Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A Big Wig in the Moth World: Emperor Moth

Emperor Moth Syntherata sp.
The rains continue to scuttle-by the Gympie Region, so the rainy season so far has been a bust. But outside the relic rainforest regions, the climates in Australia always tend towards drought and flood with years of 'normal' rainfall not all that normal. The last few years have been flood in southeast Queensland, so drought is to be expected sooner or later. Last night, though, it looked like relief was in sight. A heavy cloud cover blew in, the moon disappeared, the humidity rose, and it looked perfect mothing weather until the rains came. The mothing was quite good, but the rains never came.
Underside of "Empress" Moth
Most of the moths were still on the small-size, but a handful of the medium-sized fluttered in and two on the large end of the spectrum: an as yet unidentified underwing and this striking Giant Silk Moth (Saturniidae). She is a bit battered, but still rather majestic with a wingspread of 12cm or so. She is a member of the genus Syntherata, either S.  janetta (White, 1843) or the more recently described S. escarlata Lane, Edwards & Naumann, 2010.  Apparently, the females are highly variable and the new species is difficult to separate from the old.
A pair of mystery moths of the micro and macro persuasions
So, although the garden is bone dry, I now have a handful of pictures of mostly attractive and interesting moths to try to identify and learn about. The most difficult are the so-called micro-moths:  a large number of families of small to tiny moths. Identifying them usually requires pinning with the wings spread and dissection of the genitalia. That is too barbaric for me (aka it's too much work), so I will putter around with the more accessible macro-moths. The (~4cm long) macro-moth above maybe in the family Cossidae, but if so it is one of the smaller members of the family that includes the Witchity Grubs. Unknown moths are always more fun, at least up to a point: they are a great excuse to while away the hours looking at pictures of one of life's most colourful groups of animals. 

Lane DA, Edwards, E.D.; Naumann, S. 2010. A revision of the genus Syntherata Maassen, 1873 (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae) within Australia, with the description of three new species, and description of their life histories. European Entomologist  3(1): 1-41.

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