The Pygmy Sorrel Moth: About The World’s Tiniest Moth

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With wingspans as little as 2.65 millimeters, the pygmy sorrel moth is the outright winner of the title of the world’s tiniest moth. This bit of information had eluded scientists for decades. But after years of dedicated research covering 2,800 specimens covering over 650 micro-moth species, a team of researchers persevered and finally found the champion.

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While we have always focused our attention on the largest species of the moth or the butterfly, but the smallest of them all has always eluded research efforts. The Johanssoniella acetosae finally won the award. The rare species are found across Europe and can have a big impact on agriculture despite their tiny size.

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The Pygmy Sorrel Moth Could Turn Into A Persistent Pest With Climate Change

This tiny insect belongs to the micro-moth group known as the leaf miners. They get their name from their consumption habits when they are still in the larva stage. The Pygmy sorrel moth tunnel through the upper and lower level of the leaves and devouring the leaves from inside.

It is the distinctive spiral mining pattern that helps researchers to identify the presence of the pygmy sorrel moth in plants. The tunnels dry out the leaves as the larvae leave frass, or its feces, spread on the leaves it invades.

Pygmy Sorrel Moth

While it is relatively easy to identify their handiwork among plants, measuring them was a tough task. Most mico-moth species can only be measured with the aid of microscopes. It is problematic to handle their tiny fragile wings without destroying them.

Researchers use one of the two techniques to trap the pygmy sorrel moth’ they either lure the moth at nighttime with the help of lights or gather the leaves that contain the caterpillar and wait for it to transform into an adult moth.

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The pygmy sorrel moth, once captured, is frozen and then pinned by researchers to a block of foam to help measure its size and examine the creature. Entomologist Amla Solis at the US department of agriculture found that the pygmy sorrel moth was smaller than earlier expected. Its wingspan of 2.65 millimeters is about the thickness of a thread of spaghetti.

A simple inquiry by Jonas Stonis, the lead author of the study, led to the search. Previously science had no record on the smallest moth. Stonis says that the research began with the basic human curiosity to determine the biggest, the smallest, the slowest, and the fastest of creatures.

The find also had its relevance to crop production and the ecosystem. The moths are close to the lowermost level of the terrestrial nutrition chain. They aid in providing nutrition to many other organisms like spiders, lizards, birds, and larger insects. But their population could be significantly altered with changing climatic patterns.

The moths generally have only one generation a year. rising global temperatures could increase that and lead to them turning into pests. Once they cause critical damage to the plants that they feed on, they could turn out to be hostile to the plants they descend upon.

There have been instances when the caterpillar of the pygmy sorrel moth has destroyed crops of tomato in Africa and wiped out citrus groves in Florida. Oak trees and nut plantations have been affected by these moths, also known as the leaf miner moth.

leaf miner moths

The leaf miner moths are saved from insecticides by the thin wall of the leaf that grows around the caterpillar and protects it from efforts to eradicate it.

Their eating habits and the areas they frequent are being studied and the efforts of Don Davis, a curator of Lepidoptera at the Smithsonian Museum are noteworthy. He helped collect nearly a million species of micro-moths. Solis says such efforts help scientists and researchers as a specimen of such tiny creatures are hard to come by, especially from restricted areas of the world.

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