First moth(s) of 2010!

914 - Semioscopis inornata - Inornate Semioscopis

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.

914 - Semioscopis inornata - Inornate Semioscopis

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.

914 - Semioscopis inornata - Inornate Semioscopis

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.

862 - Agonopterix clemensella - Clemens's Agonopterix

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…

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15 responses to “First moth(s) of 2010!

  1. Congratulations on your first outdoor moth of the year. I still haven’t seen an outdoor one yet. This weekend looks like a good bet, though.

    • Thanks, John. I was quite surprised to see these guys so early. I’m hoping perhaps for one or two tomorrow night, too, but may not make it quite warm enough up here to bring them out. Hope you get somebody!

  2. Yeay, Spring!
    I like that phrase, “a chunky sallow.” It should be used in Gourmet magazine: “A chunky sallow, paired with peppercorn-encrusted medium-rare porterhouse medallions and sweet-potato fries with honey-caper mayonnaise…”

  3. For further information on local weather in the South Frontenac area you may want to check out this web site:

    http://www.weatherlink.com/user/markc

    It is the upload target for my weather station in the Bedford Mills area. Other related sites that get relays of this information and show some trending are:

    http://www.findu.com/cgi-bin/wxpage.cgi?call=DW0340&last=12&units=metric

    and

    http://www.wunderground.com/weatherstation/WXDailyHistory.asp?ID=IONTARIO229

    Hope you find these useful.

    • Thanks for these links, Mark! They are indeed useful. The weather sites I’d been checking have been weather.ca and Environment Canada’s, both of which take their readings from Kemptville.

  4. Hi, Seabrooke, I’ve been enjoying your blog — and I can’t wait to get your book — from the catbird’s seat at the Brooklyn Bachelor blog, but I’ve moved my natural history observations and thoughts to a new place, http://matthewwills.com/, so I hope you’ll visit.

  5. “Free-range outdoor moths!” That had me laughing gleefully. I’m the same way when it comes to indoor critters: I appreciate them and I enjoy them, but I don’t really feel like I’ve seen wildlife until I’ve seen their outside counterparts.

  6. The new moth season beginning. Exciting!

  7. Good stuff, as always. Saw my first crocus here in Brooklyn a few days ago and literally keened with joy. Meanwhile, on a “nature poetry” listserv I subscribe to, this came across the transom today and of course, you came to mind.

    CABBAGE MOTHS

    To mate on the wing,
    now that’s a trick I want to learn—

    hopped up on pheromones,
    legs twitching,
    wings flapping impossibly fast ….

    For that I’d take a spin
    as an insignificant lepidoterid.
    For that I’d give up
    all my nature programs,
    rock music, erotic poetry.

    I’d even do
    penance in the egg.
    I’d crawl through adolescence on my belly
    eating none of the food I love, eating nothing
    but cabbage, cabbage, cabbage.

    For that instant
    of sudden weightlessness,
    fluttering with my beloved on the verge
    of a holy convulsion

    I await my turn.

    – Charles Goodrich

    • You don’t see poems about moths all that often, Gerry – thanks for passing this along!

      I’m looking forward to the snow melting back enough for our bulbs to start sprouting, too. At the moment my crocuses are still under four inches of snow.

  8. Pingback: First moth of 2012 | Seabrooke Leckie

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