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Saturday, June 18, 2011

The beauty of moths

We admire moths at Estacion Biologica. Many of them live extremely briefly in their flying, adult phase, some never feed. Most individuals never mate. They choose the night to circulate, silent and unobtrusive. Their communications must be amazingly subtle, for there are literally hundreds of species in any tropical forest, each with its own chemical language of aroma. Their visual recognition cues must be limited, yet... some species carry dazzling color patterns on their wings. Take for example, Automeris tridens; we only recently captured a specimen in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. 

biodiversity in Laguna de Apoyo
Dorsal view of Automeris sp. captured in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo by Louise Davidson.
This is a member of the group of bull's eye silkmoths, of the family Saturniidae, of which many species are relatively large and colorful. The eyespots on its hindwings are in dramatic contrast to the rust color of the rest of the wings in dorsal view. These eyespots may have a function in predator avoidance. On the underside of the forewings, there are less pronounced eyespots. 
nature tourism in Nicaragua
Ventral view of Automeris tridens captured in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo by Louise Davidson.
The scales from the wings and body easily scuff off, making their majestic forms difficult to preserve. They are arranged in delicate, subtle patterns of line and shapes. Beneath them is a network of veins which can be diagnostic for the identification of many moths.

Although it has been recorded in eastern Nicaragua and as near as Domitila Private Reserve (just south of Mombacho), these photographs are of the first specimen recorded in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. It has also been recorded in Carazo and in nearby Guanacaste Department in Costa Rica. It joins the other more than 225 species of Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) now documented in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve.

Some scientists - even in Nicaragua - seek moths such as this one to sell. We do not think it is advisable for wildlife researchers to participate in the pet trade. We insist on reporting all exports of biological material duly, and we do not work with people who may confuse research and trafficking in wildlife. We have ended our association with at least one scientist over this issue, and we have reported what we knew about his activity to the Nicaraguan Police, who have passed the information to the FBI in the US, where an investigation continues. If you have evidence of someone trafficking in wildlife, please let us know.

Would you like to help us identify moth species found in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve and monitor their populations? Please contact us! Our little location offers many opportunities for nature tourism and volunteer opportunities.

Lepidoptera in Nicaragua
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