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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.

5-15 mm in males and 13-16 mm in females. antithetica Morphology T. 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. T. antithetica has a wingspan of 13. synthetica. brevifolia and vespertina. The two moths may have allopatrically speciated in response to the Bouse embayment. and western Arizona. The valvae of T. synthetica because the two species are sister taxa and diverged from a single pollinator species of Yucca brevifolia [1]. 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. T. southwestern Utah. an estuarine extension that inundated low-lying areas of the Mojave Desert region ~6. antithetica is significantly smaller than its close relative T. with the dashed line indicating the split in the two Yucca varieties. antithetica have much smaller ventral protrusions and a different number and distribution of spines on those protrusions (Figure 6).Figure 2: Geographic distribution of Y. brevifolia distribution is outlined in white line.5 million years ago [2]. respectively. southern Nevada. brevifolia and its two Tegeticula pollinators. synthetica and black squares represent T. Y. Map includes southern California. The genitalia of the males also allow for distinguishing between the two closely related species. Black circles represent T. antithetica is most closely related to T. antithetica and T. T. antithetica can be distinguished by arrow-shaped mark in the discal cell of its forewing (Figure 4). synthetica (Figure 5). .

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

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

antithetica (right). Recurring pollen collection through the moth’s lifetime results in multiple pollen genotypes. Figure 6: Male genitalia of (A) T. 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. After oviposition of the eggs. The eggs of Tegeticula hatch within a few days and then the larvae begin immediately feeding on the developing yucca seeds. Most Tegeticula species. 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. including antithetica. the female walks up to the stigma. the larva’s diapause can range from one to four years to help its emergence synchronize with host flowering. Inside the cocoon. so they must access the plant during the short flowering period. This indicates that moth populations would have to be locally adapted for the flowering periods their specific hosts [4]. Scale bars represent 0. . and places the pollen on the style (see Video Clip) [4]. 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. The right valvae are shown for both. eating only a small proportion [5].Figure 5: Half-images of female T. synthetica. Life Cycle. and that there are unidentified cues that trigger completion of the moths development and adult emergence [4]. Interestingly. and the adult moths only live for a few days. Note the arrow-shaped make on the forewing of T. antithetica and (B) T.5 mm. The moth compacts the pollen using the tentacular mouthparts and stores it underneath her head. Then. Based on Pellmyr’s unpublished data. are monophagous. After feeding. The female does this by using unique tentacular mouthparts to collect pollen by dragging them across the anthers. synthetica (left) and T. scrapes some pollen off of her batch using her tentacles. the female pollinates the flower to ensure the production/ availability of seeds for her larvae to feed on (Figure 7) [2]. the larva creates an exit path so it can escape the flower to find a location to burrow itself. Arrows indicate the differences in ventral protrusions of the valvae and differences of spine number and distribution. the larva enters diapause and will pupate a few weeks before emergence.

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

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

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