Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Bluffing Buff

Buff Ermine Moth, Spilosoma lutea
Even though the rain is doing its best to deny us the pleasure of it, it is summer, making the apparel of the Buff Ermine moth (Spilosoma lutea) seem a little incongruous. With what looks like a miniature scarf draped over its wings, maybe it knows the Irish summers better than we do. S. lutea is common throughout Europe and much of the temperate belt of Asia at this time of year in a variety of habitats and will continue to be so until August (1). The brown tufted larvae are polyphagous, feeding on quite a variety of plant species.
White Ermine Moth, Spilosoma lubricipeda
Being the colour that it is, S. lutea should be an easy target for predators. Yet it is this very colour that saves it from being so. S. lutea is actually a mimic of its close relative the White Ermine moth (S. lubricipeda) (2), a moth that is unpalatable to predators due to its high levels of pyrrolizidine alkaloids (3).

  1. Hammond, 2008. The Wildlife Trusts Handbook of Garden Wildlife p. 49
  2. Rothschild, 1963. Proceedings of the Royal Entomological Society of London. Series A, General Entomology 38 pp. 159-164
  3. Rothschild et al., 1979. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 12 pp. 305-326

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