Floridata Article

Polka-dot Wasp Moth (Syntomeida epilais)

Polka-dot Wasp Moth
Habitat: Open, sunny garden areas, meadows, pastures, and roadsides Garden Abundance: High Wingspan: 45 to 51 mm Larval Host Plants: The larvae feed mostly on the poisonous oleander shrubs (Nerium oleander), so they are also called the oleander moth. Favorite Adult Nectar Sources: Beggarticks (Bidens alba), Lantana (Lantana camera), and others.

With its iridescent gunmetal blue coloring punctuated by white dots and a bright red tip on its abdomen, this insect may look dangerous, but it's not. They are day-flying moths native to south Florida and the Caribbean Islands. The female polka-dot wasp moth emits ultra sonic sounds to attract a mate, not the scented pheromones like most other moths and butterflies. When the male comes within a few feet he'll start clicking as well.

These days, the larvae feed mostly on the poisonous oleander shrubs (Nerium oleander), so they are also called the oleander moth. Because of the toxic larval food and their warning coloration, most predators will not eat them. Before the Spanish imported the oleanders, researchers think that the devil's potato (Echites umbellata) used to be the main host plant for the caterpillar. Both plants are in the dogbane family or Apocynaceae. Sometimes the larvae are found on other members of the dogbane family, but they mostly use oleander as their host plant and have increased their range with the plantings of this Mediterranean shrub. In the first few instars, the caterpillars, which are bright orange with tufts of black hair, work together on the underside of the oleander leaves. Later stages of their caterpillars become solitary and will eat the entire leaves, not just the undersides and may strip an entire shrub bare. Except for California, the polka-dot wasp moth is now found wherever there are oleanders in the Americas.

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