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by Valerie

September, 2015

Sooty-winged Chalcoela

sooty-winged chalcoela

The sooty-winged chalcoela (Chalcoela iphitalis) might look like a typical small moth with a rather interesting color pattern on its wings, but it is NOT typical. Well, the adult is nothing special, but the caterpillars are not your usual leaf-munching herbivores that must escape the notice of birds, wasps and other predators in order to survive. The caterpillars of this species actually live in paper wasp nests and eat the wasp grubs! Wasp larvae, or grubs, are completely helpless. They live in the nest cells and rely on the adult workers to feed them bits of insects and spiders until they are ready to pupate. A ravenous caterpillar can just burrow through the various cells and consume the contents while creating webbing that might help keep it from the wasps' notice. I tried to find answers to my questions about how a moth can manage to emerge (eclose) from its pupa or lay eggs on a wasp nest without being attacked by the workers, but I found nothing and can only speculate. Because the moths are nocturnal, they probably lay eggs and eclose at night when the wasps are inactive. Once the caterpillars are inside the cells, they would be safe from the adults. It's an interesting turn around between predator and prey.

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