Goth butterflies
October 21, 2007 8:05 AM   Subscribe

The world’s weirdest moths l Moths that drink the tears of sleeping birds l Awesome moth camouflage l Buff Tip moth l moths magnified l Jim des Rivières' moth portraits


DARPA to create brain-chipped cyborg moths

Swedish caterpillars of the moth called Bird-cherry Ermine create dramatic webs that engulf a tree and bicycle (The Ermine moth).

Moths and butterflies from bugbios

Lynn Scott's Lepidoptera web site

Butterflies and Moths of North America

Moths and Butterflies of Europe and North Africa

National Geographic: Captivated by the beauty of moths, an artist uses digital scans to transform backyard fliers into fine art
posted by nickyskye (39 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I have not explored your links yet, nickyskye, but I just want to say that I am totally smitten by the phrase and the idea of "moths that drink the tears of sleeping birds."

That is going to be my phrase of the week.
posted by madamjujujive at 8:11 AM on October 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

I read "world's weirdest mouths" and immediately thought of Steven Tyler.
posted by Anything at 8:19 AM on October 21, 2007

So finally I know what that creature was that I saw in my four o'clocks - a hummingbird with a proboscis instead of a beak? I wasn't seeing things; it was a hummingbird hawkmoth. Cool.
posted by frobozz at 8:25 AM on October 21, 2007

One man against the moths: Jerry strikes back
posted by madamjujujive at 8:26 AM on October 21, 2007

mjjj beat me to it - she obviously drinks the tears of Calliope.
posted by Abiezer at 8:34 AM on October 21, 2007

"Over this odd world, the half that's dark now, I have to hunt a thing that lives on tears."
- Clarice Starling after visiting the moths at the Smithsonian's entymology dept in The Silence of the Lambs
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:47 AM on October 21, 2007

Some of those camo moths were pretty impressive.

I'm sure if I were the editor of science books, I'd succumb to the desire to slip in a picture that actually had no insect into one of those "various insect camoflauges" pages, just to brainsqueeze some readers.
posted by Bugbread at 8:53 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

The smiley-faced emoticon on this guy may be just a start, if they really evolve as quickly as was once thought, they could soon be hiding on your computer screen.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:17 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sticky Carpet, isn't that smiley face hilarious?
posted by nickyskye at 9:28 AM on October 21, 2007

We found one of these guys resting on the wall next to our front door a few weeks ago. Biggest freakin' bug I've ever seen. When it flew off, you could hear its wings cut the air - like a bird or a bat.
posted by kaseijin at 9:40 AM on October 21, 2007

Here's a better description of it. Moth must have been about 7 inches long.
posted by kaseijin at 9:43 AM on October 21, 2007

There is a band of frequencies too low for standard optical engineering and too high for radio, which until recently were just too difficult to study properly. With nanoengineering and advances in silicon technology, this has changed - terahertz scanners are coming into use for security and medical imaging, and there's talk of using those frequencies for very high speed networking.

Before this, though, the only known users of that band were moths - and researchers called it the Moth Band. Indeed, moths have been studied for clues on how to replicate their terahertz reception abilities with nanotech. (Slightly off-topic, the unique structure of lobster eyes have proved most useful for X-ray imaging, and space telescopes are being designed around the concept).
posted by Devonian at 9:53 AM on October 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Wow. I've seen a lot of moths, but these are excellent links. You're good, nickyskye.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:25 AM on October 21, 2007

Any discussion of weird & cool moths has to include my personal favorite, one of the most amazing stories in all biology.

When Charles Darwin turned his eye towards the study of orchids, he observed that individual species often had a matching species of insect adapted to its peculiarities that fed solely on its nectar. And then he came to an orchid from Madagascar called Angraecum sesquipedale, with a funnel more than 11 inches deep. In 1862 Darwin predicted there must be a moth with an 11 inch tongue that could reach the bottom of the orchid's well. 40 years later researchers found Xanthopan morgani praedicta, the Darwin's Hawk Moth.

Botanists have recently found another species of orchid in Madagascar with a 16 inch well. The hunt is on for the moth with a 16 inch tongue.
posted by scalefree at 11:38 AM on October 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

Occasionally we see sphinx/hummingbird moths hovering to drink nectar from flowers at dusk. You'd swear they were small, noiseless hummingbirds. Some here.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:39 AM on October 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

The old joke goes something like this:

Q; "Have you ever smelled moth balls?"

A; "No, how do you get your nose in between their little legs?"

From the Wikipedia entry on Nabokov:

The paleontologist and essayist Stephen Jay Gould discussed Nabokov's lepidoptery in an essay reprinted in his book I Have Landed. Gould notes that Nabokov was occasionally a scientific "stick-in-the-mud"; for example, Nabokov never accepted that genetics or the counting of chromosomes could be a valid way to distinguish species of insects, and relied on the traditional (for lepidopterists) microscopic comparison of their genitalia.
posted by Tube at 11:49 AM on October 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

Have we mentioned Kettlewell's famous peppered moth studies yet?
posted by Abiezer at 12:00 PM on October 21, 2007

Also: microscopic comparison of their genitalia
Isn't that what MetaTalk is for?
posted by Abiezer at 12:01 PM on October 21, 2007

Now I remember where I heard that before:
"The New Scientist reports the discovery that moths that drink the tears of sleeping birds.
Silly poets around the world were heard saying, "Dang I wish I thought of that".
posted by kolophon at 12:11 PM on October 21, 2007 [3 favorites]

When my sister was little, she misunderstood the whole "Moths eat your clothes" thing to mean that at any moment, a swarm of the dusty buggers could fall upon her and devour her clothes. Although she soon learnt that's not how it works, she has yet to get past her irrational fear of the things.

