my latest discovery

Late yesterday afternoon, I found something new to me here at the farm — a pair of Delicate Cycnia Moths (Cycnia tenera) resting together on the underside of a Common Milkweed leaf in the midst of some Meadowsweet brush next to the woods. I’ve never seen these moths around the farm before, so that alone seemed noteworthy. Add to that their beauty — I don’t know about you, but this pair seems exquisite to me. In fact, I thought they were so special that I’ve posted an unusually large image (315kb) so that you could see them better if you wish (click on above image to view it). You’ll have to scroll around to view both moths.

There’s more of interest about these moths. When I looked up information on this species, I discovered that Cycnia tenera is also referred to as the Dogbane Tiger-Moth. As it happens, just a week or two ago, I noticed a small patch of Dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) in one of the fields — the first Dogbane I’ve found in any area of the farm (see photo below). The larvae of this moth species feeds mainly on Dogbane, but will feed on certain Milkweed (Asclepias) species as well. Of interest is that both Dogbane and Milkweed produce a milky latex containing cardenolides which are toxic to many creatures. If you read this wikipedia page that I’ve linked to, you’ll find references to research that has been conducted concerning this moth species. Apparently, these moths produce a clicking sound that may warn bats to avoid them. It seems that bats don’t like the taste of the moths due to the above-mentioned cardenolides which consume — or, at least that is part of the theory for why these moths produce a clicking sound. Mate attraction is also mentioned.

In any case, I’ll be watching for these moths and their larvae in future, especially on the leaves of the Dogbane in the patch that I’ve recently discovered. I’m always fascinated by the interactions between plants and insects — really, to locate certain insects, one need only inspect certain plants and, sooner or later, you are sure to find what you’re looking for. I enjoy discovering each of these bits and pieces of the web of life as it occurs here at the farm.

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9 Responses to “my latest discovery”

  1. robin andrea Says:

    Those are absolutely beautiful moths. Yes, exquisite. I was thinking about you yesterday when I walked to the mailbox. I thought, if only we had milkweed here, I would see some of the beautiful sights that Bev sees regularly. The intersection of plant and insect life is one of the most illuminating things I’ve learned from my fellow bloggers.

  2. Dave Says:

    AWESOME photos! I will have to keep a closer eye on the local milkweeds!

  3. Wayne Says:

    Wow, Bev. Those are beautiful. It’s 94 degF and I’m going to head out to my milkweed and dogbane right now!

    I wonder if they’re about to produce the next generation? Maybe you’ll have some Cycnia larvae to show us in a few weeks!

  4. Leslie Says:

    Those are beautiful. So elegant and understated. They didn’t have to resort to gaudy.

    I was thrilled to find Colorado Potato Beetle eggs underneath my potato leaves. Well, not thrilled to see them but thrilled that I *did* find them. I thought of you. You see *everything*.

  5. bev Says:

    robin – Milkweed really is one of those plants that provides a place for many insects and spiders. There are 3 good-sized patches of it in our backyard, and several in the fields and openings in the woods, and I can almost always depend on seeing something interesting if I spend a bit of time studying and turning a few leaves. Thistles and mullein are other plants that seem to harbor a lot of interesting insects. I’ve always wanted to spend a few weeks in the PNW studying the insect life on plants of the region. Unfortunately, I’m usually there in autumn when things are winding down. However, one day maybe I will be there to check things out during the busy season!

    Dave – Thanks! Yes, check milkweed AND dogbane. These really are beautiful moths and well worth looking for.

    Wayne – 94F today, eh? We have plummeted from 88 to 68! I’m not so sure if I’d be racing out to check the dogbane and milkweed if it were 94F. I wondered that about the moths too — I suspect they had or were going to mate. I studied photos of the caterpillars of this moth earlier today, so I’ll be watching for them now. I hope to find some!

    Leslie – Yes, elegant and understated is good way to describe these moths. That’s need about finding insect eggs — even neat if it’s Colorado Potato Beetle eggs because they can be removed before they hatch out!! Also nice to hear that you thought of me!! Sometimes it does seem that I see a lot — you can probably attribute that to my xray eyes. (-:

  6. Larry Ayers Says:

    Quite a beautiful species. I’m going to keep an eye on my local dogbane patch for these moths and their larvae.

    Your photos do them justice.

  7. DougT Says:

    Gorgeous photos. One of the things that I like about some of the white moths is how clean their wings often look. Like they’ve just been through the laundry with lots of bleach. Do you also have the related milkweed tussock moth? I think that the adult delicate cyncia is prettier, but that the milkweed tussock moth larva is the more interesting of the two.

  8. bev Says:

    Larry – Yes, they sure are. I hope you can find some to photograph.

    Doug – Thanks! Yes, aren’t’ these white moths pristine. If only our clothes would stay that way! Yes, we do have milkweed tussocks up here too – and you’re right, the larvae are interesting little characters. Their social behaviour reminds me a lot of some of the sawfly larvae.

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