Caribbean moth mysteries #1

A little over a month ago, I went on a trip to Bonaire. This island is best known for its underwater world and its flamingo’s, donkeys and iguanas. Regular readers of my blog know that I have a fascination for insects, so on this trip I paid close attention to these underappreciated creatures. Insects and photography are a tricky combination, but I did manage to get some decent photos of three different moths, which I will show you in 2 posts. It took some time to figure out which species they were since there is little information available on insects in the caribbean. But I hope these posts will inspire you to pay some attention to the little critters around you even on vacation, because they might surprise you!

The moth that inspired me to write this blogpost was the Fasciolated Melipotis (Melipotis fasciolaris). Since the moth I photographed is somewhat conspicuous, I thought it would be easy to determine which species it belonged to. Unfortunately, I was wrong. I spotted this particular specimen during the day. As most moths are nocturnal, I started looking for information on butterflies. But as I delved deeper into the world of butterflies and moths, I came to the realization that this could also be a day-active moth. The biggest difference between butterflies and moths is seen when comparing the shape of the tips of the antennae. Those of butterflies generally end in a bulb, whereas moths don’t have any bulbs at the end of their antennae. After some additional searches I finally figured out that it was the Fasciolated Melipotis. The species name fasciolaris means ‘having a belt’ in Latin and it points to the white band that runs over the wings. Apparantly this species is sexually dimorphic, meaning that there is a clear difference between males and females. Males have a white band running over their wings, whereas females are more dull with no noticible ‘belt’.

Like bees and butterflies, moths can be important pollinators. The behaviour of this species has not been investigated extensively, but some studies on pollination of particular plants or trees do mention sightings of the fasciolated melipotis moth. One study on Barbados notes that larvae of this moth feed on the leaves of the Roughbark lignum-vitae or Wayaca tree(Guaiacum officinale), which is also present on Bonaire. Whether the larvae also prefers the Wayaca tree on Bonaire and if they are harmful for the tree is not known.

I photographed this particular moth while camping near a beach in the national park of Bonaire (at Slagbaai). The moth was drinking some soda that was spilled on the table where all the drinks were stalled. He did not seemed bothered by me taking pictures (I could even make a movie!). After a while though, one of the other people I was camping with, came to close and it flew away on the ground. Moments later, he was eaten by a bird, the Yellow Warbler. Rest in peace, my moth model!

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