Right before walking into a commercial account this Friday, I received a call from Bryan, an industry buddy of mine. I was well within the two-hour arrival window my customer prefers, so I stood outside of the account for a few moments as we spoke. While listening to my friend, I noticed this orange, black and white moth. It only had four legs and the front two had blue-metallic stripes on a portion of the tibia and femur.
What bugged me about this sighting was that I wasn’t aware of the existence of four-legged arthropods. In the phylum, there are insects (six legs), arachnids (eight legs), crustaceans (10-14 legs), and myriapods (think millipedes and centipedes- they have lots and lots of legs).
After ending my call, I realized I would not have time to research this matter until after my workday, but I would have time for a quick text to Dr. Green (my local extension office professional).
I really like Dr. Green, she has a great personality and is very knowledgeable in the field.
I sent her the picture posted below. Within 30 seconds, she responded to my query and stated she’s been getting the same question multiple times a week. This particular arthropod was an Ailanthus Webworm Moth (Atteva aurea).
The Ailanthus Webworm Moth is believed to be native to South Florida, but can be found throughout the United States. Experts aren’t sure if the moths are adapting to cooler weather, or if climate change is the reason for their northern migration.
They have a four-week life cycle, with multiple generations throughout the summer. That’s good news to me, because it means I’ll have many opportunities to see these caterpillars and adult moths. I’m just surprised they’ve alluded me for so many years!
What’s up with this four-legged bug?
So I learned a few things this week. Obviously, I found out about this moth, but I also learned that the way we define insects is not always true.
This moth is of the Lepidoptera order and Lepidopteras are insects that include butterflies and moths. Easy enough, but we have one big problem. Insects are defined as having six legs. How can an Ailanthus Webworm Moth be in the order of Lepidoptera if it has four legs?
I think it’s time I get help from the experts on this one.
I MUST be a bug geek, because I’ve been losing sleep over this.
With a little luck, I’ll have an update on this matter!