Early spring moths

The Infant

I hadn’t intended for yesterday’s post to ramble on quite so much as it did. When I sat down to start to write, I had only planned for a single introductory paragraph explaining the background of my interest in moths. Somehow, when I place my fingers on a keyboard, they get carried away, and words just start to flow out.

Speckled Green Fruitworm Moth

So the initial purpose of yesterday’s post was to talk about the start of the mothing season. On Monday evening the weather was reasonably warm and clear, so I visited TTPBRS for an hour or so and hung up my sheet and blacklight to see if I could draw anything in. I just got a single moth, but I was pleased to get anything at all given that it was still so early in the season. The first moth of spring was the above individual, a Speckled Green Fruitworm moth. It’s a widespread and abundant species, and one of the first to come out in the spring, even though they overwinter as pupae, not adults. They’re extremely variable, with individuals ranging from the buffy-brown of this one, to grayish, to whiteish.

This variability can really throw me off with some of these species ’cause you think you’ve got something different or special and it turns out to be just another fill-in-the-blank-here. And then you’ve got other species that look so similar to each other they can be hard to tell apart. I guess that’s not all that unlike birds. You’ve got the variable Dark-eyed Junco with all its different-coloured subspecies, which can all occur together in some parts of the country, and then you’ve got the Willow/Alder Flycatcher complex, where the two species are only really distinguishable by song.

Moth number two was the top introductory photo, a day-flier called The Infant, found at my parents’ the following day. Being out in mid-day, basking with its wings spread in the sun in the lee of the barn, being brightly coloured, and then also the way it fluttered, it all reminded me of a butterfly, but it wasn’t any butterfly I was familiar with. Of course, the shape and position of the wings, and the lack of club tips to the antennae, all gave it away as a moth in the end. It’s a common and widespread early moth of the north, usually found near birch, its foodplant, and could be seen (along with a few other day-flying early-spring species) on a hike in the woods on a warm afternoon.

Spring Cankerworm

That evening I set out a couple of sheets hoping to perhaps catch a few moths. Well, was I ever surprised to eventually get not just a handful, but 50 moths to the sheets in four hours after dusk. Of this 50, 24 were the above species, by far the most common of the evening. This may be because their larval food is maple, birch, cherry, and a few other deciduous species, all quite common in the forests around my parents’ (in fact, the one sheet was actually hanging from the branches of a maple). They overwinter in the soil and pupate to emerge in early spring. The females are flightless, lacking wings altogether, and resemble something like a cross between a spider and a beetle.

The Half-wing The Half-wing (dark morph)

The above two moths are of the same species, The Half-wing, so named because females of this species are also flightless, but sport cute half-sized wings to at least resemble a moth. Yet another species whose flight period is restricted to early spring, these were caught in moderate numbers at the sheets, as well, the second-most common with 18 individuals. The species has two colour morphs, the white individual at left, and a dark melanistic morph, at right. I caught two of the dark guys, and originally thought they were a separate species before I looked it up. They’re closely related to the Spring Cankerworms, though separate in genera.

Morrison's Sallow

I caught a few other less common species, as well, including the above Morrison’s Sallow, which overwinters as an adult (this is a particularly ratty individual), and a few “micromoths”, little guys less than an inch long, which are more challenging to identify (so I haven’t yet).

The weather has cooled down, and we may not have another good evening for moths for a little while, though the long-range forecast suggests next weekend may be fairly warm. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for some of the day-fliers on the sunny afternoons.

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11 responses to “Early spring moths

  1. Aha! Now I know why some moths look so ratty!
    Question: Where does one procure glow-in-the-dark sheets? The housewares departments don’t usually advertise phosphorescence as a quality in bedding. :)

  2. Very interesting posts on moths. I have never given them much notice except to shoo them away from my door when I want to go inside. Your pictures are beautiful.

  3. themarvelousinnature

    Lavenderbay: Pretty much any cotton bedsheet would work fine. Synthetic fibres tend not to pick up blacklight the same. I’ve read that washing the sheet with laundry detergent helps with its phosphorescence, so if your cotton sheet doesn’t glow as much as you’d like, you can try that.

    Thanks, Ruth. I must admit that before last summer I hadn’t paid them a whole lot of attention, either. So I was pretty amazed at what I found once I did.

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