Garden Duplicity

Dateline:  August 8, 2014*

What is that brown leaf?

When I’m walking around my beautiful wildlife garden, I’m always on the alert for something that just seems out of place.  In the process, I’m often rewarded with some pretty interesting encounters.

Recently I was finishing up the morning tour of the dog area when my eye was drawn to the Bidens alba.  I spotted a brown leaf that seemed completely out of place.  That part of the yard really doesn’t have any deciduous shrubs or trees, but Mother Nature often blows things from far away, so I headed over to see just what was up.

Wait, a leaf with legs?

Imagine my surprise when I saw a couple of legs sticking out of the front.  Meet the Mournful Sphinx Moth (Enyo lugubris).   The larval hosts for this interesting moth are members of the grape family (Vitaceae).  I’m amazed that this is my first encounter with this insect since my yard is a haven for Grapes (Vitus spp.) and Peppervine (Ampelopsis arborea). Cissus is another genus listed as a larval host.

So, yet again I’ve discovered a new member for my buggy life list.  I’m now on the lookout for the caterpillars which, according to a photo I found online is one of those beefy green ones, similar in looks to the hornworms we all love to hate as they nosh on our tomato plants.

Looks like an airplane

I’ve plenty of grapevines and peppervine in the native plant buffet, so this baby is welcome to visit any time.
Come back again, ya’ hear?

A few days later in the early morning while the dew was still twinkling, I was excited to see what I thought was a grass skipper butterfly emerging.  I’ve yet to see the chrysalis of this family, despite there being hundreds of the small butterflies skipping around on the B. alba and frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) most of the year.
Wow, have I finally found an emerging skipper?

The butterfly was hanging upside down from a bloom of some B. alba and appeared to be drying out its wings.  On second glance, I noticed that it had markings unlike any species I had encountered thus far in my life as a bug-aholic.  I snapped a few photos and headed inside to do a little research.
Wait, those antenna look threadlike and there are no knobs

On closer examination of the photos, I realized that is was a moth, not a butterfly. The antennas of moths vary from thread- or bead-like type to saw-toothed or comb-like, or occasionally feathery. Butterflies sport knobs at the end of their antenna.  This one had threadlike antenna.
Drying wings to take flight?

The North American Moth Photographers Group is a favorite Website of mine to view thumbnails. Hosted by Mississippi State University, I generally can quickly find a match for species unknown to me since one of the contributors features moths of Central Florida.  There I discovered my newfound friend is a Diaphania Moth (Diaphania modialis). This species is a member of the Crambid Snout Moth family (Crambidae).
The larval host, Melothria pendula, sometimes grows along my fenceline

The HOSTS database lists creeping cucumber as a larval host for this species.  I haven’t seen any of this delicate vine growing in my yard this year, but it has shown up in years past, so it is in the neighborhood.  The vine has fruits that look like miniature cucumbers.  Hopefully the moth’s caterpillars stick to this Florida native vine and aren’t indulging in my neighbors veggie garden cukes.

So, why didn’t this “butterfly” take off when the crazy paparazzi lady got close?  A review of the photos told the tale.  Poor moth was in the clutches of a spider.  Ahhh, the food chain in action.

Aha! mystery solved. CAUGHT!

I suppose I need to thank the spider since I doubt that I would have encountered the moth without his (her?) help.  Another entry on the never-ending buggy life list.  Isn’t nature grand?
Never ending nature

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 8, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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