Sunday, 23 May 2010

Day flying moths

Real life has been bogging things down for me this week, but after a beautiful day in Harrogate, I have some great shots of day flying moths - one fairly famous one, and one less seen but equally interesting.

The Cinnabar moth (Tyria jacobaeae) is most famous as the orange and black striped caterpillars often found on ragwort that supposedly inspired W.D. Hamilton to lay down the theory of kin selection (or at least, thats the popular anecdote).  The caterpillars are both highly visible, very social and toxic, and birds that try to feed on one soon learn to leave them alone - thus the caterpillar that is eaten spares his brothers and sisters on the same plant a similar fate.  Of course, warning coloration is a bit more widespread and rarely do birds try and eat the caterpillars - as well as there being a degree of kin selection, the caterpillars are taking advantage of the fact that many other distasteful insects share the same coloration.

Smaller and less noticed is the Fairy Longhorn moth (probably Adela reaumurella), a member of one of the more primitive branches of the lepidopteran family tree. I observed dozens of them flying around the sunlit leaves of a single tree in a patch of forest near Harrogate - fortunately they were not too bothered by my presence and I could take this photograph.

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