NMW: The Exploding Moth

a pretty cool looking ctenuchine moth...
Finishing up a splendid National Moth Week,  I give you 'the exploding moth!'  It may not compare to fireworks or the exploding genitalia of male honeybees, but it is still pretty impressive.  When a student first grabbed one in Costa Rica, he was startled to find his hand covered with a sticky foam-like material.
... with an even cooler behavior
The 'foam' is actually a mass of filaments that are laced with toxic chemicals called pyrrolizidine alkaloids.  The male moth collects these chemicals from the surface of plants that produce them and in doing so it incurs protection from spiders and other predators.  These filmaents (collectively called flocculent) are very light and it seems that even the slightest puff of air scatters it everywhere:
Flocculent containing toxic chemicals deters predators
 Perhaps most interestingly, the male moth releases filaments as part of courtship and covers his mate with the flocculent, providing her (and her eggs) with chemical defense against predators.

Thanks to Anthony Deczynski for pointing out this unique behavior to me.


Liti at: July 29, 2012 at 8:56 PM said...

Great post! I will link it on the NMW blog at www.nationalmothweek.org.

Anonymous at: January 14, 2013 at 3:54 PM said...

Is there a chance this can by synthesized in the lab?

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