Unusual beetle(?) with brilliant orange, yellow, black markings?

lrobins(z5 CO)August 10, 2004


I would like help identifying an unusual insect (just curiosity). I spotted the insect on a Eupatorium (Joe Pye Weed) flower, so it is likely attracted to nectar. I trapped and released the insect just for a closer look. I would say the length was 1/4 to 1/2 inch, and the body was very thin, not much wider than a toothpick. The insect had two wings and looked beetle-like to me, that is the wings folded neatly over the body when not in flight, although I am not an expert in insect classification. The markings were brilliant, alternating orange and black/yellow stripes going around the body (like a zebra) rather than parallel to the length. By "black/yellow", I mean that these stripes were subdivided into black and yellow regions in an intricate pattern. I did a web search for common beetles with these markings, but didn't turn up anything quickly. I'm pretty sure that my insect is not a cucumber or potato beetle.

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lrobins(z5 CO)

Actually, believe it or not, this brilliantly colored, daytime active, thin bodied insect is a MOTH, the adult of the Ailanthus webworm, Atteva punctilla. The Ailanthus webworm is a sub-tropical insect that has spread north following the introduction of an "alternate" host plant, the introduced invasive species Ailanthus altissima, that has spread throughout North America. (Since the Ailanthus tree is not native to the Americas, while Atteva punctilla is, we can say that the moth has "adapted" a new host.) Further, Atteva punctilla is not adapted to survive cold winters, so apparently a population flies north each year to seek the abundant leaves of the Ailanthus trees.

Since Ailanthus is generally considered undesirable (it has bad habits, like spreading into a huge thicket by runner roots, and producing a toxin that interferes with growth of other plants in its vicinity), the Atteva punctilla might be classified as a beneficial insect, although it doesn't do enough damage to seriously impact the Ailanthus.

There are hundreds of images of this tiny but photogenic insect on the web. Here are a few:



    Bookmark   August 27, 2004 at 10:44PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Well, we sure wre thrown off by the suggestion that it was a beetle!!! ;-) Next time, maybe post an image.

I totally agree that this is a wonderful little insect! I see them only rarely, and it's always a great surprise!

    Bookmark   August 29, 2004 at 6:26PM
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Aren't they gorgeous! I found one only by chance; I was photographing a butterfly, and only noticed it AFTER I downloaded the photo. I posted it in one of these forums and Lynn identified it for me.

    Bookmark   September 3, 2004 at 3:24PM
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I just left my Joe Pye weed to come and find out what bugs are all over it, and I saw this question. Funny, the description fits until lrobins describes the decorative patterns. My bug isn't atteva punctilla. The body stripes are narrow and bee-like. Any other ideas? I'd take a picture if I knew how to....

    Bookmark   August 26, 2010 at 4:25PM
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