Interesting Costa Rican Wasp Moths
April 11, 2010
On our recent trip to Costa Rica we spent a few days at the Las Cruces Biological Station/Wilson Botanical Gardens, a magnificent preserve and research facility run by the Organization for Tropical Studies (OTS). Part of my daily routine was to go night-lighting for bugs after dinner, a practice I would highly recommend to anyone who is interested in insects and isn’t too squeamish about tramping around in the dark. The station also provides a UV light screen for guests that are interested in viewing nocturnal insects, and this beautiful moth showed up one night on the underside of a nearby leaf. I am fairly certain the species is Histioea meldolae (Arctiidae: Ctenuchinae) and its startling appearance caught me a little off guard. Such brightly colored moths are usually diurnal (day fliers), the colors intended either for sexual communication or sending a warning to potential predators of toxicity or bad taste (aposematic coloration). This is indeed very common among Tiger Moths (Arctiidae) in general, including many Ctenuchid moths. Many Ctenuchids are also very good a mimicking menacing wasps, hence the common group name “Wasp Moths”. This one, however, didn’t look much like a wasp to me and appeared to be nocturnal, or perhaps crepuscular (dusk or dawn flier) which could explain the bright colors. It was also very difficult to identify and I eventually tracked it down by digging deeply into some very old scientific literature. I could find no photos of this beautiful species on the internet, a fact that I took as further indication that it probably hides by day and is probably uncommon and/or very secretive. If anyone out there knows anything about this moth I would greatly appreciate a comment. Regards.
As luck would have it, we are a neighbor and good friend of Arctiid expert Julian Donahue. I will contact him immediately to see what information he is able to provide.
Julian Provides some Information
Your contributor nailed the identification. Histioea meldolae was described in 1876 by Butler, based on specimens from Venezuela and Trinidad; Hampson subsequently restricted the type locality to Trinidad, and also reported the occurrence of the species from Chiriqui, Panama (Godman-Salvin collection).
There are currently 14 species recognized in the genus; all are South American, except for H. meldolae–this may be the first record of the genus north of Panama, although the INBIO collection in Costa Rica may have specimens.
Despite the comprehensive collection of Costa Rican arctiids at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, we have no specimens of this species from Costa Rica (all of ours are from Venezuela). I have never collected any moths in this genus myself, so have no personal knowledge of their behavior. We have good series of some species, but no information on whether they were reared or collected in the field–and at what time of day.
Hope this helps,
Julian P. Donahue