W Week – Wings of the night

7746 - Automeris io - Io Moth (2)
Io Moth, Automeris io

Okay, so maybe that’s stretching a bit to tie the subject in to W week, but I just had to share some of these moths with you. I’ve continued to do mothing on a fairly regular basis, aside from a brief stretch last week where it was just too chilly or two rainy for mothing to be productive. Things warmed up this week, and a couple of nights ago I set out my sheet and my light trap to see what new stuff was flying.

Well, was it ever a productive evening! I had around five dozen species of macro-moth, the larger species that are easier to identify. I haven’t been spending much time or energy on the micro-moths since they’re usually harder to ID, and I figure it’s probably best to take it in steps. It’s enough work just to learn and remember the big ones, especially when they start coming at you fast and furious (so to speak).

The above moth was the indisputable highlight of the night. Or morning, depending on how you look at it; I found it hanging on to the inside wall of my moth trap. Sometimes these large moths can get rubbed up a little inside the trap as they crawl around the egg cartons (although not so much as to cause harmful damage; it’s mostly just aesthetics that suffer), but this one was in very good shape. It’s an Io Moth, a male. The females have similar patterning but are a browny-red. They’re widespread across eastern North America, and can be found much of the year. Although there’s nothing to give you scale in the photo, he was probably about 10 cm (4 in) across with his wings spread out.

6840 - Plagodis serinaria - Lemon Plagodis
Lemon Plagodis, Plagodis serinaria

Another yellow moth, this one a little smaller (3 cm, 1.25 inch across). It was not the least bit cooperative about a photo, despite a number of attempts (via re-chilling it in the fridge before trying again). Eventually I just gave up and took a photo through the clear plastic container. It’s a lovely one, though, a Lemon Plagodis. Mostly a spring and early summer species, it’s associated with deciduous forests of the northeast.

7941 - Furcula modesta - Modest Furcula (2)
Modest Furcula, Furcula modesta

There are several species of Furcula; all have these dark bands bordered by orange dots (not as noticeable on this species) on a white background, and a curly dark blue and black thorax. This one, the Modest Furcula, has very thick, very dark bands compared to the others. It’s only just starting to appear right now and will fly for much of the summer. It’s widespread, found in deciduous forests from southern Canada into New England in the east and Arizona in the west.

7941 - Furcula modesta - Modest Furcula
Modest Furcula, Furcula modesta

The Furculas have this cool habit of curling up and playing dead when disturbed. Presumably it helps with discouraging predators, but it does make it hard to get a photo. In Europe the Furculas are known as Kittens (eg., Modest Kitten), which makes you want to scoop it up and cuddle it. They have such great names for moths over there.

7901 - Clostera apicalis - Apical Prominent
Apical Prominent, Clostera apicalis

The prominents are among my favourite groups of moths, although it’s hard to say exactly why. Perhaps because they’re never found in large numbers, and they all have interesting shapes and colours, they seem special somehow. This is one of a couple that have a similar pattern, with that thick white squiggle at the rear of the wing; I think this one is the Apical Prominent. I love the tail sticking up. Another summer species, it’s found across much of Canada and into bits of northern US, associated with early successional/riparian species such as birch, poplar and willow.

8695 - Zale undularis - Black Zale
Black Zale, Zale undularis

The Black Zale is a sexy moth. The photo really doesn’t capture the rich deepness of the black. It has an almost velvety feel to it. It’s got the characteristic Zale shape, including a couple of tufts on the back of the thorax, but it’s the only Zale species to be all dark like this. It’s found through most of eastern North America. Up here it’s a spring species but in the south it has a longer flight period.

9053 - Pseudeustrotia carneola - Pink-barred Pseudeustrotia
Pink-barred Pseudeustrotia, Pseudeustrotia carneola

This photo is of one from my trap, but I actually found one this afternoon just sitting on a blade of grass in a field. It’s a small moth with a big name, one of those sorts of Latin names that I need to pause to sound out – Soo-doo-stro-tia. It’s a holarctic species, found through both North America and Eurasia; in the former, it occurs in open fields and meadows and in forest edges and clearings (the latter would be the case with us, since we have no field within sight of my moth trap).

9259 - Acronicta noctivaga - Night-Wandering Dagger
Night-wandering Dagger, Acronicta noctivaga

And finally, I think that this is a Night-wandering Dagger (aren’t most moths night-wandering?), but there are several black-and-white moths with complex markings like this. The key to identification is often looking at whether the wing spots are bordered in white, whether the lines are jagged or rise up on one end, which lines are pale and which are dark, where the dark shading is. The daggers are a group of mostly monochromatic species. Some of them have elaborate markings like this, while others are pale with distinct black dashes at the shoulder and rear edge and sometimes in between.

That’s it for this batch, but I’m sure it won’t be the last!


Author: Seabrooke

Author of Peterson Field Guide to Moths. #WriteOnCon Mastermind. Writer of action/thriller SF/F YA. Story junkie. Nature nut. Tea addict. Mother. Finding happiness in the little things. Twitter: @SeabrookeN / @SeabrookeLeckie

4 thoughts on “W Week – Wings of the night”

  1. The best definitely has to be the “play dead” moment. I felt a bit shocked when I first looked at it, then I felt great relief when I read your explanation. I’ve seen other moths do the same…but I was worried!

    Thank you for sharing these. Moths fascinate me. Children of the night (mostly). You’ve really captured some beguiling creatures…

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