The March of moths

9929 - Pyreferra hesperidago - Mustard Sallow (2)

As of my last full post, I had got a total of 12 species to my blacklit sheet so far this year. The weather has been amazingly cooperative. Today the temperatures dipped into the single digits again, but prior to that we had five or six days of lovely, mild, sunny weather. Days of double-digit sunny afternoons were followed by (relatively) mild nights that encouraged the moths to fly well past dusk. Up to a dozen individuals would show up at my sheet most nights.

The addition of three more species last night brings my total up to 15 for the season thus far. Two species are “lifers”, meaning I’d never seen them before (this remains easy for me to accomplish because there are so many species out there and I haven’t been mothing all that long yet, this is only my second spring). The first of these was the above, Mustard Sallow, Pyreferra hesperidago. The sallows are a group of late fall and early spring species that are generally flat in profile often with fuzzyish torsos. They have a fairly distinctive shape, and in most they two spots on the wings are noticeable or well-defined. The Mustard Sallow shares the shape, but the spots are more subtle. Its defining characteristics are its rich orange colour and three roughly parallel lines.

9902 - Lithophane baileyi - Bailey's Pinion (2)

The other one was this species, Bailey’s Pinion, Lithophane baileyi. The pinions are another late fall-early spring species group. They tend to be long and narrow, often gray (though not always), often with at least one defined spot (though not all of them). Some have an attractive woodgrain pattern. They’ll often sit with their wings tight to their sides, which makes them hard to photograph compared to the sallows or other groups. I gather that Bailey’s Pinion, despite being found through much of the northeast, is not very common.

6658 - Phigalia titea - The Half-Wing

Many species that show up this early in the season spent the winter as an adult holed up in a nook somewhere. The warm weather and sunny days warms them up enough to encourage them to come out from where they’ve been hiding. Most such species are usually seen in the late fall, as well, after they’ve pupated but before they go into hibernation. Both of the previous species do this.

The above is strictly a spring species, however. The Half-wing, Phigalia titea, is one of the first species to emerge from pupae in the spring, and can often be seen in large numbers. Last spring, on a night with 50 moths, 18 were of this species. The Phigalias (of which there are two in our area, the other being the Small Phigalia, similar in pattern but only about 2/3rds the size of the Half-wing) that come to your light are all males; the females are flightless, and rarely seen. The Half-wing also has a dark morph that is nearly black with just a hint of stripes.

6662 - Paleacrita vernata - Spring Cankerworm

The Spring Cankerworm, Paleacrita vernata, was another species I was expecting. Closely related to the Phigalias, it’s very common in the spring, and like the Phigalias, has a wingless female. It also overwinters as a pupa, emerging with the warm weather. On that same 50-moth-night, nearly half of them were Spring Cankerworms. I like the subtle colours of this one, it has a sort of sleek look to it.

There’s something comforting in the familiar faces reemerging in the spring, like waiting for a friend you haven’t seen in ages. When they arrive, you’re delighted to see them, pleased that they made it. Of course, the conversation is a little wanting. But it’s a comfortable silence.

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