Biogeography and Natural History of Tiger Moths and Spongillaflies of Intermountain North America with Experimental Studies of Host Preference in the Lichen-Feeder Cisthene angelus (Insecta: Lepdioptera: Erebidae: Arctiinae and Neuroptera: Sisyridae)
The Intermountain West is comprised of impressive land formations, numerous ecoregions, and a unique biota. The area has many flora and fauna that have been investigated, but the region is generally considered undersampled when it comes to insects. However, I propose the matter to be a lack of shared experience in identifying key insect species and the underutilization of professional and personal collections. These impediments are highlighted by two insect groups in the Intermountain West: spongillaflies and tiger moths. Spongillaflies can be difficult to recognize for the general entomologist and have rarely been recorded in the Intermountain West. My colleagues and I recently discovered a large population of spongillaflies in Utah that we present as a substantial additional record. I also followed the population throughout the 2016 field season to make natural history observations. I identified the spongillaflies to be Climacia californica and their associated host to be Ephydatia fluviatilis. During the season, a total of 1,731 specimens were collected, light traps were the most effective sampling technique and the population had one mass emergence event. I hope my work and figures will help investigators as they continue to search the area for spongillaflies. Tiger moths on the other hand have largely been collected in the Intermountain West and are easily recognized, generally being brightly colored. Because of these bright colors, they attract collectors and have been sampled heavily throughout the Intermountain West. However, until now, these records have not been utilized and tucked away in collections. We took the vast amount of records and used them to create predicted models of biogeography for each tiger moth species in the area. We successfully created species level ecological niche models (ENM) analyzing environmental variables such as temperature, precipitation, elevation, and vegetation. Overall, I found tiger moths can be collected almost everywhere and during each month of the year with 93 different species scattered across the region. I anticipate our ENM models to help researchers locate tiger moths of interest to investigate within the Intermountain West. During my studies, I investigated in detail the lichen feeding tiger moths (Lithosiini). Many tiger moths eat toxic plants, but only a few in the area consume lichen, an unusual host because of their secondary defensive chemicals. I investigated how these chemicals impacted Cisthene angelus caterpillars host selection by simultaneously offering them various lichens with differing chemistries. I expected these caterpillars to avoid usnic acid as it deterred other lichen feeding tiger moths. However, these caterpillars surprised me by consistently consuming the acid and being largely polyphagous. Our future work will be directed at how caterpillars balance nutritional needs and the chemicals they sequester.
College and Department
Life Sciences; Biology
BYU ScholarsArchive Citation
Fisher, Makani Layne, "Biogeography and Natural History of Tiger Moths and Spongillaflies of Intermountain North America with Experimental Studies of Host Preference in the Lichen-Feeder Cisthene angelus (Insecta: Lepdioptera: Erebidae: Arctiinae and Neuroptera: Sisyridae)" (2018). Theses and Dissertations. 7177.
spongillafly, freshwater sponge, tiger moth, lichen feeding, polyphogous