Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Pure Gold!

This is a follow-up on my post "Blanket on a Stick", and posts and comments by Seabrooke, and Hugh:

Actually, the story starts earlier, and it's a chain reaction. A quick recap: on the first of January, Gerry at Naturespeak, blogged about the Shy Cosmet (Limnaecia phragmitella) larvae he had found in a cattail head. Seabrooke read this, and brought home her own cattail in March; she discovered one larva. I picked up on this, read about them in BugGuide, collected a cattail, and found dozens of similar caterpillars.

However, BugGuide lists them as an eastern moth; BC is not in their range. What were the ones I had, then?

I had filled the birdhouse with cattail fluff, probably including a fair number of larvae. And I had a Tupperware lidded bowl with more fluff and larvae. Laurie contributed another cattail head, undisturbed. I tied a plastic bag loosely around it, to keep the inhabitants from escaping, stacked it in a corner, and left the whole shebang to sit until June or July, when the moths should be emerging. (If they were the Shy Cosmet, that is.)

And forgot about it; this has been an eventful summer. And here it is, the end of August.

Yesterday evening, I brought everything inside; the birdhouse:

Front door, with the bedding hanging out.

... the Tupperware, and the bagged head.

After all the rain we've had, I expected to find mold and mildew in the birdhouse. But the fluff was as fine and dry as the day I jammed it in. I pulled out a couple of handfuls and inspected them. No larvae, no moths, no other insect life. I re-hung the birdhouse, disappointed.

The bag next. I opened it carefully, removed the head. It was intact. I pulled apart some of the fluff. No larvae, no moths, no other insect life. Oh, well.

I shook out the empty bag, and two moths fell out. They looked dead; well, they would be, locked inside the bag like that. But when I touched one to position it for the camera, it moved.

Shy Cosmet, about 1 cm. long.

These were beautiful moths, if tiny. The wings, legs, antennae, head, all reflect a warm, golden light; like something fashioned by a fine jeweller. The camera boggles at it, and barely hints at the metallic gleam.

The wings are much longer than the body, finely feathered, curved outward and upward at the end.

Besides the antennae, the Shy One carries two long spikes upright in front of the head. I don't remember seeing anything like this before. It belongs to the family of Twirler Moths (Gelechiidae), and those spikes, or labial palps, are characteristic.

The moths started walking around on the paper towel where I'd dropped them, and one found a damp spot. He stopped right there and started drinking. (Look closely; you can see his feeding tube.) I gave the second one a drop of water, too.

But were these the insects that had been in the cattail, or had they somehow found their way inside the bag through the knot? I turned to the Tupperware container, and inspected its contents. One dead larva. Two dead moths. The same species as the live ones. That settled it. The moths are the adults corresponding to the caterpillars I found in the spring.

And the Shy Cosmet has come to the west.

After their drink, the surviving moths were in the mood for exploring. I collected them (had to chase one) and took them outside.

Sitting on the hedge.

Next time I looked, they were gone.

One of the Shy Cosmets on BugGuide had been found half a mile from a cattail marsh, so these guys have a chance at finding a home. I hope.


  1. How cool! I'm glad that the experiment actually worked out for you (so often for me I get disappointing results). It's interesting that the moth hasn't been documented out there, at least that I've noticed.

    When I was in BC the primary reference I used was Jim Davis' Moths of the Pacific Northwest pages on Moth Photographers Group. He's from Washington, but most of his plates will also apply to BC. He doesn't seem to have the Shy Cosmet listed on his pages.

    You may also be interested in E-Fauna BC, a little like e-Bird but for all animal groups, where you record your observations in a large citizen science project. They have a page on that site for moths of BC (although it says currently under construction, you might be able to contact someone). Incidentally, when you do a species search on their pages for the Shy Cosmet it turns up no results.

    It strikes me that it might be worth contacting Don Lafontaine (not the voice actor) at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, to see what the status of the species in BC is, and if he has no or few records, to let him know of your observations (he would also be able to confirm the moth as Shy Cosmet or a similar western species if there was one). His email is listed at that link. My moth'er friend here in Ontario is in fairly regular contact with Don to check up on the status of various things, and we had a moth last fall that was possibly a second or third record for Ontario that was sent up to him for the collection when it unfortunately died. He seems pretty helpful and interested in receiving these records.

  2. Neat! Nice work! I wonder what the real range of this species is.

  3. Seabrooke: Thanks! I'll follow up on your suggestions.

    Hugh: And I wonder if it's moving, or it's been here all along. No way of finding that out, I guess. Unless you ask the red-wings, and they ain't tellin'.

  4. Anonymous2:49 pm

    This species is not on the new (2008) list of Lepidoptera for BC, which was recently updated and which we just linked to the E-Fauna BC Checklists Page (a PDF version will be posted shortly). The question is whether or not it is new to the province or an oversight. We have asked for some insight from the experts.

    Nice work on detecting it!

  5. Anonymous8:38 pm

    Hello Guys,

    I did a lot of online research till i found this page. These goldeb moths are indeed beautiful ... problem is i have then at home. I live in a suburb north if Toronto and i started seeing these ones at home. They are around the upper level at home and show up frequently at our bedrooms. I know they are harmless, but it is getting me concerned that they are everywhere even on our beds!

    Any ideas / thoughts on the reason behind having them at home or how to get rid of them?


  6. Anonymous: Do you have a photo of one of your moths? Do you have cattails near the house? If they are Shy Cosmet, they shouldn't be in your house, unless you have cattail fluff around.

    1. Anonymous1:05 pm

      Hello Susannah, yes I do, how can I send it over to you. Many thanks for the helow.


  7. Hi, Anon,

    You can send it attached to an e-mail to me, at wanderinweeta at gmail dot com

    Or load it to a Flickr account, if you have one, and send me the link.

    1. Anonymous4:40 pm

      Thanks, I just did. Cheers.


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