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Tegeticula antithetica – Yucca Moth Tegeticula antithetica belongs to the order Lepidoptera and suborder Glossata.

It is a member of the Prodoxidae family (superfamily: Incurvarioidea), which is commonly called “Yucca Moths” because of their close association with Yucca plants. The Tegeticula and Parategeticula genera are the only two genera of the family that are obligate pollinators as well as herbivores of Yucca plants. Yucca moths are famous for being one of the best-studied examples of coevolution between a plant and insect, as the plants rely on adult moths for their pollination and the moth larvae depend on developing seeds to complete their development [3].

Figure 1: A Yucca moth on a Yucca flower

Geographic Range Yucca moths can be found wherever their host plants are located. In the case of T. antithetica, its host plant is the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), located in the Mojave Desert of the North American southwest, specifically southern California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, and western Arizona (Figure 2)[1]. Other related yucca plants and moths (Tegeticula and Parategeticula) are generally located in the American west and northern Mexico.

and western Arizona. respectively. antithetica can be distinguished by arrow-shaped mark in the discal cell of its forewing (Figure 4).5 million years ago [2]. antithetica is significantly smaller than its close relative T. antithetica have much smaller ventral protrusions and a different number and distribution of spines on those protrusions (Figure 6). brevifolia and vespertina. brevifolia distribution is outlined in white line. T. T. synthetica. This may have caused the considerable differences in stature and branching architecture between the eastern and western versions of the Joshua tree (Figure 3) and its pollinators T. synthetica (Figure 5). synthetica and black squares represent T. synthetica because the two species are sister taxa and diverged from a single pollinator species of Yucca brevifolia [1]. antithetica has a wingspan of 13. The two moths may have allopatrically speciated in response to the Bouse embayment. The integuments are dark brown and the ventral side of the female head has 20-25 sensory setae (the male having none) and the antennae are about a third the length of the forewing.Figure 2: Geographic distribution of Y. southern Nevada. antithetica is most closely related to T. . with the dashed line indicating the split in the two Yucca varieties. Y. an estuarine extension that inundated low-lying areas of the Mojave Desert region ~6. brevifolia and its two Tegeticula pollinators. The valvae of T. southwestern Utah. The genitalia of the males also allow for distinguishing between the two closely related species. Map includes southern California.5-15 mm in males and 13-16 mm in females. Black circles represent T. T. antithetica and T. antithetica Morphology T.

antithetica.Figure 3: (A) Yucca brevifolia with high branching. symmetric crown. and short thick pistil (inset) typical of Yuccas pollinated by T. Photos not to scale . and long narrow pistil (inset) typical of Yuccas pollinated by T. brevifolia with low branching. synthetica. asymmetric crown. (B) Y.

. synthetica.5 mm. The scale bars in both A and B are 2. antithetica and (B) Male T. inset) shows an enlarged image of the arrow-shaped mark in the discal (central) cell of the T. (C. The arrows are pointing to the notable differences in the moths’ valvae (claspers). The hind wing in A is actually darker. but appears brighter because of a reflecting glare in the photo. antithetica forewing.Figure 4: (A) Male T.

Inside the cocoon. the larva creates an exit path so it can escape the flower to find a location to burrow itself.5 mm. Most Tegeticula species. Note the arrow-shaped make on the forewing of T. After oviposition of the eggs. Ecology & Behavior The female Tegeticula moth oviposits Joshua tree flowers by cutting through the ovary wall and extending her ovipositor down the stylar canal to lay eggs atop the ovules. The right valvae are shown for both. are monophagous. Then. Life Cycle.Figure 5: Half-images of female T. so they must access the plant during the short flowering period. The female does this by using unique tentacular mouthparts to collect pollen by dragging them across the anthers. and places the pollen on the style (see Video Clip) [4]. the female walks up to the stigma. antithetica (right). the female pollinates the flower to ensure the production/ availability of seeds for her larvae to feed on (Figure 7) [2]. After feeding. This indicates that moth populations would have to be locally adapted for the flowering periods their specific hosts [4]. the larva’s diapause can range from one to four years to help its emergence synchronize with host flowering. Scale bars represent 0. Interestingly. the larva enters diapause and will pupate a few weeks before emergence. including antithetica. very high fruit set during mass flowering episodes in yucca populations that then effectively cease flowering almost completely for several years suggests that the moth larvae are capable of diapausing for several years as well. Figure 6: Male genitalia of (A) T. The larva waits inside the fruit for optimal weather conditions—until rainy and usually at night—then burrows into the ground where it create a silk-lined cocoon covered with soil or sand. synthetica. antithetica. The eggs of Tegeticula hatch within a few days and then the larvae begin immediately feeding on the developing yucca seeds. and that there are unidentified cues that trigger completion of the moths development and adult emergence [4]. The moth compacts the pollen using the tentacular mouthparts and stores it underneath her head. Recurring pollen collection through the moth’s lifetime results in multiple pollen genotypes. and the adult moths only live for a few days. eating only a small proportion [5]. Based on Pellmyr’s unpublished data. . Arrows indicate the differences in ventral protrusions of the valvae and differences of spine number and distribution. scrapes some pollen off of her batch using her tentacles. synthetica (left) and T. antithetica and (B) T.

