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This may well be my most rewarding photo from the tens of thousands I have captured. The photo itself is nothing spectacular, but once you read about this little bugger, less than 1/2 inch in length, I think you will see what I mean. The degree of difficulty in finding the subject among dozens of flowers and capturing it while it is constantly on the move is no easy feat. So I shot hundreds to get a few "keepers". Keep in mind that yucca flowers hang upside down. This one is being lifted 90 degrees while holding the petals open with my fingers. When the petals open the moth starts scurrying about inside the flower but seems reluctant to leave. It flys away only when pushed to the limits. Capturing it on camera, researching its life-cycle, and dwelling on the role it plays in our natural world, was a totally overwhelming experience. Truly the epitome of "sharing".

Yucca moth (Tegeticula yuccasella) on stamens of the Twist-leaf yucca (Yucca rupicola)<

© Jim Baines
Nikon D200 Digital...
Jim Baines
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/13/2005
    The adult female moth emerges from the ground in May and June (in Central Texas) at the time that the yucca plant is in flower, and mates shortly after emergence. Pretty neat, huh? How does she know?

She collects the pollen of a yucca plant, using her specially shaped mouthparts, shaping it into a kind of horseshoe-shaped mass. She flies to another flower on another plant. She selects a flower, inserts her ovipositor through the wall of the carpel, and lays an egg next to the developing ovules. She then climbs to the top of the style, and, using her specially shaped mouthparts, called maxillary tentacles (which are unique to the yucca moth), she actively transfers the pollen on to the top of the stylar canal. She repeats the process, several times, thus ensuring that the plant is adequately pollinated, and can produce seeds on which the survival of her young, and the plant, depends.

Within a few days she dies and drops off the plant.

The eggs hatch out into larvae after 7 - 10 days, and they feed on the developing seeds, leaving some uneaten. After about 40 days, the 4th instar larvae eat their way out of the developing fruit, and drop to the ground using a silken thread. They then burrow their way into the soil, pupate after a year or so, and emerge as adults at the time of the flowering of the yucca plant.
The instinctive behaviours in this life history are nothing short of astounding.

Consider this:

1. The young never see their mother or father, and therefore cannot copy what they did. They are born with the behaviour somehow programmed into their genes.
2. The female moth somehow knows that pollination of the flower is essential to the formation of the seeds, which are going to become the food for her offspring. She knows where the pollen needs to be placed in order to effect fertilization.
3. Her mouthparts are shaped precisely to create the mass which is to fit into the stylar canal.
4. She somehow knows that the ovary contains the food her developing larvae will need to eat. If the plant is not pollinated, the seeds cannot develop.
5. The larvae, it has been observed, never eat all of the developing seeds, but always leave one or more to perpetuate the plant.
6. She ensures cross-pollination of the flowers, by flying from one plant to another after collecting the pollen.
7. The larvae, the grubs, pupate. That means, they dissolve entirely into a fluid within the pupal case, and reform into a flying creature, the moth. This by itself is a major, miraculous feat.
8. The pupae hatch out in May/June, at the very time that the yucca plant is in flower. Although they were underground, they are somehow aware of the correct time to hatch out and fly.

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5/28/2011 7:21:05 PM

Jim Baines
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/13/2005

I have used the word ‘knows’ several times ... but a moth cannot ‘know’

1. How to dissolve its grub character into a fluid enclosed in a case which is somehow going to reconstitute itself into a flying moth fully armed with instincts.
2. When to emerge at exactly the right time that the yucca plant is flowering
3. That pollination is essential to the fertilization of the seeds and the survival of her larvae. How could she know? She never lives long enough to see either take place.
4. That the pollen she collects with her peculiarly shaped mouthparts is shaped exactly correctly to fit the stylar canal.
5. That the ovary contains ovules, which are going to develop into seeds on which her young can feed.
6. That cross pollination will ensure the continuance of the yucca plant
7. If the larvae do not have the silk thread, they would probably perish on impact with the ground.

Without the moth, the yucca species will perish. Without the yucca, the moth will perish. Each is entirely dependent on the other for its survival, because the moth lives on no other plant, and the plant is not fertilized by any other insects. No moth, no yucca. No yucca, no moth. The Yucca moth has already been extirpated from Travis County, Texas, by the deer population.

The instinct displayed defies belief. Yet several reputable observers have described the behaviour in detail and published their findings, mumbling foolishly about 'co-evolution' when they try to explain the origin of the behaviour. It's like a lock and a key. Without the key, the lock is useless. Without the lock, the key is useless. Both have to be present at the same time for the device to work - and both are the work of an intelligent designer.

Here, we have several miracles rolled into a single life cycle. The moth would perish without the plant, and the plant would perish without the moth. Which came first? Neither!!
They appeared at the same time, fully formed and fully functioning. There's no evolution here, that's for sure.

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5/28/2011 7:23:42 PM

Michelle Alton
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/3/2007

If this phenomenon would have revealed itself to you as a teenager, you would surely have become an entomologist. You were born for it. (Or a botanist...or both.)

As for the awesomeness of the relationship of the plant to the insect, my only explanation is that the plant and animal are really part of the same “organism” for lack of another way to think of it They are PART of each other. That’ is my simplistic evaluation.

As for you, I am in awe and envy. Your relationship with Nature is unique: It, in essence, allows you to discover fresh "new love" every single day and to feel that rapture almost continuously. You are a lucky man, Jim.
As for this are right, it only becomes a "winner" after reading your amazing story of the dependency for existence itself of the flower and the moth, one on the other. BP may not see this as a winner, but anyone who takes the time to look at and read this post will have just experienced a touch of the wonderment of being in your world.
Thanks for sharing.

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5/29/2011 2:36:41 AM

Jeff Robinson
BetterPhoto Member Since: 10/17/2002
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Excellent capture Jim!!

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5/29/2011 3:36:03 AM

JudyAnn Rector
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/15/2008

Superb macro work, Jim... I admire your tenacity and we are all gifted by it... thank you.

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5/29/2011 1:00:36 PM

Shelly A. Van Camp
BetterPhoto Member Since: 2/9/2005
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Beautiful! How are you? :)

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5/31/2011 6:36:18 PM

Tammy Espino
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/29/2007

Thanks for all the info on this awesome capture!! :) Now (((STOMP)) Naw, I wouldn't do it to a moth!!

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6/2/2011 9:24:32 PM

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