The internet is a wonderful thing. Within minutes of my last post, James C. Trager of Missouri (on Facebook) and Cheryl Lavers of Arkansas (on this blog) had identified my mystery plant as Berchemia scandens, known as Alabama supplejack or Rattan vine. It is in the buckthorn family (Rhamnaceae), so my impression that it was similar to glossy buckthorn was on the right track. I checked my notes and it appears that there are no published records of any leafminers reared from this host. The only note I have for Berchemia is that adults of the leaf-mining weevil Tachygonus fulvipes (Curculionidae) have been found feeding on it. The plant and the beetle have suspiciously similar ranges (bounded by Texas, Illinois, and Florida), so Berchemia may well be the larval host for T. fulvipes, but weevils make very different mines and I already knew these were nepticulid and heliozelid moth mines. There are very few people paying attention to these tiny moths in North America, but Erik J. van Nieukerken, a researcher at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center in the Netherlands, specializes in them, and I have been collecting specimens for him throughout the western US. His reaction to the mines pictured in my last post:
I know that Don Davis got nepticulids in Texas on Berchemia. Rhamnaceae are an important host family for Nepticulidae. The species is probably new, I don’t know whether Don has reared any. Also a Coptodisca [Heliozelidae] would probably be new, but that genus has probably still many surprises. The stem mine could also be a Phyllocnistis or Marmara, I don’t think it is a nepticulid.
Don Davis is a Curator of Lepidoptera at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. He has well over 100 publications on microlepidoptera (small moths), beginning with “Bagworm Moths of the Western Hemisphere” in 1964. I asked him if he had anything to add to Erik’s comments, and he said that he has noted possible Stigmella (nepticulid) mines on Berchemia but was not able to rear adults. He has no records of Gracillariidae (the family to which Phyllocnistis and Marmara belong) from this plant. (Incidentally, by his count, there are 323 described North American gracillariids and 104 others that have yet to be named.)
So, of the three different mines we found on a couple of Berchemia vines during our short morning walk, one represents a species that has been noticed once before but has not been linked to an adult moth; the other two apparently no one has noticed before. Of the five nepticulid larvae we collected, the first emerged shortly after my last post:
The completed mine:
I’ve preserved this one so Erik can analyze its DNA. Two others have emerged; one has spun a cocoon and the other is getting ready to do so. If I manage to get an adult in the spring, I will of course post an update here.