A gold and satin moth

It is hard to believe the diversity of moths visible in a city like Mumbai. In recent months I’ve taken to scanning external walls of my flat, near lights which stay on all night, and usually I’m rewarded with the sight of a few moths which seem to like to stay in the open all day. Recently I came across an auld acquaintance, the spectacular Cydalima laticostalis. Before you begin to wonder whether you should dedicate your life to recording moths, I should warn you that it is hard. Unlike birds and butterflies, no one has bothered to give them wonderful common names, so you will often have to remember the Latin binomial. Also, there are too many varieties to capture in field guides, and the colours are extremely variable, so you might see a green moth which turns out to be the same species as the brown moth you saw three days ago. Conversely, there are myriads of species complexes, which are groups of species which are so closely related that they cannot be told apart by eye.

The featured photo was taken this moth on an east facing wall in the morning sun, and my smart phone’s AI assistant was left a little confused about colour correction. The true colours of this moth are more easily appreciated in a photo I took on one October morning in 2006 in a well-lit but shadowed area in my flat. I was struck by the satiny appearance with the gold marginal border. It took me a couple of years to get a good ID (yes, there are very few moth experts) and to find that it is a leaf skeletonizer, a moth which lives by munching the green crunchy bits off leaves, leaving a beautiful but useless skeleton. Reports are so sporadic that I think this blog may be the first report of it being spotted in Maharashtra in Febraury. I have no idea when it breeds, or what it looks like as a caterpillar. After the box tree moth, Cydalima perspectalis, became an major invasive pest in Europe, the first modern genetic-taxonomic study revealed that its closest cousin was this leaf skeletonizer. Progress is slow.