Tree of Heaven: Food and Shelter for This Moth

An ermine moth known as Ailanthus Webworm
An ermine moth known as Ailanthus Webworm

If only they had bigger appetites. The Ailanthus Webworm thinks Tree of Heaven is delicious, but the caterpillars have such tiny mouths. They also roll up leaves of this tree to create their protective cocoons, much like other web worms that are more conspicuous.

I bet you’ve seen this oddly-patterned tube of a creature on a goldenrod or (like this one) wingstem this time of year. They have been in the US as natives only to Florida, but the South American contingent seems to have migrated north as the invasive Ailanthus also moves inexorably north, taking over forest clearings once inhabited by native tree species.

This is an odd moth, active by day, and with its strange and colorful pattern, you might jump to the conclusion that it was some kind of beetle.

For the life of me, I cannot figure out why, 45 years after my one entomology class at Auburn, I still recall that this insect belongs to the family Yponomeutidae. Seems like those synapses from 1969 could have been used for some more practical factoid like the name of that gal in my Ent class that kept bugging me to go to Peeps after class for a beer. If that had been on the test, I would have remembered.

iNaturalist.org · Ailanthus Webworm Moth (Atteva aurea)

Atteva aurea – Ailanthus Webworm Moth — Discover Life

About

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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