Xyris ambigua and related species
Today was the perfect day in South Florida, temperature pure paradise, fragrant breeze, puffy white clouds. Just the kind of day sez John and me for the swamp. So off we went to the Hungryland Slough with boardwalk in the Corbett Wildlife Management Area just west of North Palm Beach, FL.
It was hopping happening place. The Tillandsia “airplants” were in their glory.
A resident barred owl looked down upon the intruders.
The Pine-Hyacinth (Clematis baldwinii) displayed its Einstein-hair fruits.
And yellow-eyed-grasses, species of Xyris, rose in varied life-stages in the wet soil.
Spend time around Xyris, and you may spot something weird: little white “cigarettes” jutting out perpendicularly, woven basally with fine threads to the plant’s seed-heads. Very mysterious, off-white, fluted, stiff, and protruding, not to mention the silky web defining that basal attachment. Inside cowers a little chestnut brown larva.
These are the pupal cases of a moth that existed undiscovered to science until 2005. (And we think everything has been found.) How did entomologists and botanists overlook these little white cigarettes for hundreds of years? I suppose because the Xyris moth is extremely similar to a different moth of the same genus that lives exclusively on rushes. Now there’s an argument for entomologists to learn plants, and for botanists to learn insects!
Here is the 2005 description. Look at page 10. CLICK
This is another view of the moth. FLUTTER HERE
Coleophora xyridella is not rare around our stomping grounds, and I’ll bet other local naturalists won’t have much trouble spotting its cigarettes. As the moth’s describer J. F. Landry noted, the moth is not well studied. Among the things not known are its preferences with respect to different Xyris species, if it eats the seeds, or for that matter any other details of the relationship. For starters, I’d like to know if the moth uses the non-native introduced Xyris jupicai. Interestingly, that is a South American species, and in 2005 Dr. Landry described also a South American species of Coleophora. The plot thickens.