Yesterday was a beautifully mild day, the sort that says spring is on the way, even if it’s not quite here just yet. There was still a nip to the air, but the gorgeous sunshine made you forget it was there. I could have sworn the temperature must have reached at least 8 or 9 °C (~47 °F) but weather.ca’s records indicate it only reached 5.5 in the nearby town where the temperature is recorded. Amazing what a little bit of sun can do.
The birds were feeling spring in the air; the chickadees were singing in the trees around the feeders, as were the American Tree Sparrows; I heard a Downy Woodpecker calling, and from across the street our Man in Red was doing his “cheer! cheer! whit whit whit whit!”
Still, by sundown the temperature had fallen to nearly freezing again. I’ve been checking the porch lights hopefully for the last week or so whenever I go out to get wood, but it’s always too cold. Last night being no different, I naturally assumed that when Dan called me down (“Moth alert!”) he meant one of the little jobbies who’ve been hanging around inside the house over the winter, the ones too small to be able to identify without counting genital bristles or something equally obscure.
But no, he meant actual moths! Honest-to-goodness, free-range outdoor moths! The temperature had continued to fall and by that hour had reached -4 °C (25 °F). What the heck these little guys were doing out and about at that temperature is beyond me, but there they were. I scrambled for a few of my moth jars, which were still tucked away in the basement, collected them up and brought them in out of the cold. I put them in the fridge where it was a relatively (for them) balmy 4 °C (39 °F) (or so; there’s no thermostat in our fridge to tell you the temperature. But it’s above freezing, anyway).
This morning I took them out, did my best to get photos (these little tiny micro-moths are such a headache to photograph, because they have really low volume:surface area ratios, meaning that they warm up a lot faster than the chunky-bodied macro-moths. And clearly these species were fairly cold-tolerant in the first place. I couldn’t get one of them to cooperate at all and had to photograph it through the plastic jar), and then released them on the porch in the sun where they could warm up and fly off to someplace to spend the night.
The first three moths are all the same species, and it was one of these that Dan noticed and called me down for. The other moths were spotted after I came out to collect the first one. I had a reasonable idea on the approximate taxonomic area it belonged to, but when I searched the species in that group on the online identification pages at Moth Photographers Group, I couldn’t see anything that was a good match. So I submitted one of the photos to BugGuide.net and got a prompt response that it was simply a “lightly-marked” example of an Inornate Semioscopis, Semioscopis inornata.
The fourth and final moth was in a closely related but different genus, Agonopterix. They have a distinctive squareish shape, so I knew where this one belonged right away, and it was easy enough to find an ID for it. I believe this one is A. clemensella, which I don’t think has an official common name, but which I’ve unofficially called Clemens’s Agonopterix in my records (remembering complicated Latin names with unfamiliar spellings and letter groupings is not a skill I was blessed with, so I give moths an English label if they don’t have one already, even if it’s only for my own use). This was a new Agonopterix for me, but that’s not a great surprise; there are 30 or so Agonopterix species in North America, and I’ve seen just a handful.
So I was pretty stoked at this event, finally seeing moths at the light after a long three and a half months of mothlessness. Although I won’t really consider the moth season to have started until I get a big macro to the light. Nothing against the micro-moths. But there’s just something about a chunky sallow…