Monday, June 10, 2013

The better to smell you with

As I walked through one of the small parks in my neighborhood, I noticed a small moth flying along the path.  Holding my breath, I hoped fervently that it would land somewhere nearby.  Why did I care so much about getting a better look at a little moth?  The answer is that I had never seen one like it -- and that it had seemingly impossibly long antennae.

A male fairy longhorn moth (Nemophora sp.).
Luckily for me, the moth did land right beside the path.  Approaching cautiously, I was surprised to see that it had stunning wings, with iridescent yellow, blue and purple markings and a fuzzy fringe.  I was still more impressed by the antennae, though, which were so long that they had made the moth's flight appear somewhat awkward.

Another view of the fairy longhorn moth (Nemophora sp.).
Moths use their antennae for smelling.  They can use their acute sense of smell to locate nectar to drink, host plants where they can lay their eggs, and mates.  Although both male and female fairy longhorn moths (Adelidae) have long antennae, those of the males are significantly longer and can be several times the length of their wings.  The males may use their long antennae to detect pheromones released by the females, or perhaps to locate other males, since male fairy longhorn moths are known to swarm in large groups.

Yet another view of this amazing little moth.

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