriinae subfamily of Erebidae. The adults, especially in the genus Panthea, can have contrasting black, sometimes gray, and white markings. The moth above in the genus Panthea shows the characteristics found in many moths of the Pantheinae subfamily. Some scientists think this subfamily is distinct enough to be its own family.

The Noctuidae family is the largest family of all Lepidoptera; butterflies included. There are about 35,000 known species in this single family, which is about twice the number of butterfly species! Moths in the family Noctuidae have both caterpillars and adults which are variously shaped, colored, and patterned. The Latin root for Noctuidae is “Noctu,” which means “in the night,” and is derived from the observation that most moths in these families are nocturnal. Moths in the family Noctuidae are usually the most common visitors at lights. With 35,000 species and counting, there is a lot to discover right outside your door!

Fyn Kynd and Jacob Gorneau

Sources

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. Beadle, David and Seabrooke Leckie. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012

Family Noctuidae: Owlet Moths.” North Dakota State University. Retrieved 9 Jul. 2013.

An aerial-hawking bat uses echolocation to counter moth hearing.” Goerlitz, Holger R., Hannah M. ter Hofstede, Matt R.K. Zeale, Gareth Jones, and Marc W. Holderied. 19 Aug. 2010. Retrieved 10 Jul. 2013.

Saturniidae - the Emperor moths

Saturniidae is a vast worldwide family that includes many of the world largest and most spectacular moths. They are absent from only the most northerly and southerly regions. It is best represented in the tropics, especially in the New World. There are about 1480 species in 165 genera. The name of the family Saturniidae is derived from the ‘Saturn’s rings’ ocelli on the wings. Because of their size and handsome colors, Saturniid moths are often called emperor moths. Some spin thick, silken cocoons and are sometimes used to produce commercial silk, therefore they are also called silkmoths or giant silkworm moths.

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Glover’s silkmoth (Hyalophora gloveri) from Canada, spotted by ianmaton.

Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Class: Insecta
  • Order: Lepidoptera
  • Sub-order: Heterocera
  • Superfamily: Bombycoidea
  • Family: Saturniidae

Many species have well developed eyespots or transparent patches on both the fore and hind wings. A number of species have long tails on their hind wings. Male and female wing patterns can often be totally different. Males can generally be distinguished by their larger, broader antennae.

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Malaysian moon moth (Actias maenas) from Malaysia, spotted by kevogecko.

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Southern marbled emperor (Heniocha apollonian) from South Africa, spotted by Kei Heyns.

Among the Saturniids, we find some of the largest moth species of the world with wingspans of about 23 to 28cm. The largest specimens are in the genus Attacus from South and Southeast Asia.

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Atlas moth (Attacus atlas) from Malaysia, spotted by victoria.vikspics

Unlike butterflies and many other moths, Adult Saturniid moths do not feed. They have no mouth parts and simply use the energy they have stored from the larval stage to carry out their one function, that of reproduction.

Females attract males for mating by releasing a volatile attractant chemical pheromone. These moths typically live at very low population densities, so males have the ability to smell out females at distances of miles; their large, feather-shaped antenna contain sensory organs called sensilla, 70% of which are sensitive only to the females’ perfume. Studies have determined that a male emperor moth can detect a female emperor moth up to 11 kilometers (7 miles) away!

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Lorquin’s atlas moth (Attacus lorquini) from the Philippines, spotted by Leana Lahom-Cristobal.

The caterpillar stages of these moths are also large and spectacular, and are observed more often than the moths. Many are cryptic in coloration, with counter-shading or disruptive coloration to avoid detection, but some are more colorful and often covered with spines or protuberances. These tubercles give the caterpillar a threatening look, but in most cases they’re quite harmless. However, the spines on the io moth caterpillar are true defensive weapons and can produce a painful sting to anyone who carelessly handles them.

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Promethea silkmoth caterpillar (Callosamia promethea) from USA, spotted by Carol Snow Milne.

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Hickory horned devil caterpillar (Citheronia regalis) from USA, spotted by makelly78.

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Io moth larva (Automeris io) from USA, spotted by Aaron_G.

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Bullseye moth caterpillar (Automeris naranja) from Brazil, spotted by MayraSpringmann.

Pupation in most subfamilies is in a dense silken cocoon suspended from, or attached to the host-plant or wrapped in foliage. These cocoons, especially those of Saturniid moths in genera such as Samia and, especially Antheraea are sometimes used in the manufacture of silk. Some New World groups and most African Bunaeini pupate in the soil without a cocoon. 

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Wild silkmoth (Samia kohlli) from India, spotted by vijaybarve.

Silkworm cultivation began 5000 years ago in China, spreading throughout southern Asia. During the eleventh century, a few silkmoth eggs were stolen by European traders and silk production began in Europe. Today, silk is still cultivated in Japan, China, Spain, France, and Italy, although artificial fibers have largely replaced the use of silk in the textile industry. A cocoon is typically made of a single thread almost 1000 meters long, and it takes more than 5,000 cocoons to produce a kilogram of silk!

Nuwan Chathuranga

Erebidae

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The pink gypsy moth (Lymantria mathura). Although related to the gypsy moth, Lymantria disparthis species has not been introduced to North America.

