I love how we can find out practically anything at a moment’s notice simply by Googling it. But the trouble with this type of instant information is that Internet content is by its nature highly fallible when it comes to accuracy. Put another way, there’s a lot of fiction mixed in with the facts. And because we are usually moving quickly through the information presented to us, we can misunderstand but still think we know.
Take the case of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth for example. When I Googled this interesting sounding animal, the snap ‘info window’ on the right hand side of the search results (Fig 1) displayed several images and a short Wikipedia blurb.
My first impression of this moth was gleaned from this info window – the photographs, the authoritative comment from Wikipedia, the taxonomic classification. My reaction: could this moth be any cuter? I don’t think so. I instantly wanted to have them in my garden, or keep one as a pet. And to think that Nature dreamed up something so adorable, that even flies!
Or did she? — Well, maybe. It is an open question, and it depends on which image you are looking at. Let’s do a bit of data mining on the visual and textual information supplied in Google’s info window and see if my first impressions of this moth were based on fact or fiction.
There are seven images (not counting the ‘People also search for’ section). Two are identical, and the main photo and photo at top right are very similar. Are they all images of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth? No.
For starters, if you’re looking at the gorgeous fluffy white moth with the black striated antennae in the main image, or the smaller image at top right, you aren’t looking at a real Venezuelan Poodle Moth, or even any sort of a real moth.
You’re looking at a beautiful moth sculpture made of wool felt. What’s more, you’re not even looking at a wool felt sculpture of a Venezuelan Poodle Moth, but a Bombyx mori, or Silk moth.
This cute little piece of art is part of a larger art sculpture (Fig 2) exhibited at the Itami City Museum of Insects in Hyogo Japan in 2008.[9,10,12]. It appears to be by a Japanese artist named Hakoiri. You can see this and more of Hakoiri’s sculptures here .Beautiful art, but scarcely evidence of a new species of real moth, and rather misleadingly included in the information with which we have been presented.
The remaining images are real moths. Some have been taken by Dr Arthur Anker, the zoologist Wikipedia identifies as the discoverer of the Poodle Moth. Some have not. Are they Poodle Moths? Mostly no.
If you are looking at the photo of the moth in the middle top row to the right of the main picture, you are looking at a Muslin moth (Diaphora mendica) .This moth is associated with the Venezuelan Poodle Moth because some experts think they might be related, and also because the photographer named the moth as a ‘Poodle Moth’ on his Flickr site in addition to its correct name.
If you are looking at the photo of the moth in the right bottom row to the right of the main picture (Fig. 4) you are looking at an unidentified moth by an unidentified photographer. It looks a bit like a portrait of an Emperor Gum moth to me, but only an entomologist can know for sure.
I was unable to find any evidence of this photo having been taken by Dr Anker, despite reviewing his entire collection of Lepidoptera photos on his Flickr site. This moth photo appears to have become associated with the Venezuelan Poodle moth through sites that are erroneously including this photo as an example of the Venezuelan Poodle moth.
If you are looking at the photo of the moth in the middle bottom row to the right of the main picture, you are looking at a moth that was photographed by Dr Anker; he calls it simply a “Cute Moth” (Fig. 5).
This moth has also become associated with the Venezuelan Poodle moth through co-location on sites ranging from Dr Anker’s Flickr photostream to quasi-scientific news sites that have been including this photo as an example of a Venezuelan Poodle Moth.[5,6] But Dr Anker does not claim this to be a Poodle Moth.
The Venezuelan Poodle Moth?
Lastly, if you are looking at the remaining two identical photos (Fig 6), you may be finally looking at a Venezuelan Poodle Moth.
This photo is by Dr Anker, who states the photo date was 1 January 2009, and can be seen in various resolutions on Dr Anker’s Flickr site here.
Although there is no reference original image to identify any manipulations, this image is at least cropped. The moth is obviously quite hairy; with two of its legs crossed in front of it and 5 of its 6 legs showing in the photo, it takes on an extra level of fluffy cuteness. The image caption by Dr Anker is “Poodle moth (Artace sp, perhaps A. cribaria), Venezuela.”
At last we have come to the one unique photograph of the moth in question! We have to adjust our understanding of the Venezuelan Poodle moth to just that one photo. And although it isn’t quite what we first expected from our Google snap info, let’s face it, it is rather adorable.
And actually, does bear a marked resemblance to a poodle (for a moth).
The text and taxonomy of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth
The text blurb accompanying this extraordinary range of images reads:
“The Venezuelan Poodle Moth is a possible new species of moth discovered in 2009 by Dr Arthur Anker of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in the Gran Sabana region of Venezuela. Wikipedia.
Higher Classification: Artace
This looks very authoritative, doesn’t it? And frankly, like Mulder in The X-Files, I want to believe. It is evident from his 134 academic papers that Dr Anker is a respected zoologist, particularly in the field of crustaceans, especially shrimps. He can therefore be assumed to be acting in good faith in presenting this moth photo as evidence of a possible new species.
But in reality, at the present time there is currently no formally identified moth by the name of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth. There is only a photo of a moth with a whimsical name. The moth is very far from scientifically described.
We have no information on its size or other physical details, its lifecycle or its specific habitat. We do not have a specimen in any collection as far as we know. Without even the most basic of information, it is difficult to ascertain from the photo that the moth is of a previously unknown species of moth from the genus Artace.
However, I can’t say it will not eventually be a Venezuelan Poodle Moth, given it is as yet unidentified and could one day be a new species, which could give Dr Anker naming rights to the moth, which he may then give the common name Venezuelan Poodle Moth, although I think ‘Anker’s Poodle Moth’ has a nice ring to it too.
So, in separating fiction from fact, I would say that the Google info window results would leave the casual observer convinced that this moth exists, that it is large, fuzzy and friendly, and that it comes in a variety of colours.
As a reminder, here is the Google results window I started with:
The reality of the Venezuelan Poodle Moth is that at present it doesn’t exist, although a photo of a lovely unidentified moth with the title ‘Poodle Moth’ from Venezuela does exist in Dr Anker’s Flickr photostream. Certainly it isn’t the over-the-top-cute fuzzy moth that could be held in the hand (because it was a wool felt sculpture). It also doesn’t come in the orange and white variants (as far as we know) that the info window evokes.
However, Google results to the contrary, this is all we know about the Venezuelan Poodle Moth:
Zoologist Dr Arthur Anker has uploaded an image to Flickr of an unusual and possibly new species of moth he reports having photographed in the Gran Sabana area of Venezuela, and he has called it a ‘Poodle Moth’ (illustrated below) and tentatively suggested it to be in the Artace genus of Lepidoptera.
Really Google, was that so hard to say?