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I have a research project that needs help from BugGuide

My Tulane colleague Rebecca Hazen and I are working with the Smithsonian's Don Davis to characterize the geographic range and genetic diversity of a particular Gracillariid moth, in genus Caloptilia. Dr. Davis is working on a formal description of the species, but as of this moment it is still unnamed. This moth is of particular interest as one of the few resident insects which feeds extensively on the noxious and invasive Chinese Tallow tree. Dr. Davis has been working with specimens collected in Florida, while Rebecca and I have just found it here in Louisiana. I was startled and very gratified to see that this moth has already been in the BugGuide for two years! Graham Montgomery submitted a photo of it from Texas back in 2007, which is the first report of it in that state that we are aware of:

If tallow exists in your area, this tiny moth should be fairly straightforward to find by looking for its very distinctive pattern of leaf damage: the early instar caterpillars are leaf miners, and the later instars cut and roll the margin of the leaf into a perfect rosette, inside of which they will pupate. If you would like to help, we ask that you keep an eye out for these caterpillars, and rear them out (easily accomplished by placing the leaf-rolls into a gallon plastic bag along with one or two additional tallow leaves) and send us the adults that emerge. Rebecca will be using the specimens for a genetic study, and we will mount voucher specimens from each locale and send them up to Dr. Davis at the Smithsonian. If you are unwilling to kill a moth, you can still contribute to this project by photographing the leaf damage, rearing the adults in a bag, and photographing the moth before you release it. Then post the images to the guide along with the precise location of the collection site.

I think that our nationwide community of insect lovers can be a powerful tool for research, whereby a lot of ground can be covered with a minimum of expense and time. I hope that you will keep an eye out for these critters, you'll be striking a blow for science (and helping out some poor graduate students). If you have any questions about our project, please post them, or feel free to email me directly. Thanks for all your help, past and future.

New photos
Hi C. triacidae fans. I recently posted some pictures of a larva in its mine here . Also, in the same plant, I noticed some larvae mining the stems , even though I haven't heard of that behavior in C. triacidae. Could the stem miner be a different species?

Stem mining
Thanks for posting the larval photos!

I have seen petiole- and stem-mining in heavily infested plants, though it isn't super common. It's the same species, I think it is just aimless mining that strays off the leaf blade. I have only seen it on very new growth where the stem is not hardened at all.

Questions for both of you
How long are these petiole/stem mines? Are any of the mines entirely in stems, or are they always connected to petiole/leaf mines? And have adults actually been reared from these atypical mines? I'm just wondering if there's any possibility that a Marmara species is using these plants along with C. triadicae--though Mark's observation that it only (?) occurs in heavily infested plants does support the assumption that it's all C. triadicae. I can't think of any other examples of Caloptilia species mining in petioles, let alone stems (unless you count the oddball C. murtfeldtella, which makes stem galls).

Edit: I'd forgotten that this species makes such long linear mines, unlike any other Caloptilia I know about. I guess there's no reason to doubt that C. triadicae is responsible for the petiole and stem mines, but it is very strange behavior.

Petiole/stem mines
In heavily infested plants, eggs are laid in high numbers on the extremely new growing leaves. In some cases, the leaves are so small and the egg density is so high that I can't rule out that eggs might be laid on the petiole or even the stem itself, but mostly the eggs are always laid on the leaf blade (upper or lower surface).

Edit: I'm talking about C. triadicae here. If there IS another species mining the stem, I can't say anything about that.

Thanks for your interest, Charley.

I hope I'm using the terms "stem" and "petiole" correctly. Some of these structures are only about a millimeter wide, but they branch into even finer structures at the end, and these even-finer structures end in tiny, new leaves. I'm calling the first structures (the ones that branch at the end) stems, and the ones they branch into I'm calling petioles.

Some mines run the whole length of a stem, from the base to where it branches, which is about 15 mm. Some of the mines seem to double back, in parallel lines, making them twice as long. There is also one that starts (or ends?) in a slightly larger stem, travels about 15 mm to where it branches into a finer stem, and continues another 15 mm or so.

I haven't been able to determine whether any of the mines are wholly stem- or petiole-contained. Between old and new mines, and general mine congestion and small size, it's hard to tell. I also haven't reared any adults.

Thanks for those details
Chinese tallow tree has simple leaves, so the leaf stalk is the petiole, and everything else would be stem.

...for the quick reply and ID confirmation. The stem or petiole mines are definitely on very new growth, and some of the very small leaves are being mined, too. In fact, it's all so small and miney that it's hard to tell which mine started where!

Caloptilia octopunctata
The pattern of forewing maculation on this moth is quite atypical for the genus Caloptilia. It is interesting that there is a species, C. octopunctata (Turner, 1894), that is very similar in appearance to this moth, and that is recorded as feeding as a larva on a number of euphorbs, including Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum) as a recorded host. Images of C. octopunctata can be seen here, and there is a Wikipedia article on it here.

You're right, it is very similar to C. octopunctata
But we have strong assurances from Don Davis at the Smithsonian (who is writing the species description of our moth) that they are different species.

Are they related?
Does Don believe that the new moth and C. octopunctata are close relatives? One would guess that they would have to be.

