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Virgin Tiger Moth

Shari Gordon, a volunteer transcriptionist at 88.9 WCVE, shares a photo of a moth she encountered with entomologist Dr. Art Evans and 88.9 WCVE producer Steve Clark.

Photo: Virgin tiger moth, Grammia virgo (Lepidoptera: Erebidae).

Transcript:
SC: I’m Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is “What’s Bugging You?”.  One of the things that Art said to me when I first met him was, “There’s only two types of people in the world – those who love bugs and those who don’t yet know they love bugs.” (laughing)  And that seems to be the experience of our new transcriptionist, Shari Gordon.

AE: Well, Shari, thank you so much for doing that for us. You found something.

SG: That’s right. A few months ago I contacted WCVE and wanted to do something continuous, like a continuous volunteer opportunity, and they told me about this transcribing opportunity and “What’s Bugging You?”. And I thought, “Insects, okay.” (laughing) And since I have been transcribing, I have been noticing insects everywhere.

AE: Umm, hmm.

SG: And I was out at my parents’ farm. They have about 175 acres in Prince George County. And I noticed this beautiful moth, snapped a picture, and here we are.

AE: Nice! Well, looking at your moth, it has this beautiful color pattern. It has black and white on its forewings. You describe it as looking like a stained glass pattern?

SG: I thought it looked like a stained glass window.

AE: Umm, hmm. Well, this is a tiger moth, and specifically it’s called the virgin tiger moth. The caterpillars of tiger moths are typically called wooly bears, and they are one of the many harbingers of autumn. You typically see the wooly bears crossing the road. They’re looking for a place to overwinter, but several species of the adult tiger moths come out in late summer / early fall, and the virgin tiger moth is one of them. Did you get a chance to see what it looks like underneath those black and white wings?

SG: No, this was early morning, and I believe it was just resting.

AE: Umm, hmm.

SG: So, it just happened to be sitting on the ground in a stationary position.

AE: Umm, hmm. Well, if you get to see another one, gently prod it just a little bit and with luck it will open up those wings and reveal brilliant pinkish-red wings with bold black markings, and this is what we call aposematic coloration. Aposematic or warning coloration is when an insect looks very conspicuous, and oftentimes it’s warning potential predators that it tastes bad or it stings or it bites or some combination thereof. And we also have cases where insects that mimic those patterns in order to fool educated predators that they bite, sting, or taste bad. In the case of this particular moth, as you’re gently prodding it, you may notice some yellow bubbles foaming up around its midsection of the thorax, and those are its defensive glands secreting this noxious chemical, so they really are chemically defended. Well, I hope you’ll come back and share some of your other insect discoveries with us here on “What’s Bugging You?”.

SG: I’m sure I will. I have been bitten by the “What’s Bugging You?”. (laughing)

SC: Well, thanks for all you do for us and for the audience. Shari Gordon is a volunteer transcriptionist here at WCVE, and it occurs to me as we're in our membership campaign that there is more than one way to make a contribution to the station. For more on volunteer opportunities, visit ideastations.org/volunteer. Dr. Art Evans is the author of Beetles of Eastern North America, and you’ll find photos, audio, and a link to Art’s Facebook page at ideastations.org/radio/bugs.