Today, while hiking along the north ridge of Rat Creek, what I call Rat Ridge, we found a spectacular moth specimen. Tyler, a new grad student from UC Davis who is studying Sudden Oak Death noticed it lying on the side of the trail and we immediately noticed its striking coloration and eye spots. We took pictures and collected the specimen, placing it into my pencil sharpener for safe keeping.
I contacted Jerry Powell at UC Berkeley and he said “it is a species of Saturnia, possibly S. mendocino, a day flying native silk moth (Saturniidae), larvae of which feed on Arctostaphylos. Feb. to early April is its flight period. I do not know if this species has been collected in Monterey Co. previously.”
Daniel Rubinoff was brought into the discussion who said, “The species is known from Cone Peak, but the population in the central coast is quite spotty, and hard to find. I’d always thought it would be at Big Creek, but as Jerry says, we never found it there. We’re in the process of working up the genetics of the species and it looks like the central coast represents a third, un-described, genetic entity. Whether it’s a full ‘species’ or not is debatable…”
This is very exciting because Jerry Powell’s long effort to survey Lepidoptera at Big Creek is extremely comprehensive, with over 940 species identified, with nine new species to science identified from specimens from this reserve. It appears that with the discovery of this Saturnia specimen we have at least added a new record to the long and growing list. In addition, we will also be contributing to taxonomic genetic research and adding important biogeographic data.