Crawlies with Cri: Neoterpes edwardsata moth

Neoterpes edwardsata moth

Do you love California poppies (Eschscholzia californica)? They bring us such a Pop! of color this time of year.
This week’s crawly is a huge fan of them; literally can’t live without them. Meet the Neoterpes edwardsata moth.
There are a lot of fun facts to unpack as we learn about this little, lemony geometrid moth.
First – the pictured moth is only the second neoterpes recorded in Oregon. The first was found in Medford in 2022, so we can suss that the species has only recently emigrated north, following a trail of poppies right to us. Clearly, they have the Oregon Pioneer Spirit.
Of the 676 recorded neoterpes sightings on iNaturalist, 658 are in California, 15 are in Mexico, one in Colorado, one in New Mexico and one – now two – in Oregon.
Even though we have many species of similar looking (and closely related) yellow geometrid moths in our area neoterpes are easy to identify. The dark burnt orange border at the bottom of neoterpes wings framed with that chocolate brown squiggly line are unique to neoterpes.
If two have been found in our area, you know there are more. We have lots of poppies after all.
Why are poppies so important to neoterpes? Neoterpes are food specialists, their young eat only three species of plants – all poppies – and primarily feed on California poppies.
In a pinch – and generally in suburban yards – the caterpillars will eat tree poppies (Dendromecon rigida) and Coulter’s Matilija poppies (Romneya coulteri) as well.
Adult neoterpes feed on nectar, so they pollinate the poppies helping them propagate. It’s a nifty sort of symbiotic relationship; if your young can only feed on poppies, you do not want your young to kill off the poppy population!
What’s in a name? Neoterpes’ species name “edwardsata” is a nod to 1800s entomologist Henry Edwards.
Fun fact: there was also an 1800s entomologist named William Henry Edwards. Both Edwards-es had a particular passion for moths and butterflies. While they didn’t hang out together (that would have been very confusing) they did occasionally correspond.
Henry Edwards was born in England sometime in the 1830s (he lied about his age a lot). He became an actor, then moved to Australia where he continued acting but was also proverbially bitten by the entomology bug.
Next, he moved to San Francisco. He continued acting and continued pursuing, collecting, cataloging and naming many moths like neoterpes and a previous crawly Edwards’ glassy-wing.
Apparently, Edwards had a lot of free time despite rehearsing, performing on stage and being married because he also managed the Metropolitan Theater and spent his “spare” time at the California Academy of Sciences soaking up knowledge of all things arthropod.
Note: Actors of note were paid well in the 19th century as they are today and having (no doubt grossly underpaid) staff frees up a lot of time.
In his spare, time he traveled up and down the West Coast collecting insect specimens and had time left over to start the Bohemian Club in San Francisco.
He then moved to Boston, still acting, and became active in the Brooklyn and New York Entomological Societies.
By the time Edwards died in 1891 he’d amassed a collection of 300,000 insect specimens which he donated to the American Museum of Natural History. This donation became the cornerstone of their modern collection.
Upshot: As a result of Edwards’ time on the West Coast we have many local moths, butterflies and even beetles and bees with the scientific names “edwarsii” or “edwardsata.”
Final fun fact: Edwards also loved Shakespeare so in addition to throwing some epic Shakespearean themed soirees, he also gave Oregon many crawlies named for characters from Shakespeare’s plays such as Ophelia, Hermia and Desdemona.
Neoterpes didn’t get a fancy name, but they are a lovely moth with excellent taste in host plants. They’ll be on the wing until late mid-to-late summer, so you might catch a glimpse of one of Oregon’s newest residents.