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An Internet Sensation

Male Creatonotus gangis

Photo: © 2014, David Rentz bunyipco.blogspot.com/2014/08/ (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

AN INTERNET SENSATION – TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 14, STEVE CLARK – Entomologist Dr. Art Evans and 88.9 WCVE producer Steve Clark discuss an unusual moth and the attention it has garnered recently on the internet.

SC: I’m Steve Clark with Dr. Art Evans, entomologist, and this is What’s Bugging You.

AE: So, you ready for this? Here’s a series of headlines that have come across my newsfeed on Facebook and elsewhere lately. “Another Creepy, Crawly You Wish Didn’t Really Exist,” “ Moth Stuns the Internet,” “Gangis Moth Terrorizing Australia,” “Real Monstrosities – Moth With Inflatable Hairy Bits.” (laughing)

SC: I never see anything like that on YouTube.

AE: Actually there is something like that on YouTube.

SC: Is it?

AE: We’ll provide a link for that at the end of this piece on our web page.

SC: What is this thing?

AE: Well, this is apparently the internet’s reaction to a video of, of . . . I’ll admit it’s an unusual tiger moth known as Creatonotus gangis. This is a tiger moth from Southeast Asia and northern Australia, and the males have this very elaborate, eversible gland called a coremata.

SC: Ev … Ev …

AE: Eversible. (laughing)

SC: What does that mean?

AE: That means that they fill up with fluid, and they come out like party favors.

SC: Oh.

AE: These four long hairy lobes, and then when the hydrostatic or fluid pressure is reduced, they go back into the body. In this case, it’s the male that produces these organs, and these coremata help them to release sexually attracting pheromone, to attract females. The chemicals in this pheromone are derived from the food plants that the caterpillars eat.

SC: How did this come to your attention?

AE: Well, several people contacted me, thereby posting a video on my Facebook page or sent me an instant message and wanted to know what it was. And I had seen these moths before. I’m not an expert on these moths by any means, but I was familiar with them and knew where to lead people to find more information. But what I found humorous is how this turned out to be a viral internet sensation. I mean, it’s just amazing to me how these natural phenomena are suddenly dubbed as “horrifying,” “devil-like,” or . . .

SC: Oh, right.

AE: . . . viral, I don’t know. It’s just, the whole thing just struck me as curious. I’m glad people are noticing insects. They think enough about the topic to want to find out more about it. I think that’s great.

SC: Well, well what do you think it is that draws people to these . . . is it just the sensational business?

AE: It is a sensational moth. I mean it’s, as with many tiger moths, they’re brilliantly colored. They have those bright aposematic colors, contrasting red and black. They’ve got that going for them. And of course, we do have tiger moths here. Nothing this fancy here in North America, but the caterpillar of this particular moth in question is, is very similar to what we know as a wooly bear here.

SC: Huh, okay.

AE: And we see them wandering along the roads right now. As things are starting to get cooler, they’re looking for a place to hide out for the winter. It’s a familiar moth, and yet the males have these very elaborate structures that are all about sex. It’s all about attracting a mate.

SC: So what about the females? Do they have a similar spectacular apparatus?

AE: No, not in this case. This type of structure, the hair pencils, are typically found in male butterflies and moths. And so it’s the females that are attracted to males.

SC: Dr. Art Evans is the author of Beetles of Eastern North America. You’ll find photos, audio, and a link to Art’s Facebook page at ideastations.org/radio/bugs.

To find photos and a link to a video, visit here.

Photo: Male Creatonotus gangis with coremata on full display.