Wild South Florida — Rattlebox Moth
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Rattlebox Moth
rattlebox moth  

There are different names that this bug goes by. Rattlebox moth is our favorite, because it reflects the relationship between the bug and the plant family on which it depends for survival. Rattlebox, Uthetheisa ornatrix, is one of Florida's most colorful moths — it appears in flight as kind of a salmon pink blur. Just like with milkweed butterflies, the color of the rattlebox moth is intended as a warning to potential predators that eating it will make you sick. It gets the color and the toxin from its host plant, members of the crotalaria, or rattlebox, family. A bird eating this moth once isn't likely to make the same mistake twice. As larvae, the moths munch on the leaves of various crotalaria species, all of which have pyrolizine alkaloids. Not only that, but when rattlebox

rattlebox moth

smooth rattlebox

moths reproduce, males transfer the alkaloids to their femaile parters along with their sperm. The alkaloids are transferred to the eggs, which, along with alkaloids from the female, make them toxic to predators as well. Rattlebox moths live three weeks on average and females typically reproduce four or five times. The chemical contributions from their male partners makes it possible for the females to lay so many eggs with the killer compound. Rattlebox moths are known to range as far north and east as Connecticut and as far west as parts of Nebraska and New Mexico and as far south as Florida. There are only two members of the crotalaria family native to Florida, including a plant called rabbitbells, but other species have become introduced and widespread throughout the state. Other names for this moth include bella moth, calico moth and inornate moth. An alternative scientific name is Uthetheisa bella. Unlike others of its kind, the rattlebox moth is active during the day.


Photo at left: Smooth rattlebox flower and pods. Smooth Rattlebox is common in Florida.

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