Wings of a warm week

Blacklight and sheet

This past week we’ve had beautifully warm temperatures. Up to 20 C (68 F) or more on some afternoons, warm enough to wear a t-shirt (some warm-blooded types might also pull out the shorts or skirt, but I need for it to be at least 25 before I’d feel comfortable with bare legs. Either that, or sitting in the sun with no breeze). These warm daytime temperatures translated into warm nighttime temperatures – a regular occurrence come late May, but in April are worth taking advantage of for mothing. Some early-spring species live for these warm April evenings, and there are many that are more difficult to find as the season wears on.

Moth trap

As indicated last post, early this week I was at my parents’, out in the middle of the countryside. The rural setting there, it turned out, and the relatively diverse habitats on the property resulted in an excellent collection of species observed over the two nights. I ran the blacklight and sheet in the self-portrait of the first photo for a few hours of the evening, shutting down about midnight, and then had my trap set up which ran the whole night. In the pic it’s shown with a blacklight, but I actually had the more powerful mercury vapour bulb in it, which I think helped with the night’s catch. Although the blacklighted sheet didn’t do too poorly, either, really. It wasn’t a wide array of equipment; I also had two more blacklights and an extra sheet to what I put out, but I didn’t want to have to spend a lot of time taking it all down. And, as it turned out, I didn’t really need it anyway.

Released after photographing

I ended up with a conservative estimate of 42 species, but there was probably a few more than that – I haven’t yet ID’d all the little small guys, and there’s a good chance that, with my inexperience, I may have written off some stuff as variations of other more common species. This isn’t too shabby for mid-April, as I understand it. Most of these species have emerged from overwintering as larvae or pupae, but a few overwinter as adults. They tend to be the raggedy ones, at least in the spring. Later on in the year the raggedy moths are just worn with age. As I photographed them I released them on to a concrete statue of a raccoon my mom has beside their front stoop. Because they go into a sort of torpid state they didn’t move very far after I placed them on the statue.

Lettered Sphinx Lettered Sphinx

This was possibly my favourite moth from the two evenings. I caught five of them total, three on one night, and two the other (it’s possible that one or both of the two were among the three caught the next night, I suppose). It’s a Lettered Sphinx, one of the smaller of the sphinx moths, and fairly blandly coloured compared to many other sphinxes. I loved the way it curls its abdomen up when at rest. I didn’t realize what it was at first, something about photographs of sphinxes makes them look bigger than they really are. This was actually one of the larger moths I caught, but it was still less than 4cm (perhaps 1.5″) long. For whatever reason, these moths only came to the mercury vapour bulb at the trap, I didn’t have any at the sheet.

Dogwood Thyatirid - Euthyatira pudens

Another that only came to the trap was this Dogwood Thyatirid. Considering the abundance of Flowering Dogwood, the larvae’s host plant, at my parents’, it wasn’t a great surprise to discover five in the trap over the two nights, either. They’re a pretty nice moth, with a hint of pink to the whiteish patches that just doesn’t really come through in the photos well.

The Joker - Feralia jocosa

This moth was the opposite, I had five individuals over two nights that only ever came to the blacklighted sheet. Now why would that be? I hypothesize that the blacklight produces a slightly different wavelength of UV light that the different species orient to with greater or less preference. But really I don’t know. This striking green moth is The Joker, and was the very first moth on the very first night. Considering that up to that point most of the moths I’d seen were rather drab, this really made my evening. And, I gather, they only get better from here.

Caloptilia stigmatella

Here’s another one that I was pleased to see. It belongs to the genus Caloptilia, and it’s tiny, less than a centimeter long. This group of moths are among the leaf miners that create trails through deciduous leaves. Like the sphinx moths, when I first saw photos of these guys I thought they were substantially larger than they really are. I thought they were pretty neat-looking, propped up on stilts as they seemed to be. I got one to a sheet last fall, and immediately recognized it (it’s really a rather distinctive shape and posture), but was a little shocked at how tiny it was. Little moths (the so-called micromoths) are tricky to photograph because they tend to come out of torpor very quickly, basically as soon as you disturb them, because their small size means their bodies warm up and resume normal function very quickly. I got two of these guys, both in the trap. The first one I only got a photo of it on the carton it was resting on while in the trap; as soon as I nudged it to try to get it onto something more photogenic it took off. This one is waving its antennae furiously as it contemplates leaving.

Grote's Sallow - Copivaleria grotei

This last moth I like because of the intricate mottling and nice mossy-green shading to the pattern. It’s a Grote’s Sallow, and I think I got five between the two nights (what is it about the number five?). Imagine this guy tucked into a crevice on an old, jagged-barked tree trunk. He’d blend right in and you’d never know he was there.

It’s hard to pick just a few species to highlight of the dozens I got, but those were definitely among my favourites. Those interested in checking out more of what I got can visit my moths series on Flickr.

I’ll wrap up with this photo of Lettered Sphinxes snickering behind a Curve-toothed Geometer’s back.

Group discussion

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7 responses to “Wings of a warm week

  1. Fantastic! I started knitting a few years ago and have adopted the fear of moths in general that wool hoarders tend to have. But I used to love moths, and your photos remind me of how beautiful moths they can be.

  2. These moths are incredible — what an amazing variety — and your photos are fabulous, too. I’ve never really looked that closely at moths, but now I really would love to see a “Grote’s Sallow” or that curly-tailed Lettered Sphinx up close. Neat stuff.

  3. What a wonderful in-depth article on Moths! Amazing number of species! The Joker moth is beautiful – an interesting name.

  4. themarvelousinnature

    TheAgedCat: Well, fortunately there’s only a handful of moth species that have any interest in textiles, and even then it’s just their larvae – the rest you can enjoy without fear. :)

    That was one of the things that drew me to moths, too, Eyegillian – the incredible diversity. I don’t think a lot of people have really paid much attention to moths. There’s the pretty green Luna Moth that you see in commercials and such, but other than that most people probably think of them as being small, pale critters. But really they’re very varied and colourful.

    Thanks, April. I assume that “The Joker” is an adaptation of it’s scientific name, F. jocosa (it’s also sometimes called Jocose Sallow, but “The Joker” just has so much more character).

  5. I’m intrigued at the way the moths all seem to be picking the places on the statue that best camouflage each one. The striped ones have lined up their stripes, the dark ones have picked the more shadowed areas, and that pale one in the sunshine is almost invisible. How do they know?

  6. themarvelousinnature

    Good question, Lavenderbay… I actually put them all on the top of the statue’s head as I was done photographing them, and some of them moved off, and some didn’t. The Lettered Sphinxes seems particularly indifferent, it spent the whole day perched on the racoon’s ear, even after the other moths had all left.

  7. Pingback: The Moth and Me #2 « North American Moths Backyard Inventory

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