A rare beauty

It’s rare that I would see something rare, but that must be the case with this rare beauty I found on my neighbor’s Shasta Daisy plant the other day, because I spent two hours looking at various moth and butterfly websites to get an ID for it.  Nothing even faintly resembled the color pattern of this particular moth, and you know when that happens that it hasn’t been seen or photographed very much.

leadplant flower moth, Schinia lucens, nectaring on a Shasta Daisy

A fuzzy purple and white striped moth — in the daytime, in the hot sun, nectaring on a Shasta Daisy.  Aren’t moths nocturnal creatures, especially the hairy ones?

This is a very hairy moth, with its head mostly tucked under its thorax.  It seemed quite intent on sucking up every drop of nectar it could find in the daisy.

This is a very hairy moth, with its head and greenish eyes mostly down and tucked under its thorax. It seemed quite intent on sucking up every drop of nectar it could find in the daisy.

Patience rewarded finally, I found a similar-looking moth on a website about moths of the UK, so at least I knew to start looking at Noctuid moths on BugGuide, and there it was — the Leadplant flower moth (Schinia lucens).

leadplant flower moth, Schinia lucens, on Leadplant

This is the typical host plant for Leadplant flower moth — the Leadplant.  You can see they blend into their environment much better on this prairie plant than they do on the starkly white background of the daisy. (Photo by Armund Bartz, Wisconsin DNR)

The distribution of the Leadplant flower moth in the U.S. naturally follows the distribution of Leadplant in the dry prairies of the central and western part of the country. It is rare where Leadplant is rare, but widespread wherever the plant occurs, because the moth larvae are solely dependent on the maturing seeds of leadplant for their development.

leadplant among prairie plants

Leadplant (Amorpha canescrens), in the foreground with long flower spikes, is a member of the pea family found in dry prairies.  The name probably comes from the grayish tinge of the vegetation, not from its ability to extract lead from the soil, as some have claimed.  The flowers are unusual for pea flowers, having just one large petal, hence the genus name Amorpha.

leadplant flower moth, Schinia lucens, on Leadplant

Photo by Kyle Johnson from a presentation by Armund Bartz, Wisconsin DNR

Depending on the abundance of just one host plant for successful reproduction is a risky strategy.  Herbivore species may disappear when the habitat or environmental conditions eliminate their sole host plant.  This can result in local extinctions, and if those environmental conditions become pervasive, then global extinctions may occur.  Leadplant is a common plant on dry prairies, but only where grazing pressure is light.  It is highly palatable to cattle and disappears with high intensity grazing, and so of course, would the rare beauty of the Leadplant flower moth.

10 thoughts on “A rare beauty

    • I think I need a few more tools to be a good sleuth. I can’t tell one moth from another, and you really need to be able to start somewhere because there are just too many moth species to go through the photos on BugGuide one by one. Well, now I know what a Noctuid moth looks like.

    • I don’t know where it gets that unusual purple coloration. The caterpillar is really a drab, somewhat ugly thing, kind of green-brown with faint purple bands. Maybe if I had started with better search terms, this wouldn’t have taken so long…

  1. That certainly is a beauty and quite a find for National Moth Week. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of these guys. I’m not even sure if there is leadplant on the prairie I monitor.

    • I might not ever see another one, so I’m glad I got the photos I did. I went out to a prairie where there is a lot of leadplant today, and didn’t see a single moth. So…rare is the right term for it.

  2. Great find, Sue. A cool-looking moth for sure and you got some wonderful shots. Kudos too to your persistence. It’s hard to figure out the distinguishing characteristics of species when you look at as broad a range of creatures as you do.

  3. Pingback: Getting into focus | Back Yard Biology

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