A Leopard moth in Austin, Texas

BugsInTheNews is a VIEWER-PARTICIPANT WEBSITE. This article by Jerry Cates and Vickie W., first published on 18 April 2011, was revised last on 7 July 2012. © Bugsinthenews Vol. 12:04(02)

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Leopard moth (Hypercompe sp. Hubner, 1819); Vickie W., Austin, TX --- 17 Apr 2011

Leopard moth (Hypercompe sp. Hubner, 1819); Vickie W., Austin, TX --- 17 Apr 2011

Vickie, a close family friend since 1977, wrote my wife the following note:

We found the attached “bug” and it was so unusual that maybe you can show Jerry to see what it is…..it is on our patio wall and it stays there long periods of time and moves ever so slowly.   Just curious what it is called.

We had just returned to Round Rock from a wonderful weekend in Austin, attending the wedding of our youngest son Andrew, and his beautiful wife Kelly. Vickie and her husband Dick were with us at the wedding — held in the Texas Capitol building’s open rotunda, with the Rev. Allen Pomeroy officiating in full Scottish kilt regalia — and at the reception afterward, in the Driskill Hotel at 6th and Congress. When we returned home to prepare for a barbecue scheduled for Monday afternoon, Vickie’s email was waiting for us.

Several people have asked me to identify specimens of moths very similar to this one over the past year. It is a member of the genus Hypercompe, which was first described by the German entomologist Jacob Hübner in 1819. About 80 species have been identified, and they are so similar in appearance that identifying a given specimen to the species level, from a single photograph of the dorsal body with the wings folded (as with Vickie’s specimen) is somewhat dicey.

A common species is the giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia, first described by the Dutch entomologist Caspar Stoll, in 1790). It has a wingspan of 3 inches, and has a dark blue thorax, visible when the wings are spread, The caterpillars are black “woolly-bears” that, when threatened or disturbed roll into a ball, exposing an orange-red skin beneath the black bristles. They eat bougainvillea, sunflowers, dandelions, and a number of other plants, and because of this many feel they should be treated with pesticides. The thing is, they are never very numerous, and when foraging can be seen and easily picked off the plants manually with a gloved hand.

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