• Saloni Rose

I just saw an Indian Luna Moth!!

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

For the past one month, my focus has shifted from butterflies and birds to moths. Moths are definitely underrated and I honestly wish I had paid attention to countless moth species from the start. Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) has about 180,000 species, only 18,678 of which are butterflies. In fact, the dichotomous classification of butterflies and moths is artificial. In other words, butterflies are diurnal moths. Butterflies are monophyletic i.e all butterflies have the same common ancestor. When you construct a phylogenetic tree looking at all the Lepidopteran species, the butterflies and moths don't segregate as two different groups.

My friends informed me that they had come across several moths including few exotic ones like the Indian Luna Moth and Golden Emperor Moth. I resolved to document the moth biodiversity secretly hoping to come across the exotic ones. Because most moths are nocturnal and attracted to lights, I went all around the campus, checking under every single map post for different moths. Also, I didn't have the resources to set up a proper light trap. To my surprise, I encountered more than 80 different morphospecies within a month. I am now learning to identify them using different reference manuals, but it's awfully tricky. I will write about the moth diversity in my upcoming posts.

Last night, I was walking towards the dining hall when I came across many moths flying near the lamp post at the basket ground(my usual haunting ground). To my surprise, I found Indian Moon Moth aka. Actias selene hovering around (Selene is the greek goddess of the moon). I waited for half an hour for it to settle down so that I could photograph it.

Luna Moths get their name from the spots on the wings that resemble the moon. They also have distinctive long tails on their hind wings.

Why do these moths have long tails?

In the moth version of the Dark Knight, the role of Joker would be played by a bat. Bats are moth's worst enemies. A recent study by Berber et al. showed that the moths with long tails successfully deflect attacks by bats better than those without the tails. The moth escapes as the bats focus on non-essential parts i.e. the long tails instead of important wing areas. The study also showed that different moths of the same family independently evolved these long tails. What a fine example of convergent evolution!

Reference

1. Moth tails divert bat attack

Jesse R. Barber, Brian C. Leavell, Adam L. Keener, Jesse W. Breinholt, Brad A. Chadwell, Christopher J. W. McClure, Geena M. Hill, Akito Y.Kawahara

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Mar 2015, 112 (9) 2812-2816; DOI:10.1073/pnas.1421926112

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