Native Moth Winning In David v. Goliath Story
Invasive plants and pests cause untold damage on ecosystems. Whether it’s the tree killing Asian Long-horned beetle or tropical Tawny Crazy ants, creatures that are new to our shores are difficult to control. Attempts to rein them in have including introducing other predatory pests and developing a better insecticide.
Non-native plants can wreak plenty of havoc, too. In green and lush Florida, where tropical plants thrive, an exotic yellow-leaved Crotalaria retusa not only grows to eight feet, but is poisonous. And it’s pushing out other native plants. Although they grow freely and quickly, and were used originally as cover crops, they are also poisonous to mammals who feed on them.
Known colloquially as “rattlebox”, some species grow among food crops, creating hazards to consumers.
But one tiny creature is taking on this giant, bright yellow invader – and winning.
The small, white-and-brown spotted bella moth has been found to eat the poisonous seeds of “rattlebox” plants, and survive. The moth evolved to live on the native rattlebox, but seems to be thriving on the invasive type.
Andrei Sourakov, a University of Florida Lepidopterist, notes that the moth is doing a great service to the state of Florida. “In this day and age, some of these rattlebox plants probably wouldn’t have been introduced because people are more aware of the negative impacts of introducing exotic species,” he said. “But in this case, we have a rare success story. A native species of moth does a good job of keeping these plants under control.