A Festive Tale: The Mistletoe Marble Moth

In this post, we’re taking a festive look at an insect that rely on Mistletoe. Humans may enjoy kissing under it, but for the Mistletoe Marble Moth, Celypha woodiana, it’s food for their caterpillars.

Munching on mistletoe – don’t try this at home!

Larva of the Mistletoe Marble Moth, Celypha woodiana. Image: Patrick Clement CC BY 2.0

It would be a bad idea for us to try eating mistletoe because it’s poisonous to humans. For the Mistletoe Marble Moth, however, this is the food plant for their larvae. These overwinter snug inside mistletoe leaves. As the weather warms up the larvae become active and feed on them throughout the spring. In the picture above, you can see the trail the larva has left as it munched through the leaf.

In early summer, when they have grown large enough, the larvae pupate. The adult moths then emerge and fly in and around woodland and orchards containing fruit trees like apple.

Mistletoe Marble Moth Celypha woodiana . Image: OUMNH

The apple trees are important because they are a host for the mistletoe plant. Mistletoe can’t grow in it’s own. It relies on other trees. The berries are very sticky and when birds eat them they clean their beaks on by rubbing them on the bark of trees, the seeds get stick in tiny crevices and begin to grow out of the tree. The mistletoe plant grows into a ball on the brach of the host tree.

Mistletoe growing on a host tree

Apples are one of the trees mistletoe prefers. Sadly apple trees are becoming more scarce in Britrain because there are fewer orchards. This means there is also less mistletoe and that means that the Mistletoe Marble moth is becoming rarer. It is a priority species in the UK Biodiversity Action Plan because scientists are worried that this species may become extinct in Britain.

Other insects on mistletoe

The Mistletoe Weevil, Ixapion variagatum Image U Schmidt CC BY-SA 2.0

This moth isn’t the only British insect that relies on mistletoe. The Mistletoe Weevil Ixapion variegatum feeds on the part of the stem behind buds and there are several bugs that feed on sap of the plant, and another that is a predator: so there can be a whole food chain on a sprig of mistletoe!

We won’t ask if you’re planning on kissing anyone under the mistletoe this year, but for those who like to bring it into the house, please remember that we also need to conserve it, and the many insects that rely on it, in the wild.

If you enjoyed reading about the Mistletoe Marble Moth, you may be interested in this article about the ways in which other insects survive the winter.