Saturday, September 6, 2008

Brooklyn Erminois

I came across this garish and beautiful bug on a cone flower still in very good shape at the Salt Marsh Nature Center in Marine Park a few weeks ago. My Dad's Field Guide to Insects of American North of Mexico (Houghton Mifflin, 1970) described it as an Ermine moth. All I knew at that point was that Ermine was something fancy-pantsy, but I thought of it more along the lines of something whitish and regal. No wonder I did, Ermine (also called stoat or short-tailed weasel) is the white fur dotted sparsely with black you see trimming the robes of the likes of Old King Cole, that merry depraved old soul. The black bits are actually the tail tips of the Ermine, the only part of the little body that doesn't turn white in winter.

Luckily no Ermine had to be killed to clothe this insect. As for the color palette, I think it goes back to the Ermine's use in heraldry. When the Ermine motif, a pile of three dots with a swoosh-like tail dangling under them appears on a yellow ground it's called erminois. So maybe that's what whoever named this bug was getting at. But there is also a white Ermine Moth that would completely camouflage into the trim of the old king's robe completely, before it ate a hole through it.

The noble bug, or Ailanthus Webworm, feeds on a tree here that is either noble or not depending on which of its many names you prefer, stink palm, ghetto palm, tree of heaven, etc. Whatever you call it, and perhaps you prefer the Latin, Ailanthus Altissima, you can bet the tree is more landed than most people trying to make a living in this city.

Early in the season when the little larva has yet to receive its snazzy robes, it feeds on the Ailanthus tree. But it can't hang out on the tree much longer, because unlike the kings around here, the webworm's robes aren't warm enough to keep it in Kings County year round.

All this being said, I have to admit, this little royal just doesn't look like a moth to me.

1 comment:

Xris (Flatbush Gardener) said...

Thanks for the id! I've seen these guys around, but didn't know what they were.