Erebidae is a fairly new family composed of many species in the Noctuidae family, as well as well as the previous families of Arctiidae and Lymantriidae. Arctiidae and Lymantriidae have now been reduced to subfamily status under the names of Arctiinae and Lymantriinae. Since the classification is fairly recent, it is usually not widely accepted or only partially accepted.

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The larval stage is the most destructive stage for native plants in North America by the gypsy moth, (Lymantria dispar).

Lymantriinae consists of moths which are very hairy in their larval stages. A moth in this subfamily which has gained nearly worldwide attention is Lymantria dispar, the Gypsy Moth. While native in Europe and Asia, the gypsy moth is considered to be a very invasive species in North America, primarily in the Northeast. This species was accidentally introduced in 1868 or 1869 by Etienne Leopold Trouvelot, an amateur lepidopterist who was interested in discovering another source of silk. However, we cannot fully blame Mr. Trouvelot, who warned entomologists of the accidental introduction, but no immediate action to subdue the introduction was taken. The need for control of this species in North America is considered of the “highest priority” according to the USDA Forest Service, State and Private forestry. The species is sexually dimorphic, which means the male and female of this species look different. The female is large, and white with grayish-black zigzags on the forewing. Near the outside of each forewing is a dark, crescent-shaped marking in the middle of the costa. The costa is the outer edge of the forewing in a moth. The female is designed solely for egg-laying, and the wings are too weak to support its body in flight. The male is smaller and brown, however it does have a similar zigzag patterning. The caterpillar is partially hairy, with six pairs of red “warts” followed by five pairs of blue “warts.” The fifth blue “wart” is sometimes hard to see as it is close to the head of the caterpillar. The larvae are known to defoliate whole trees, which kills the tree less than 20% of the time. They are detrimental to native forests, as they feed on hundreds of different plants, taking the food source of native species, in addition to defoliating forests. If you suspect you have seen a gypsy moth in North America, please verify the ID of the moth with an experienced moth-er, as many native species can appear superficially similar to Lymantria dispar. It is an arduous task to regulate invasive insects, as chemicals and biological controllers can negatively impact native species of well.

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Lithosiinid tigermoth, a striking moth from the Arctiinae subfamily, in the genus Lycene.

Arctiinae is a huge subfamily mainly composed of brightly colored moths, a warning to predators that they may be distasteful. Some of these moths emit a liquid when they are threatened or handled to deter predators. In addition to this defense, tiger moths are also able to click high frequency sounds from a tympanum in their thorax to deter predators using echolocation. These tactics make them very advanced at evading predators. Some moths in the Arctiinae subfamily even appear to be wasps! There are two tribes which make up subfamily Arctiinae. Arctiini is composed of moths known as tiger moths, and Lithosiini contains moths known as lichen moths. Lichen moths are usually smaller in size, and as the name suggests, they feed exclusively on lichens. Larvae in both tribes can be quite hairy in appearance.

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The yellow-banded underwing (Catocala cerogama), has striking underwings, perfect for surprising a predator

Erebinae is a extremely diverse subfamily including the spectacular genus Catocala, known as the underwings. The forewings of these moths are brownish grays, sometimes whites, which can camouflage very well with surrounding trees. The underwings are vibrant, and can be red, orange, yellow, black, and even blue! It is thought that moths in the Catocala genus have evolved such contrasting hindwings to shock a predator as it flies. In flight, the flash from the camouflaged hindwings and the striking hindwings signify as a warning to a predator.

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The black witch moth (Ascalpha odorata), a moth shrouded in mystery and myth.

The subfamily Erebinae also contains a moth shrouded in myth and mystery, Ascalpha odorata, the black witch moth. Ascalpha odorata is known in Spanish as Mariposa de la Muerte, “The Butterfly of Death.” This moth is given such a daunting name due to the belief if the moth enters a home with a sick person, the sick person will die. A more specific version of this story explains the sick person will die only if the moth flies in all four corners of the house. Others believe the moth signifies a curse has been put upon someone, and even others believe you will lose your hair if the moth flies over your head! However, this moth does have some positive meaning in different places. In Hawaii, the moth is symbolized as the returning soul of a recent loved one to say, “Goodbye.” On Cat Island in the Bahamas, they are known as Money moths or Moneybats, and belief is that if they land on you, you will become rich!

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Dark-banded owlet moth (Phalaenophana pyramusalis)

Herminiinae is family of small moths which are usually triangular and shape and have a snout-like appendage. They are known as litter moths, for their habits to hide in leaf litter during the day. They first may appear brown and patternless, but on closer inspection, they can have very intricate patterns!

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Stigmatophora palmata, a very striking moth in the Erebidae family.

Moths in the Erebidae family are extremely diverse, with caterpillars of all hairdos, moths that mimic wasps, evade bats, and flash stunning hindwings! Moths in the Erebidae don’t only fool predators, their wide range of shapes and sizes can fool some people trying to identify them!

Jacob Gorneau

Sources and further reading 

Quin, Mike. “The Black Witch Moth: Its Natural & Cultural History.” Retrieved July 12, 2013.

Liebhold, Sandy. “Gypsy Moth In North America” 29 Oct. 2003. Retrieved July 11, 2013