I spoke with “In Defense of Plants” about the Rattlebox Plants (Crotalaria) and the associated Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix).
The gallery below illustrates the fascinating relationships between the moths and the plants and resulted from my field work in the Alachua County, north-central Florida.
Mature caterpillar of the bella moth (Utetheisa ornatrix).
Pods of invasiave exotic Crotalaria spectabilis. Seeds are destroyed by the bella moth caterpillars.
The ornate bella moth, (Utetheisa ornatrix).
Crotalaria rotundifolia, a native to Florida, at Cross Creek.
Crotalaria pumila, a native to Florida.
Invasive exotic Crotalaira spectabilis overunning hardwood hammock, Micanopy, Florida.
Pods of the showy rattlebox, Crotalaira spectabilis.
Invasive exotic Crotalaira spectabilis, San Felasco State Park, Florida.
Invasive exotic Crotalaria pallida, University of Florida, Gainesville.
Freshly emerged bella moth, Utetheisa ornatrix, Gainesville, Florida.
Invasive exotic Crotalaira spectabilis, Micanopy, Florida.
Crotalaria pumila, a native to Florida, University of Florida, Gainesville.
Invasive exotic Crotalaira pallida overunning a clearing in a city park in Gainesville, Florida.
Different species of rattlebox plants (Crotalaria) produce different amounts of seeds that vary in size and alkaloid content.
The bella moth caterpillar inside a pod of invasive Crotalaria spectabilis, consuming its seeds.
The bella moth caterpillar consuming seeds in seedpods of invasive exotic Crotalaria lanceolata. Ants are attracted to extrafloral nectaries.
The bella moth caterpillar on seedpods of invasive Crotalaria spectabilis.
The bella moth, when irritated, produces defensive discharge that mostly consists of alkaloids sequestered by its caterpillar from feeding on Crotalaria.
The bella moth on exotic Crotalaria retusa, Micanopy, Florida.
The bella moth on flowers of exotic Crotalaria lanceolata, growing on the University of Florida campus in Gainesville.
Eggs of the bella moth on Crotalaria rotundifolia, Cross Creek, Florida
A sole native Crotalaria pumila plant surrounded by invasive exotic C. lanceolata, University of Florida, Gainesville.
For additional information, also see:
“Exotic plants affect native moths” by Danielle Torrent
“Bella moth keeps invasive plants at bay” by Stephanie Livingston