Argema mimosae


Argema mimosae – African moon moth, Butterfly Pavilion, Westminster, Colorado. The eyespots are interesting, but the antennas are more so. In the 60’s and 70’s, Phil Callahan showed that many insect antennas are miniature TV antennas tuned for submillimeter wavelengths. He suggested using submillimeter lasers to control certain insect pests. An admittedly cursory search turned up nothing recent. Does any reader know whether anything has come of Callahan’s research?


Anybody visiting the Denver area should take a couple of hours to wander through the Butterfly Pavilion. It’s real close to an exit off Highway 36, the Denver-Boulder Highway. You walk inside a large humid greenhouse-like structure loaded with plants and butterflys. Here’s a short YouTube slideshow I put together about our visit a couple of years ago:[…]feature=plcp

I was a personal friend and colleague of Dr. Phillip Callahan, Research Entomologist, for many years as a Research Chemist at the same USDA laboratory in Gainesville, Florida. I had many interesting discussions with Phil when I started out knowing nothing about entomology in 1970. Phil’s provocative points of view were stimulating to say the least, but we had disagreements about who or what had proved what. His ideas about the infrared “windows” that allowed insects to use or not use various wavelengths I could never quite understand, even though Phil typically claimed that his theory proved somebody else’s theory. I remember trying to understand these exchanges but not finding wavelengths or inverse wavenumbers written or noted on his long plain paper plotter output… was baffling.

Phil’s round towers made of sandpaper (mimicing those of his ancestral Irish homeland) that adsorb useful radiation was also an interesting topic. Phil has been retired many years now… and he left few acolytes. Curiously, Phil and I were both promoted to GS-15 level in Civil Service by the formal peer review system, the only two scientists I know of who were not Research Leaders first, which is the usual route to promotion. I have a cartoon I drew, “Phil in the 22nd Century” for his 1994 retirement that is “just like him”. Would this be interesting?

I just put up some recollections of Phil on the Panda. Note- I found my cartoon of Phil and can copy it to you. It is “just like him”. He was a one-of-a-kind. One of his feats- after WWII he was left in China. He got a big camera and made a long trip across China taking large format pictures of everything, and sold these as travelogues to the New York Times(?). This went on until the Nixon days of opening up China, and we both know how well that has gone for the USA.…..

Phil had a long tussle with early pheromone synthetic chemists: hearing that Phil said that IR was the determinant of detection at low levels, the USDA chemists made highly tritiated pheromone analogs for bioassays against living male insects. What kind of changes made in the near/far IR emission/adsorption spectra of a normal vs tritiated pheromone molecule I do not recall. But everyone was unhappy with the result. I think the males responded just the same. That was about 1975 or so, so I may be rusty on details. I just thought of this– transfer to the Panda?

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on February 27, 2012 12:00 PM.

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