Ladobe/Moth Experts

susanlynne48(OKC7a)October 1, 2010

One of my little Erinnyis obscura moths emerged from its cocoon today. I couldn't tend to it because I had to leave the house for the morning today and didn't want to release it yet before I could photograph the moth and the upperside of its lower wings in particular. I will take photos tomorrow.

The question:

Is there a way for me to slow down its metabolism (if that's what it is called in Lepidoptera) tomorrow morning so I can manipulate the lower wings in order to photograph them? They are the most colorful part of the moth (orange). I think I remember someone saying once that you could refrigerate them for a short time and then it will be more malleable so that I can get images of it. If so, for how long? I don't want to hurt it.

It is nocturnal, which means it will be less active during the daytime hours, but I have released several nocturnals that are quite active in their efforts to quickly escape to a perceived "safer" resting spot.



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Day or night will not matter to the moth in your proposed "posing" situation.

The chilling could work, but you might need to use the coldest part of the refrigerator. The duration of chilling does not matter to the moth but will leave less of an already short lifetime!

You will be manipulating the forewings, not the "lower" wings. Moth wings tend to structurally overlap so that the hindwing will unfurl and then follow the movement of the forewing.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 11:30PM
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A stay in the refridgerator (not in the freezer) will certainly give you the photo ops you want. Just have everything else ready so you can take the pics as soon as you take it out of cold storage and position it. How long in the cold depends on where in the cold. Shorter in the coldest areas, longer in the warmest. 10 minutes, 30 minutes or more as the case may be, it will be easy enough to tell when it gets very doscile. You want it cooled enough to stay docile for at least 5 minutes I'd guess. It would take days in the refridgerator ro kill the moth, so don't worry about that. Just check it every little while so you don't have to leave it in there longer than you need to.

Opinions vary. Putting it in the cold will NOT hurt the moth one bit OR shorten its life as long as you don't freeze it solid. Lepidoptera deal with cold to freezing temps as a part of their life in nature all the time, and for many hours on end sometimes with no ill effects. If you ever spent any time in the arctic/alpine zone you'd see first hand that they survive freezing temps all night every night even in the middle of summer, and often being buried in snow as well. When the sun comes out and the ambient temps rise they dig their way out.

I do agree that you will need to move the forewings forward to expose the hind wings. Since it will be many hours after it eclosed by the time you do this the wings will be full dry, but they are still fragile. Best method is to lay the moth on something that you can push pins into (cardboard, styrofoam, etc). Secure the head and abdomen with 2 pins each, 1 on each side of each close to them (not into them) so the moth doesn't move around while spreading the wings. Then to move the forewing use a pin just behind the rib of the coastal margin, or the subcosta vein or even behind the forward vein of the discal cell (all as close to the thorax as reasonable) and drag it forward. A piece of glassine or wax paper laid over the tip of the wing with a small weight on it will hold it in place if you only want pictures of the hind wings. If you want pictures of both fore and hind wings, simply push the pin you drag with through the wing cell right next to the vein when its in the position that you want. Yes it will make a pin sized hole in the wing cell. No it won't hurt the moth. No it won't shorten its life.

I made my own stylises for moving wings by drilling the right size hole in the end of very small wooden dowels so I could instert insect pins in them (head end first after clipping the head off). Insect pins are much longer, more flexible and so more forgiving, and most are smaller diameters than household pins. Some I bent about a 1/4" of the tip slightly, some I left straight but both have thier uses. Gives you a long handle that you can hold like a pencil. That allows you to rest the heel of your hand on the surface next to the lep while moving wings, and that gives you excellent control so that you take no chance in slipping and tearing a wing cell.

Sounds a whole lot more complicated than it really is. But it works fine and doesn't harm the lep.

Looking forward to the pics.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 1:48AM
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Thanks to both of you and will proceed with this procedure after first light today. I obviously don't have "insect pins", so will sewing needles work? Or can you recommend a readily available type of pin to use in the absence of insect pins?

I am going to save this thread in my "archives" for future reference should I be in this situation in the future, so I really do appreciate your help!


    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 7:07AM
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NP Susan, glad to help. Like with everything else that has to do with leps, I tried ALL the methods over the years and settled on what I found worked the best for me.

Too late now on the pins question I'm sure. But any pin/needle or even fine tipped tweezers that you can get control over should work fine. I just prefer insect pins because they are long, flexible and smaller diameter wire, so they are much easier to control and if you do push one through a cell they leave a very small hole that will not effect the leps ability to fly at all.

Looking forward to the pics to see what species they did turn out to be.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 2:58PM
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I've got pics and now I need to figure out how to size and edit in Picaso. I can verify for you that they are, indeed, Erinnyis obscura moths; they have the typical orange color on the upper side of their lower wings. They are pretty small moths.

Since I don't have any suitable pins, I was able to "manipulate" the wings with a wooden skewer in order to get the shots. Another moth emerged this morning, so I have pics of both. I also photographed the larvae and pupae as well. The pupae are one of the most beautiful I've seen, mahogany brown with orange streaks in it.

As soon as I figure out the editing, I'll post the pics, and thanks again for the help. I guess I should acquire some of the pins you recommend, Larry, in case I ever run into this situation again.

I put the little moths inside a bush to rest until evening, since these moths are nocturnal. I'm sure they're ready to feed on something and be on their way south.

BTW, I was able to raise and release 4 of these moths.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 7:39PM
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Insect pins come in packs of 100 (pack of 100 per each size) and can be difficult to find locally, although there are many sources online.

I would be glad to mail you a "sampler" of 3 or 4 sizes. Contact me via the My Page email link (or directly from email of 2006 correspondence between us).

I need to replenish my supply from a local scientific house anyway.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 12:21AM
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LG - that is so nice of you, and thank you! I'll send via "my page" link. I doubt that I would use that many, and assume that I can clean and reuse them. For sure, I won't be using them again this year since activity is slowly dwindling now. But, I might have a Walnut sphinx emerge yet. The Manducas will probably overwinter.


    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 8:32AM
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