Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Australian of the Week: Agarista agricola (Donovan, 1805)
This Winter is definitely getting to me. Snow yesterday, -31 C this morning (and -39 at Elk Island), -30 and snow tomorrow. Although the Alberta Lepidopterist Guild had an entertaining Feralia Symposium this weekend and Terry Thormin, snug on Vancouver Island, is already posting new insect pictures on the Albertabugs, it looks like it will be many more cold, cold weeks until the first flies of spring. Rather than carp about the cold, though, I’m instituting a new semi-weekly feature in which I get to reminisce about a warmer land: Australian of the Week. Many of these pictures will have been scanned from 35mm film, but that was the technology at the time.
First up is the Joseph’s Coat Moth Agarista agricola (Donovan, 1805), from the biblical story (or the Dolly Parton song if you prefer). This is a large moth – and it flies during the day when its bright colours tell potential predators just how bad it tastes. Most brightly coloured diurnal moths are probably loaded with nasty chemicals (or at least pretending they are) – and they seem to be popular on bug blogs like Beetles in the Bush and Myrmecos Blog this week.
This particular Joseph’s Coat Moth fell victim to Heather’s camera in a vineyard outside Stanthorpe, Queensland. Stanthorpe is in the Granite Belt – Queenslands best wine country. If you really like red wine, then this is faint praise, but only because the competition is the Coonawarra, Yarra Valley, Eden Valley, Western Australia, Mornington Pennisula, and so on. The Granite Belt wine probably has the potential to be as good as that from the Barsossa Valley, usually about the best Australian wine I can afford in Alberta bottle shops. The Joseph’s Coat Moth is native to Queensland, where it feeds on native vines in the grape family (Vitaceae), and now and then, introduced grape vines.
Alberta has its own colourful day-flying moths that are now more or less in the same family with the Joseph’s Coat Moth. Well, who knows, the taxonomy of the Noctuoidea seems to change daily. Currently, the Police Car Moths I posted on last summer and the equally attractive Ctenucha virginica (Esper, 1794) are in the Erebidae (subfamily Arctiinae). The Joseph’s Coat Moth had its own subfamily in The Insects of Australia, Agaristinae, and maybe it still does, but I’m not sure in what family it currently resides. Should I try to find out or open a bottle of Australian wine to toast the new feature? Ah, if only all choices were so easy!