This post is by Olivia Schouten, one of this year’s Hubbard Fellows. In this post, she shares a quick story about a moth she stumbled upon while doing invasive species control work.
Searching for musk thistles has given me a great way to explore every last corner of our properties here on the Platte, finding some cool things along the way! While we need to remove them, there’s no question that musk thistle flowers attract a wide assortment of pollinators, and it was on one such musk thistle that I found one of the coolest moths I’ve ever seen.
This little guy caught my eye as I approached this thistle, and I just had to stop and inspect it. It was about the size of one of my fingernails, and one of the fanciest insects I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. Its wings looked like a bright red dress fringed with lace, with a golden furry cape thrown over its shoulders. I’ve always thought moth faces are cute, and this one was no exception, with its big green eye watching me warily as I stuck my phone in its face to get a few pictures.
A little online searching later and I identified it as the Indian blanket moth (Schinia volupia), a southern plains species that lays its eggs exclusively on Indian Blanket (Gaillardia pulchella), a prairie wildflower that is just as brilliantly yellow and red as this moth. I’m not entirely sure if this coloring of the moth is meant to act as camouflage while it sits on the host flowers, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that its fancy coloring probably doesn’t hurt (though it certainly made it more obvious when sitting on a different flower). The larva are just as striking, with red and white stripes running vertically down the caterpillar’s body. They feed exclusively on Indian blanket, though the adults will likely visit different species of Asteraceae for nectar.
Overall, it was great to get a chance to see this cute little specialist moth, and I’ll definitely be looking closer when I pass a patch of Indian Blanket in the future!