This moth is a good example of what a lot of my moths are at the moment – unidentified! This is certainly a Gelechiidae, you can see the large upturned palps on the front of the head, and a finger-shaped projection on the tips of the hindwings. Just about one of the easiest families of microleps to identify. And from a general gestalt perhaps this is in the Gnorimoschemini? If someone recognizes this little guy please let me know, otherwise I’ll attack the literature to try and track down the name. This beautiful moth is from the mountains outside of Prescott, AZ – July 2010. Rather enjoyably, there are so many microlepidoptera that are not easily identified.
You may have already heard the shocking news regarding the impending changes at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. In short, the museum is in financial crisis and massive changes are going to be implemented by the new president, Richard Lariviere. It’s likely that up to half of the research staff (including tenured curators) will be laid off and all research departments will be dissolved into “science and education”. Money will be spent modernizing the exhibits, all while gutting the scientific core of the museum.
A few months ago many of you probably stumbled across this meme – the famous Poodle Moth! And indeed for the most part the reporting was half decent. Yes, it’s real. Yes, it’s a moth. Yes, it’s probably a species in the Lasiocampidae (possibly the genus Artace) as correctly pointed out by Dr. John Rawlins.
I expected this to be all well and good, hey there are tons of cute moths out there and it’s about time someone noticed! I didn’t bother to read the article until a colleague forwarded it to me from the “Cosmic Log on nbcnews.com“. What I found was horrifying hilarious. NBC for some reason decided to cite a cryptozoologist who was one of the first people to apparently blog about this moth and attempt to identify it (incorrectly, but not a bad effort for a non-entomologist). And then stories like this one in the Christian Post started popping up everywhere: Venezuelan Poodle Moth Confuses Scientists. For some reason they all love using lines like “mystifying researchers”, or “baffling scientists”. I’m always amused by the catch words used in stories like this – and don’t really understand why they are so popular. I guess every time a scientist says “boy this is interesting” it gets misinterpreted as them being baffled; which makes me think the reporter might enjoy knocking science off of its imaginary ivory tower when they get to say “hey look these stupid scientists don’t even know the answer”. And while we often don’t know the answer (it’s sort of our job to discover those answers), it doesn’t mean we’re stumped. Especially in this case, it’s just a fluffy moth.
No real harm, but that whole cryptozoology thing gets me riled up. I think its unfortunate that a cryptozoologist nabbed so much publicity and was talked about with a fair amount of credibility.
Cryptozoology is not a science, nor will it ever be. When cryptozoology is conducted as a science it’s called biology.
Yes there are nuts out there who believe they are conducting real science, following tall tales in circles and building stacks of anecdotal “evidence” that never seem to result in truths. There are real differences between what a scientist and a pseudoscientist does. Say a scientist hears reports of an odd animal living in the deep jungles – they embark on an expedition (after begging for funding) to do the hard work of piecing together local stories and trekking the jungles or diving the oceans to find the specimens. Then they bring those specimens home, dissect every detail, and publish the results in a peer reviewed journal. If no specimens were found then that scientist goes home empty handed and rethinks the possibility of this new mythical creature. Maybe more funding would give them more time in the field… (always the answer, right?) But the story ends there, without evidence the animal doesn’t exist. This is where cryptozoology departs from real science – they embrace anecdotal tales as fact and never admit defeat. Nessy exists because people see him. The explanation can’t possibly be any large array of more plausible options… because the world a cryptozoologist lives in is mythical and fundamentally not real.
OK enough ranting, let’s just hope for more adorable moths hitting the news cycle!
Welcome to the new home of the Skeptical Moth! I know updating blogrolls isn’t all that fun, but thank you for sticking with me. And since it’s Monday – here is an Automeris io (Saturniidae) from southern Illinois, May 2012.
Today’s moth is a stunning micro and another creature from Barb Bartell’s back yard in the Rockies. To the best of my knowledge it’s a species of Mompha (Coleophoridae), probably claudiella,but I don’t have a positive ID on this bug yet. Once I start digging through the micros from this site there are sure to be surprises!
To reignite the Monday Moth series here is a stunner: Melemaea magdalena (Geometridae).
This rare beauty has previously only been known from scattered localities across the mountain west and only from a few individuals every other season. That is until Denver Museum volunteer Barbara Bartell began inventorying moths on her property near Golden Gate Canyon State Park in the Rocky Mountain front range. Over 8,000′ these moths turn out to be a regular visitor at her cabin blacklight and we now have the largest series known of this stunning species (and all perfectly curated!).
Leave it to Denver to combine two things perfect for this blog – entomology and skepticism! If you haven’t seen these clips then take a second to watch the video above. At the very least this appears to be a real phenomenon, camera crews from the news station were able to record the very same effect. So what could they be?
I had an instantaneous recognition of what these UFOs were – flying insects, probably flies of some kind (Diptera) mating in the warm afternoon sun. It has been nice here in Denver and the hours around 1pm are always the warmest (strangely the same time the “UFOs” are most active). But it’s hard to tell with any degree of certainty what these objects are because of the way that KDVR shows the clips. Odd angles, 2 second flashes, fast forward, super slow motion, super contrast… you only have fractions of a second to see the clip in real time. But when you do it seems so very obvious – and in my professional opinion – that these are insects.
Unfortunately they now have a quote from a Denver entomologist, Mary Ann Hamilton (misspelled as Mart on the KDVR website), saying these are not insects. Facepalm. I don’t know Mary and I certainly can’t blame her for being uncertain as to what these are after staring at the footage over and over and over again. In my opinion it was too hasty to rule out insects. Especially because once you enhance… enhance… and ENHANCE the footage you being to lose all track of reality. The camera footage has recorded very out of focus insects, and the very nature of optics means you have lost most of the information outside of the depth of field. And so enlarging and slowing down these images only makes this problem infinitely worse. The pixels become too large to render any meaningful information and an effect known as pareidolia starts to kick in. Our brains start jumbling together often meaningless data into something recognizable. This is why people see a face on Mars, or rocket boosters coming out of the butts of these insects flying over Denver. And I don’t blame Mary for looking at some of these shiny objects whipping around in weird directions and not seeing insects. But perhaps KDVR could have requested an interview with someone at the Denver Museum (which they did not) – they would have been given an entomologist with much more field experience. I can’t say Mary is unqualified and I don’t mean any disrespect to her, but I don’t believe running a butterfly house is the same thing as being an active research entomologist.
This video is pretty excellent for explaining insect UFOs – although these are much larger insects than the ones captured above Denver.
And check out this cool video of a Syrphidae fly hovering in the sun – imagine these out of focus and hurtling around in front of the camera…
That summer sure flew by, and I have to admit that being unemployed really, really turned my productivity into crap. But the good news is that I’ve just relocated to Denver for a job in entomology at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science! I’ll be working on databasing and photographing insects for the Southwest Collections of Arthropods Network (SCAN). It’s wonderful to be back to work and I’m feeling a lot more blogging coming on… not to mention this is one of the most amazing ecoregions in the United States. I am already plotting lots of ways to take advantage of these mountains in the spring.
So why not take a brief tour of my new office through the looking glass of creationist wackos. It’s nice to remind myself why I love talking about science.
Not an uncommon moth, but a distinguished looking one. This is Catocala ilia (Erebidae) ((formerly Noctuidae)), and it feeds on a handful of Oaks. It came into my light over the weekend in Southern Illinois, down in the Trail of Tears State Forest. As with so many other moths this widespread species has a number of variations which may turn out to be distinct – pending a monograph of the species…
I’ve now banked a handful of nice moth images so expect more Monday moths! (even though this is a Friday moth).