Moths that drink the tears of sleeping birds

God, I want to forward this to her.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:14 PM on October 21, 2007 [2 favorites]

What an amazing collection of moths (both in the FPP and the comments). I haven't been this blown away by insects since the praying mantis FPP a while back. Thanks nickyskye (and other contributors).
posted by Devils Slide at 12:23 PM on October 21, 2007

You know, I think I would wake up.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 12:29 PM on October 21, 2007

alright, i'm no creationist, but how in the hell does evolution create something like a humming bird moth or a hornet moth? it seems ridiculous that this could happen. what types of conditions lead to such close mimicry?
posted by es_de_bah at 12:55 PM on October 21, 2007

The poor, sad birds of Madagascar... why do they weep?

(besides the obvious -- the poaching, the disappearing forests, etc.)
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 1:12 PM on October 21, 2007

What an excellent post nickyskye:) Put me in the group of people who had never known that moths drink the tears of sleeping birds. What a world we live in.
posted by vronsky at 1:36 PM on October 21, 2007

Excellent. I want to get some prints of those moth-scans.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 2:59 PM on October 21, 2007

Some Luna moth pics from one I found this past summer
posted by edgeways at 3:10 PM on October 21, 2007

es_de_bah, thanks for articulating my own thoughts of amazement about the hummingbird and hornet moths. How the heck did that happen? Wouldn't it be interesting to see time lapse videos of the results of evolution transformations over the millennia?
posted by nickyskye at 3:26 PM on October 21, 2007

kolophon, your link is hilarious - zefank is a genius.

Great thread.
posted by madamjujujive at 3:47 PM on October 21, 2007

Great post, nickyskye! And yes, "drink the tears of sleeping birds." Holy christ! That moth's a poet and he don't know it.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:13 PM on October 21, 2007

Alvy, you're such a naughty older brother. Why are older brothers such rascals? Love your description of your little sister's fear, at any moment, a swarm of the dusty buggers could fall upon her and devour her clothes.

Dusty buggers is so apt.

Moths' feathery antennae (feather dusters?) always seemed strangely fascinating looking. Apparently, it's how they smell and navigate flight.

And thanks very much to those who contributed the wonderful additional links.
posted by nickyskye at 7:19 PM on October 21, 2007

I hate moths. Ever since I was a little kid and I left a cup of milk out under a nightlight while I went to the bathroom. Came back took a gulp without looking at got a mouthful of crunchy moth milk.
posted by humanfont at 7:24 PM on October 21, 2007

crunchy moth milk


Moths that drink the milk of sleeping children.

But it makes me go huh too. Maybe the moths put their proboscis in your milk to sip and fell in by accident?

But in Australia they've put them on the menu. Really.

"They can be made into a soup or flamed in some brandy"

"You flame them so the wings and the fur burn off and they go crunchy."

There's a video and everything. Wouldn't want to squick you more though. Well maybe a little ;->
posted by nickyskye at 7:49 PM on October 21, 2007

I learned the word "proboscis" at the age of about 8, after reading It- the part where the flying leech-things come out of the refrigerator and latch onto people and start sucking. So I read about something like this moth, and I really ought to think it's a beautiful example of the bounty of nature, but what in fact happens that a little part of my brain curls up and begins to weep.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 8:15 AM on October 22, 2007

what happens is that. horror = bad syntax.
posted by Dormant Gorilla at 8:16 AM on October 22, 2007

aww noo noo. Funny how moths are a bit scary. I think they're harmless to humans except they like eating wool, trees and crops, even the tear drinkers don't harm the birds. Butterflies have a proboscis too. Proboscises, proboscii?

Yeah, proboscis is one of those, er, evocative words. How about the schnozz on the Proboscis Monkey? It's kind of silly in a Jimmy Durante kind of way.
posted by nickyskye at 10:38 AM on October 22, 2007

Some years ago, my children captured a large caterpillar. They found it when they could actually hear it crunching the leaves of some shrubs in front of the house. They managed to keep it alive until it entered its cocoon phase and it sat in a big glass aquarium all winter. In the spring this moth appeared. It was pretty cool. We have waited every year for the monster caterpillars to assault the laurel plants in our front yard again but they have not returned.
posted by cyclopz at 2:13 PM on October 22, 2007

A few years ago I did some extensive backpacking in Peru, and made friends with a jungle guide who took me in the deep amazonian rainforest for about two weeks. One night, we were in a small wooden boat at the edge of lake and came upon a bush that must have had 100 or more brightly colored tiny sleeping birds within it. The neat thing was that since they had never seen humans, they did not register us a predators and you could pick them up in your hands and hold them, and then just place them back on the branch and they would go on sleeping. I didn't drink their tears though. But I'm sure they wouldn't have minded.
posted by vronsky at 2:21 PM on October 22, 2007 [2 favorites]

omg vronsky, what an awesome anecdote! wow. A poetic experience and wondrous to think about. How cool you went on such an adventure.
posted by nickyskye at 7:45 PM on October 22, 2007

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