Friday, January 9, 2009

Mothra vs. Batzilla

When I was a kid I loved to watch the Godzilla movies. A few weeks ago, a huge moth landed on tarp over our dinner table. The moth was about the size of my hand and had two large eyespots on its wings. By far the largest moth I have ever seen. If someone can identify this moth or butterfly, please let me know.

Every night, a bat swoops around our dinner table and clears the area of most of the bugs that flutter around the lights. When it first gets dark at night, the tarp above the table is covered with moths and countless flying arthropods. By the time we get to tent in the morning, our dinner table is usually covered with moth wings and bat droppings. The bat is one of the highlights to the meal, along with the occasional appearance of a bush baby or genet.

On the night the giant moth made its appearance I kept my camera trained on the moth, patiently waiting for the demise of the magnificent moth. The bat made several attempts to get the moth, but for the hour I was watching, the bat was not able to corral the giant moth, that I came to think of as the Mothra of Godzilla movie fame. A couple of Tuskers later, the moth was still clinging to the tarp. It may have been too much for the bat to handle. Who knows what happened when the lights went out?


MSU CNS said...

Gary Parsons who oversees the A.J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection in the MSU Dept. of Entomology says the moth is most likely the speckled emperor moth. Scientific name: Gynanisa maja (Klug) (Lepidoptera: Saturniidae)

He was able to find one deep in the collection on the 4th floor of the Natural Science Building in East Lansing.

Gary provided this info...
Large, green caterpillars feed primarily on acacias and mopane. They can become extremely abundant and have outbreaks in some areas. The caterpillar of Gynanisa maja is not one of the true "mopane worms" (Imbrasia spp.) but it too is used for food by many local peoples in Africa when abundant. If the students have been seeing large green caterpillars on the nearby trees in earlier seasons, then this is one of the adults from those caterpillars.

MSU CNS said...

Gary also forwarded this link to a website with pictures of adults and larvae.

Thanks for the quick identification Gary!


David said...

Andy, I'm surprised you were sharing your Tuskers with a moth and even more surprised that the moth was still able to cling to the tent after a couple of 'em.

AfriBats said...

Would you add your bat photos - these are slit-faced bats (Nycteris sp.) - as a citizen-science observation to the AfriBats project on iNaturalist ( AfriBats will use your observations to better understand bat distributions and help protect bats in Africa.

If you decide to share your observation, please locate it on the map as precisely as possible to maximise the scientific value of your records.

Many thanks!

btw: please feel free sharing any other bat observations from Africa you might have.

Michigan State University | College of Natural Science