Friday, October 31, 2008

My Worst Fear...

Double,double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble...

Anyone who knows me knows I'm terrified of moths. I get really, really, REALLY freaked out by them (especially big ones). I don't know if I watched "Silence of the Lambs" too young or what, but moths are the only thing I'm completely and irrationally afraid of. I mean, they're harmless! Right?


(cue eerie music)


Maybe my fear isn't so irrational after all. Meet a new species of Calyptra, found recently in Siberia - one of two new species of Vampire Moth. No, really. They drink blood. The moths are related to the vegetarian Calyptra thalictri. Entomologist Jennifer Zaspel at the University of Florida speculates that this blood-sucking relative represents a new evolutionary direction.

So how does a nice, fruit-eating moth end up a vampire?

"The fruit-piercing stage in the first place sets the stage, in a morphological sense, for further transitions into, in this case, the blood-feeding," said Chris Nice, a biologist who studies butterfly evolution at Texas State University.

"We see a progression from nectar feeding and licking or lapping at fruit juices to different kinds of piercing behaviors of fruits and then finally culminating in this skin piercing and blood-feeding," added Zaspel. She plans to map the genomic differences between the vampire moths and their close relatives, to see the genetic changes that led to blood-sucking behavior.

Of course, the moths wouldn't drink blood for no reason - there must be some upside to becoming a vampire. But only male moths have evolved bloodthirsty habits, and there's no apparent health benefit to them directly. So what's driving their bloodlust? Zaspel hypothesizes that the blood serves as a 'sexual gift' to the female, providing a nutritional boost to young larvae that feed on leaf-rich, but sodium-poor, diets. So the moths might have turned nosferatu to get laid - lovely.

Just in time for Halloween, too.

Check out the National Geographic article here, and a good one by Zooillogix here.


Carson F. Ball said...

Somehow that's just not right.