The tiniest moths: the Philodoria of Hawaii

Doctoral Student Chris Johns at the University of Florida made this lovely ten-minute video about endemic (“native”) Hawaiian “micromoths” and their caterpillars (genus Philodoria), as well as about those who study them. Do watch the whole thing.

The caterpillars are “leaf miners”, eating the insides of leaves (this affords them protection from predators), and many of the host plants they inhabit are endangered, which means the Philodoria, each species of which is specific to a single species of plant, are also endangered. The adults can be quite beautiful.

Click on the word “vimeo” to enlarge.

Official Selection, Hawaii International Film Festival 2016

Produced by Chris A. Johns
Original Score by Tristan Whitehill
Design by Narayan Ghiotti

With support from the Florida Museum of Natural History, National Geographic Society, International Biodiversity Foundation, and National Science Foundation.

Here’s a National Geographic video on the genus, which says the adults are about the size of an eyelash, both in length and width. You can see that here, as well as their beauty.

Here are photos of two species:



Here’s an adult to scale: that’s a U.S. quarter, about an inch in diameter:


h/t: Mathew Cobb


  1. Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    The time lapse photography of the insects nomming inside the leaves is stunning!

  2. Posted January 12, 2017 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Cool stuff. Pretty little moths!

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Remarkable small life and the limited diet. The area looks very familiar having lived on the Windward side of Oahu for five years. Valley of the Temples.

  4. peepuk
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    Always sad to see a species slowly disappear.

  5. Jonathan Wallace
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Lovely little moths but a rather poignant film given the prognosis for their long term survival. The loss of these moths if an when it happens will be recorded but, sadly, there are probably also countless species headed for oblivion that we have not even recorded yet.

    Philodoria are certainly tiny but I think that it would be a very fat eyelash that compared in thickness with one!

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    Splendid and delicate and lovely. But unfortunately rare and in trouble. The people who research this and call attention to this & problems like this are heroes.

  7. Christopher Bonds
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    “. . . it looked like a new species, and sure enough, it was–one for each island.”

    Wait! That sounds like… well, we know, don’t we.

    • Christopher Bonds
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

      That video is drop-dead gorgeous, by the way.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted January 12, 2017 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

        Lots of Hawaii still looks that way and very vertical. At least I can spell speciation now.

  8. Posted January 12, 2017 at 4:56 pm | Permalink


  9. Tony Eales
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Lovely and sad. We have some very similar looking species here in Australia

  10. Christopher
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Leafminers presence is easy enough to spot if you look at enough leaves, but finding the little buggers themselves, not so much. Unfortunately, rather than observe and enjoy the fascinating little niche lifestyle they have made for themselves, most gardeners run for the pesticides. Heaven forbid a leaf has a blemish or a hole in it! Fascinating little video. Thanks for sharing.

    • largeswope
      Posted January 12, 2017 at 6:18 pm | Permalink

      I love spotting leave minor evidence in my garden. Sad so many pesticides are used.

  11. rickflick
    Posted January 12, 2017 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

    Let’s hope the biologists can protect them. It’s a tragedy of they become extinct.

  12. Tamethyst
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 2:29 am | Permalink

    The micros are a fascinating branch of Lepidoptera. There are many people recording these species throughout the UK. I attended a talk of a lepidopterists club where a talk was given about one of these “micromoth” species that lives thousands of feet up on the Scottish mountainsides. It had only ever been seen and recorded by four people in history, talk about rare!!

  13. Posted January 13, 2017 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    That’s amazing. I’m staggered that such complexity can be achieved on such a tiny scale!

  14. Mark R.
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Wow, I had never heard of this genus. What beautiful wee insects. The conservation back story is just too common nowadays; there’s no reason to doubt these types of conservation alarms will alleviate in the future.

  15. Ken Elliott
    Posted January 13, 2017 at 11:15 am | Permalink

    This is fascinating. Thank you for posting it. Whew! I can’t imagine how challenging it must be to troop deep into Hawaii’s interior in search of specimens. Those must be rewarding occupations for those young scientists.

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