Observation of the Week, 4/7/18


Our Observation of the Week is this group of Pitcher Plant Mining Moths, seen in Mississippi by @misspt!

The inside of a carnivorous plant is not the first place one would think of to look for (living) insects, but that’s exactly where Pitcher Plant Mining Moths thrive, as iNat user Lillian Gibb (misspt) documented in her photo (above).

Lillian saw the flower while on an outing with the Mississippi Naturalists Facebook group. “We were fortunate to have about 15 people from 3 different states and multiple areas of interest participate in an outing to the DeSoto National Forest area called Buttercup Flats.” It’s a restored Longleaf Pine Savanna ecosystem, which Lillian says “receives the routine burning that allows the ecosystem to flourish.  

This particular area is a pitcher plant bog and we specifically were able to find and identify 7 different types of carnivorous plants. We also saw several other organisms specialized to the Longleaf Pine Savanna besides the Pitcher Plant Mining Moth, including Bachman's Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, and Polygala nana.

As their common name suggests, the larvae of this moth host on the leaves of pitcher plants, which are carnivorous. After hatching, the larvae consume the leaf flesh in a pattern several grooves near the top of the leaf. This causes the upper part of the leaf to stop growing, and it forms a hard cap over the top, protecting the larva from predators. The flesh of the leave below the grooves remains fresh and growing, providing them food.

As adults, these moths spend much of the day sheltering on the inside of pitcher plant leaves, their feet specially designed to not slide on the slippery, downward-facing hairs that cause other insects to meet their doom. They always face upright when in the leaf, even backing in from the top. And while most moths face away from each other when copulating, Pitcher Plant Mining Moths mate at a ninety-degree angle so they don’t fall to their deaths!

Lillian (above, looking at carnivorous plants) grew up in Kemper County, Mississippi, and was always interested in the outdoors, and says “the first time I really connected with recording and understanding nature was in sixth grade completing a wildflower project in which I brought in the largest number of species by far as compared to my classmates.  My science teachers in ongoing grades helped continue to encourage my scientific endeavors with hands on learning.”

After fifteen years of working on her career and raising her family, she says she took up birding as a hobby, and calls the Longleaf Pine Savanna (and birds) her focus.

Of iNaturalist, she says

[it] has been extremely helpful with clarifying IDs, improving my ID abilities and helping me map my certain areas of interest, particularly Pitcher Plants a threatened/near threatened species. In Mississippi, we are working on trying to interest and involve more of our naturalists. We have so many people with amazing knowledge areas, but they still need a little convincing regarding the benefit of long term online observations that become part of a larger ongoing record.

If you’re a Mississippian who’s into nature, we’d love to see more observations from your state!

- by Tony Iwane


- Moths aren’t the only arthropods that take advantage of pitcher plants!

- Some cool Pitcher Plant Mining Moth info

Posted by tiwane tiwane, April 07, 2018 10:25 PM

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