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Binomial name: Arcte coerula (Guenée, 1852)
Common name: Ramie moth
Family: Erebidae – Erebinae
Geographical range: Australasion ecozone: Palearctic to (sub) tropical Asia; Fiji, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Japan, China, Thailand, Borneo, India, Phillipines, New Guinea, Taiwan – but also Australia, Russia (far East)
Host plants: Above all, it prefers Boehmeria sp. (Urticaceae) – this has given it the common name “ramie moth”. It utilises Boehmeria nipononivea (ramie) in many localities but also Boehmeria australis (nettle tree), Boehmeria nivea, Cypholophus, Pipturus, Deutzia scabra, Humulus japonica, Vitis, Urtica sp., Trema tomentosa, Debregeasi, Morus sp. and more. The vast majority of its food plants consist of various Urticaceae, although a few on the list appear to be Vitaceae, Cannabaceae, Moraceae and Ulmaceae so it cannot be said that it is a true Urticaceae specialist. Food preference may vary locally throughout the vast range of this species.
Habitat: The ecological preferences and barriers that determine where this species is found and where it is not are poorly known; however, logic dictates that because of their very large distribution and natural range that covers a very wide variety of climates – from palearctic, temperate habitats to (sub)tropical regions, Arcte coerula most likely thrives in the majority of places where Urticaceae are common. This species was atleast found in rainforest, suburban areas, mountain ranges, pine forest, deciduous forest, parks and more. A common and widely distributed species
Flight time: Cannot be generalised – in the hotter, (sub)tropical areas in their native range they are most likely continuously brooded. In the cooler palearctic habitats they seem to start laying eggs in spring after overwintering as adults – in these areas the moths are often recorded from spring to fall.
Ecology: The nocturnal adults are mostly fructivorous like their Catocalinae/Erebinae cousins. Indeed, they are attracted to rotten fruits, which are also used as bait to observe this species. In the wild, they most likely looking for fallen fruits on the forest floor and are attracted to the volatile organic compounds such as alcohol that are released by fermenting fruit. After locating a partner and pairing, eggs are laid on the relevant host plants – this species seems mainly specialised in a broad range of Urticaceae but caterpillars were also found on Morus, Vitis and Humulus so it is not restricted to that family. After hatching from their eggs, caterpillars feed from the host plants – they are solitary feeders – and burrow underground when they are mature in order to pupate. Througout the vast range of this species, the life cycle and flight time in particular should vary locally. This species is willing and able to overwinter in the more temperate regions where it is found, going dormant as adults until temperatures rise in spring, although they most likely form continuous broods in the warm and tropical parts of their range.
Description adult: A large grey-brownish moth with scalloped wing edges, bright blue markings on the hindwings. Overall wing colour grey, with brown markings and a brown thorax. Slightly variable. Aggegrates as adult moth and can be found resting in large numbers in the same spot. If disturbed, the moths can drop themselves on the ground and bounce over the floor using their wings. The moths are also very adept runners and when bothered they may also decide to skitter away to hide under objects and in crevices instead of flying away (in an almost roach-like fashion).
Description larvae: Very colourful larvae with a black body, red spiracula, a bright yellow stripe and smaller white stripe running along their side and noticable yellow stripes on their back and a red or black head capsule. The actual colour varies and larvae can also be predominantly yellow instead of black. If disturbed the larvae can wildly swing back and forth to scare enemies, or vomit. The caterpillars have sporadic, long, white hairs.
Diapausal state: Imago; the adult moth has the ability to go dormant in winter if faced with cold temperatures. The imagoes can aggegrate in great numbers when they are resting or overwintering; in old buildings, tunnels or under bridges, groups of roosting adults can be found.
Similar species: Genus Arcte contains a few other similar looking species, although most of these are not so widely distributed (modesta, taprobana and others). The hindwings of these species are different looking but in the resting position it can be difficult to tell these apart.
Dimorphism: Males and females are hard to tell apart, although females are a little bigger.
Health information: Considered harmless
Other media: Video available (click here)
Photography: All specimens photographed here were part of a captive breeding experiment in the Netherlands (Europe) and are live specimens. Although captive livestock does not look very different from wild animals, they are not wholly representative of wild animals since captive livestock is prone to exhibiting unnatural variations and sizes. I am a moth breeder from the Netherlands that has bred hundreds of species. This website only features the imagoes of Lepidoptera I photographed and not the early life stages.
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