Happy Friday, Mariposa Maniacs!!! It’s time again for another edition of Friday Flyers. We hope you’re having a great Friday. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, mariposa means butterfly in Spanish. And that’s appropriate because today’s Friday Flyers takes us back to the Spanish-speaking country of Ecuador! In our 22nd edition of Friday Flyers we introduced you to the Arctiid moth family. In case you don’t remember, the Arctiids are a large family of small moths that are extremely colorful. The reason they are colorful is that most species are toxic to predators, and they “advertise” this with “warning coloration”. In Flyers 22 we told you about the “Tiger Moth” group of Arctiids. There are two other major groups of Arctiids that are equally interesting; the “day flyers” that are a little larger in size and generally mimic toxic butterflies, and the “wasp mimics” that are smaller in size and resemble stinging insects for protection. Both groups are beautiful, and both have impressively evolved their copy-cat capabilities. Today we’re going to continue telling you about the Arctiids with this week’s topic featuring the wasp mimics.
Wasp mimic Arctiids are somewhat unique in the moth world in a number of ways. First, their wings are most often transparent. The customary format for Lepidoptera is to have their transparent wing membranes covered with colorful scales. In fact Lepidoptera, the Latin name for butterflies and moths, actually translates as “Scale Wings”! So how did this happen? Well, wasps do not have scale-covered wings. So if you want to mimic a wasp, you have to have clear wings. The Wasp Mimic Arctiids evolved so that their wings do not produce wing scales. There are a few scales along the wing veins that make the mimicry more convincing, but otherwise the wings are transparent and either colorless or tinted yellow. Butterflies and moths also have colorful scales covering their bodies. But again, wasp bodies do not have scales. So the Wasp Mimic Arctiids have evolved body-covered scale patterns that resemble wasp coloration patterns. Some of the Arctiids even have patches of iridescent scales that look like iridescent wasp bodies! Finally, to make the mimicry as convincing as possible, the Arctiids usually have evolved resting positions that mimic wasps, right down to the wing shape and position, and even including the constantly twitching antennae!!! In some species, even their legs are wasp-like! The one common trait that usually gives them away is their antennae. The Arctiid antennae are either threadlike or thin and feathery, and usually longer than typical wasp’s antennae. Still, until you are certain they are moths, you might hesitate getting too close. This is why their mimicry is so effective against predators. And if all this mimicry isn’t enough, some of these moths have developed one additional defense mechanism. Some species secrete an irritating distasteful liquid that instantly solidifies into a cotton-candy-like “fuzz” that serves as a final deterrent to a predator that gets close enough to take a bite!!!
Wasp Mimic Arctiids are not on the typical butterfly collector’s list. They are too small for most collectors. But they are scientifically of great interest to Entomologists. We were fortunate enough to meet an Arctiid Specialist who showed us the incredible diversity and miniature-scale intricacy of these moths, and so we started photographing them. Most of these moths have wingspans of less than one inch, and the smallest of them are less than ½-inch wide. As with most insect species, they are most numerous in the tropics, with the rainforests being the birthplace of hundreds of species.
Over the years we have come to truly love these little jewels. Recently we have been organizing our photographs from Ecuador, where we have been involved in a project to document as many species as possible from a natural reserve there. So we decided to make today’s Friday Flyers a little shorter than normal. Instead, we are uploading lots of pictures from our Ecuador photo collection. Perhaps the most remarkable fact about today’s photos is that ALL of these species were photographed on a 20 by 20 foot patio!!! Incredibly, all of these species probably lived within a 100-foot radius of each other!!! This is why most of the new Lepidoptera species discovered today are members of moth families, particularly the smaller sized moths. If so many of them live in such a tiny area, imagine how many more there are yet to be discovered! Enjoy today’s photos.
One final note; we have now completed the archiving of all of our previous Friday Flyers editions on our website. You can now refer to all of the past editions complete with all the photos, in a stable, permanent, non-shifting, non-facebook format. We hope you’ll visit our website and check it out at:
We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.