Atteva aurea

Atteva aurea is a cute little moth that feeds as a larva on the introduced ornamental tree, Ailanthus

Atteva aurea on wall of gas station Martin, TN - 10 July 2013

Atteva aurea on wall of gas station Martin, TN – 10 July 2013

altissima, in the Eastern U.S. and Canada.  Ailanthus altissima is from the orient, so I had always assumed the moth that feeds on it was too. The real story is much better.

As Vitor Becker explains in “A review of New World Atteva Walker moths (Yponomeutidae, Attevinae)”:

The presence of aurea in the eastern United States and Canada and its association with Ailanthus altissima (Mill.) (Simaroubaceae) is an interesting subject to be investigated. This plant is an ornamental introduced from Asia and now considered one of the most serious weeds in the United States. It was first planted near the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, in 1784 (W. Thomas, pers. comm.) and from there it spread over the entire country. Once it reached southern Texas, where presumably aurea was already present, the moth started to move north. By 1856 it had reached Georgia, as indicated by the material described by Fitch (1856: 486). Riley (1869: 151) found it common in Missouri, feeding on ailanthus. These records indicate that this showy and common moth was absent in the region before the introduction of Ailanthus, and the approximately 70-year gap between the introduction of the host, to the first record of the moth by Fitch, is the time it took the plant to move south and the moth to move north.”

Ailanthus altissima is in the plant family Simaroubaceae.  The native hosts that A. aurea is known to use are: Castela peninsularis, C. polyandraC. emory, Simarouba amara and S. glauca – all in the family Simaroubaceae. So an introduced plant from the orient helped a tropical moth to colonize eastern North America. A much different story than I originally thought.

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