Disappearance of Caloptilia on Tallow?
Bugguide colleagues,

This spring we discovered another unexpected twist to the Caloptilia story. They seem to have mysteriously disappeared from the southeastern U.S. We've been searching Chinese Tallow all over southern Louisiana and have not seen a trace of the insect yet this year. Some of our colleagues in Texas and Florida have also been on the lookout and have not reported any sightings. Given the anomalously cold winter we had this year in the southern states, we hypothesize that the species is sensitive to harsh overwintering conditions. We have noted that many insect populations (even cockroaches!) seem to be suppressed and other aspects of insect phenology seem a bit loopy this year.

With this in mind, it would be enormously helpful if bugguiders could post any sightings of larvae or adults of this species that have occurred this year. We were planning a cross-country, collecting road trip for the spring of 2010, but had to postpone it due to the lack of Caloptilia. We will reschedule the trip as soon as we see evidence that the population is rebounding. Thanks for all of your help with this project! Bugguide has been an invaluable resource in this research effort.

In another exciting twist, I am writing from Wuhan, China, where I am trying to track down the hypothesized native distribution of the moth. I will be presenting the results of this work at the Entomology meetings in San Diego this December. So, if you're in attendance at the meeting, you can stop by for an update!

Happy insect hunting!



Have any non-natives been released as a bio control in the areas? Although I doubt that it would make that big of a difference that quickly. I wonder if it's something to do with the climate that's killing them off as the generations increase. Or something with the food? Are the food sources chemically similar? In labs, when we try to raise bugs on different food sources, it's pretty common to see sharp dropoffs in the colony numbers as the generations go on.

ID Query
A question about telling this species from similar Acrocercops is posted here

another link
older discussion (however brief) regarding this issue.
I've moved my recent photos to family level pending clarification.

Houston sighting
here's one. It's the only one I've noticed this year, for what that's worth. (assuming I've got the ID right)

That sure looks like it!
That's exciting news. I still haven't seen any here in Louisiana, so yours is the first one we know about this year. I'm looking forward to getting some reports from central/southern Florida, where I suspect they survived the winter more successfully. Thanks for your help!

these things swarm in the s
these things swarm in the summer, first emerging around July and pretty much decimating my ornamental Chinese Tallow Trees. Honestly, I hate them, they drop out of the trees on tiny threads by the hundred for some reason, and hang there for quite a while. if you want them, I guess I could cut a few hundred populated leaves off for you guys when they emerge this summer. I've actually been unsuccessfully trying to figure out a way to get rid of them, and before I saw this picture didn't know what moth made the caterpillars in question. I've seen them hanging around my back field, usually on the undersides of leaves, and I thought they were some kind of airborne seed. I'm in central Florida

Thanks for your help! You can send any specimens to:

Rebecca Hazen & Mark Fox
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
400 Lindy Boggs
Tulane University
New Orleans, LA 70118

I am familiar with the behavior that you describe, but I usually associate it with the insects' response when their leaf rolls are disturbed. Many caterpillars also use this method for thermoregulation, which could be a likely scenario in Florida.

We greatly appreciate any contributions you can make to this project!



I just posted
a photograph of this caloptilia moth from TN at 330860. Hope this helps on the range for this moth. I am not familiar with the tree being in this area, but will keep an eye out.

That's very exciting! I'm going to get our expert to check out your photo to make sure it's the same one (great photo by the way) but it sure looks like it to me. Tallow has been reported from Tennessee, but there isn't any report of it being well-established or widespread in the state, so this is a very interesting find.

Thanks a bunch for helping us out, and if you find the tree, please do let us know!

Possibly found in Brazos County TX
I have what appears to be similar leaf damage on a tree outside my apartment. I have added an image of it to the guide and will keep an eye out for adults. Best of luck on your research.

Distributed Research
"I think that our nationwide community of insect lovers can be a powerful tool for research." Mark Fox

I've thought this before, and hope to see more researchers taking advantage of the bugguide community.

Welcome to the hunt, City of Austin!
My good friend Robyn Smith, who works for the City of Austin, just put the entire surface water team of entomologists on the trail of our new species! Thank you Robyn and everyone on the lookout in the city of Austin, TX!



another recent post

Possible 2006 Louisiana Record
Please look at these images that we posted in April of 2006. Looks like a good match for your creature.


Excellent photos (as always)
This is very exciting! They certainly don't seem to be scarce in this part of the country, as long as there's tallow. I just found some more of them this afternoon while walking down the street in New Orleans.


I think that's it! Great photos! Any chance you have seen Chinese Tallows nearby with the leaf damage Mark described?



Here's what to look for
I just posted some images of the leaf mines and leaf rolls that are diagnostic for this caterpillar. It is also probably worth mentioning that they are much more prevalent on the new growth of young trees or at the ends of branches.

Tallow info and distribution...
Below is a link to information about Chinese Tallow and its known distribution in the U.S.:

Any Bug Guiders in this distribution can help be on the lookout for this insect. Once again, this is a new species and we are not sure of its distribution, so any information would be greatly appreciated!

Additionally, we suspect that this organism traveled to the U.S. from Asia, Chinese Tallow's native range. However, we do not have any specimens identified from this range. This may be a stretch, but if anyone has any connections in Asia who could be on the lookout for this insect, that information could be enormously useful.

Thanks again, Bug Guiders!



To summarize
Chinese tallow is known from these locations in the US:

Gulf coast states: TX, LA, MS, AL, FL

Also, Arkansas, Georgia, North and South Carolina, as well as two counties (Butte and Sacramento counties, according to USDA) in California.

Very cool
I can keep an eye out for them, I'm in the Houston area.

Thanks George!

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