Dear Joan: I took a picture of a strange bug in our bedroom. I've never seen anything like it before or again. Can you identify it?
The total "wing span" was about 2 inches. I captured the creature and released it to the wild. It actually was a pretty cool animal.
DEAR DON: Do you have artichokes in your garden? The strange bug you photographed is a plume moth (Pterophoridae), and although I don't know for certain, it looks a lot like the artichoke plume moth, which is a common pest in artichokes grown as perennials.
The artichoke moth is usually smaller than what you describe -- a little more than an inch in width -- so it may be some other species.
The plume moth is identified by its unusual forewings that consist of two curved "spars." When the moth is at rest, the wings are rolled and held laterally. This gives them the appearance of dried twigs or grass, a useful disguise protecting the moth from predators. The wings also have a shabby looking fringe on them.
The moth's larvae are stem- or root-borers, although some types of plume moths are leaf-browsers. In the artichoke moth, the female lays up to 245 eggs on the underside of artichoke leaves. As the larvae grow, they eat the leaves and bore into the plant and buds.
Thanks to Steve Schultz, scientific programs manager at Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District for giving me the initial identification.
DEAR JOAN: I have a question about a squirrel we see in our yard and on our fence. This squirrel is missing its tail; there is a little tuft of hair where the tail should be.
We don't see him a lot but enough to know he's still around. Could this have been caused by a narrow escape or could he have been born this way?
I thought squirrels needed their tails for balance, but this one appears to get along well so am I wrong abut the balance?
DEAR JANE: Some folks claim what you're seeing is a "squabbit," a cross between a squirrel and rabbit. But like the jackalope, the squabbit is a myth. It really is just a tailless squirrel.
All squirrels -- at least the ones I know of -- have tails unless something has removed them. Your little friend probably lost his in an attack from a predator, who came away with the tail, but fortunately for the squirrel, nothing else.
If only the hair and skin had been lost, the tail would eventually regrow, but when the hair, skin and bones are lost, the tails don't regrow.
Tails are extremely important to squirrels. They use them for balance when jumping from limbs onto our bird feeders, and to safely run across fence tops, high wires and tree limbs. The tails also are used to communicate with other squirrels, and in the cold, they provide extra warmth.
As your friend has proved, squirrels can live without their tails, it's just a bit more difficult for them.
Time running out
The deadline for applying for a Contra Costa County Fish and Wildlife grant to enhance fish and wildlife resources is 5 p.m. Jan. 6.
Contact Joan Morris at email@example.com.