The moths and plants physiological traits are intertwined because the moth has an exclusively sized ovipositor and only an active pollinator like Tegeticula can pollinate the plant.html Video: A yucca moth laying eggs. as seeds would not develop to feed the larvae [5]. and vice versa. if genetic drift permits the ovipositor length in a population of moths to shorten.Figure 7: Female Tegeticula oviposition into a Joshua tree flower and a cross section of the floral pistil showing the path of the moth’s ovipositor. If the specific. (Video) http://www. beneficial traits are to signify coevolution. The female’s ovipositor must be long enough to reach the ovules but not so long as to injure them. then actively pollinating a yucca flower. Overtime. the change in one species population forces a change in the other species’ population. For Yucca moths have played a significant role in scientific research because their unique relationship with yucca plants provides a rare opportunity to study coevolution. enough changes can occur where two species become entirely dependent on each other for . This is because the female moth only pollinates the flower after successfully ovipositing her eggs. The two species coevolve because any morphological change in the reproductive structures of one species forces a reciprocal selective force on the other. Interesting Biology As mentioned above. Tegeticula and Yucca brevifolia are believed to have coevolved because the yucca plants rely exclusively on the moths for pollination—which actively pollinate the yucca flowers they will oviposit—and the larvae feed exclusively on the developing seeds. Here. While there are many examples in nature of mutualistic relationships between plants and insects. Coevolution acting on the partners should favor matching between the length of the ovipositor and the flower’s stylar canal [2]. coevolution is particularly rare to find (and prove) because it requires reciprocal selective forces between two species. The female ovipositor first cuts through the stylar wall then pushed down the stylar canal to the ovules. then the only yucca plants that will get pollinated and reproduce are the ones with shorter stylar canals.denimandtweed. they have to have developed as a result of the two species interactions and not any extrinsic forces.

K. and Pellmyr. and Coevolution: A Review. [4] Pellmyr. Pollinator Divergence within an Obligate Mutualism: Two Yucca Moth Species (Lepidoptera. respectively—and not body size or vegetative features. Evolution of Pollination and Mutualism in the Yucca Moth Lineage. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. Tegeticula moths don’t have to compete with numerous other populations of varying species for locations to lay their eggs. Thompson.. etc. Like other organisms with specialized hosts. and Segraves. Ann. than the populations will go extinct. I. Godsoe et al. Soc. Smith. J. Yuccas.survival and if the two species don’t evolve with each other. The American Naturalist. 148(5): 827-847. 2003.. This indicates that only reciprocal sexual selection. Am. 1996. N. C. and not extrinsic forces (such as climate. O. Perhaps most importantly. Godsoe. Yucca Moths. B. Agavaceae). G.. J. Brown. respectively. Prodoxidae: Tegeticula) on the Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia. Entomol. et al.. showed that only the reproductive features of the moths and plants have been evolving—ovipositor length and floral characters. O. M. J. O. and Yucca brevifolia plants don’t have the stress of too many insect populations exploiting its seeds.. [3] Pellmyr.). 96(6): 716-722 [2] Godsoe. W. R. 2008. The American Naturalist. A. Yoder. 90(1): 35-55 . 171(6): 816-823. (2008) presented convincing evidence for this coevolution by showing the exclusive relationship between Tegeticula antithetica (and synthetica) and their respective populations of Yucca brevifolia. References [1] Pellmyr. the ability to specialize can reduce competition. O. Harrison. 2003.. Coevolution and Divergence in the Joshua Tree/ Yucca Moth Mutualism. has been acting on the evolution of the two species.

2003. K. et al. and Segraves. 2003. and Segraves. Figure 7: Godsoe. Huth. O. 2008. Figure 5: Godsoe. Nature. and C. O. Figure 2: Pellmyr. Evolutionary stability of mutualism between yuccas and yucca moths. J. and Segraves. K. A. O. et al. 2008. 372: 257-260. K. A. O. Figure 3: Godsoe. Figure 6: Pellmyr. . A.[5] Pellmyr. Figure 4: Pellmyr. 1994. et al. Figure 1: “The yucca moth” by: Grand Canyon Trust Volunteers (Flickr) http://www.