Home > Moths > 29 June 2022 – Moths in Disguise

6 July 2022

29 June 2022 – Moths in Disguise

Buff-tip (Phalera bucephalia)

Here we have the fabulous Buff-tip, blending in flawlessly with a piece of tree bark.  It does not stand out in some ways: its buff tips! Hence the name.  ‘Buff’ refers to the light-yellow color, as in ‘Buff Ermine’ (a moth of similar colour) not muscles.  It makes you wonder why it has these colorations on the thorax and at the end of the forewing, especially in an evolutionary context, because against a birch tree it would probably be close to invisible.  Looking at its food plants, birch is a common choice but it will also feed on alder, lime, elm, beech, rowan, hornbeam and sycamore.  It is not particularly picky.

We know how it got its common name but what about the scientific name, Phalera bucephalia? The genus name is straightforward, deriving from phaleros meaning ‘having a white patch’ – there is a visible white patch on the forewing.

In contrast bucephalia may or may not directly refer to its appearance as it derives from ‘houkephalos’, ‘bull-headed’.  Furthermore Bucephalus is known as the name of Alexander the Great’s horse.  Though he appears a sort of brown colour in the famous Alexander mosaic at the House of the Faun in Pompeii, he is described in literature as ‘black with a white star on his forehead’.  In my opinion, Phalera bucephalia doesn’t really match that description, but it is correct that its yellow thorax sharply contrasts with its body.  Perhaps it reminded Carl Linnaeus, who named the species in 1758, of a bull in some way – maybe the nose of the bull instead of its whole head? Or maybe it was a cheeky insult to a stubborn moth … one can only wonder.

Coxcomb Prominent (Ptilodon capucina)

Though it is the middle of summer, this pretty little moth reminds me of autumn.  This is Ptilodon capucina, which is a moth and NOT a dried-up leaf, though it really does look just like one.  There are several tufts along the edges of the wings, with another large tuft on the thorax which is a creamier color while the primary centre tuft is dark brown, even darker than that of the forewings.

The tufts are the key to its common name : Coxcomb Prominent. The shape of the side view of the moth looks strikingly similar to a rooster’s comb and the bright reddish hue definitely adds to it.  It also matches the grassy flower known as Cock’s Comb – genus Celosia. Funnily enough, coxcomb can also mean ‘foolish’ or ‘dandy’ referring to the cap worn by a court jester, also named (you guessed it) a coxcomb.  Dandy this moth may be as it cooperated quite well and obligingly crawled onto a colored leaf for a photoshoot, but ‘foolish’ is a little out of place.

‘Prominent’ is a common descriptor in many moth names and seems to refer to the fact that long hair tufts can be seen along the forewings, reaffirming the name of Coxcomb.

Mackenzie Mckillip