An Update and a Fancy Moth

First, an update on the mystery from the other day. I showed that post to Andy Hamilton, and in the meantime Lee managed to find some occupied tubes, and the upshot is that they are indeed the work of spittlebugs in the family Clastopteridae, as I had guessed. However, they are not in the subfamily Machaerotinae, but rather Clastopterinae–some species of which make flimsier versions of the machaerotine tubes shown here. As it happens, Andy had just completed and submitted a revision of the old-world Clastopterinae, and Lee has given him permission to use several of his photos, which will be appended to the manuscript. The spittlebug in question may be Patriziana somalicus, which in 1930 was reported to feed on Abutilon and cotton, both in the mallow family (Malvaceae) as silver raisin is, and apparently that was the last anyone heard of it. At least, that was the impression I got–Andy was very excited about it. Lee is going to send him a specimen for examination and DNA barcoding. I’ll post an update/clarification when the paper is published.

Anyway, this morning a fellow western Massachusetts naturalist, Sue Cloutier, sent me a photo of a tiny moth she had seen at a light in Northampton, thinking she might have recognized it from BugTracks. In fact, it isn’t something I had posted here before, but I think I had posted a photo of it once on Facebook. It is certainly a memorable moth, and Sue’s email prompted me to look at the BugGuide page, where I learned for the first time what this moth does for a living.


When I saw this moth at work one day, I thought I might be seeing my first fairy moth. But when I got home and looked it up, I quickly saw that that wasn’t right, and I figured out that it is instead one of the “concealer moths” (Oecophoridae), Mathildana newmanella. The family’s common name comes from the fact that the larvae tend to feed concealed in webs or in rolled or tied leaves.

Larvae of Mathildana newmanella, I learned today, live in webs under the bark of dead trees. Adults have been reared from Ganoderma tsugae, a bright red shelf fungus that grows on hemlocks, known as the hemlock varnish shelf. It is a very common fungus, and for that reason it apparently has never occurred to me to photograph it, except for one time exactly ten years ago, soon after I was given my first digital camera.

hemlock polypores hemlock polypore

This fungus is one of a few closely related Ganoderma species that are known as reishi or lingzhi and are used medicinally. I’ve had reishi tea and it pretty much tastes like dirt, but I’m happy to overlook that considering its many redeeming qualities, which include anticancer properties.

I’ve seen Mathildana newmanella just one other time, and in that instance it was perched on a dead tree, where I suppose it might have developed as a larva and had recently emerged, or was looking to start a new generation in that tree, or both. That happened to be on the same walk that culminated in my first sighting of a leaf-rolling weevil doing its thing.


About Charley Eiseman

I am a freelance naturalist, endlessly fascinated by the interconnections of all the living and nonliving things around me. I am the lead author of Tracks & Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates (Stackpole Books, 2010), and continue to collect photographs and information on this subject. These days I am especially drawn to galls, leaf mines, and other plant-insect interactions.
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1 Response to An Update and a Fancy Moth

  1. says:

    Thank you again and again, Charley, I so enjoy your posts.

    Wendy Willard

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