The bold and the beautiful

Raven and I enjoying the spring weather

We’ve had a string of beautiful weather the last few days. Mild temperatures, jacket optional, no toque required. Sunday was by far the nicest, though. A repeat photo of Saturday’s, only better. Note the shoved-up sleeves, bare head. I could probably even have ditched the vest and been fine. Although the thermometer suggested it was warmer today, Sunday afternoon the sun was shining and there was a lovely warm breeze blowing – you know, the sort that caresses your skin, rather than nipping at it. It really felt like a small gift from April, a promise of things to come.

greenbottle fly

The temptation was enough to get the boldest of the insects out of bed for a look-see. Although I still didn’t see many out in the fields or woods, there were quite a number climbing up the west side of the house in the afternoon. Most numerous by far were the flies. As far as I could tell, there were two types – the greenbottle above, and a gray one that might have been the same species I photographed in March last year, though I didn’t get a photo of the latter to be able to confirm.

Polistes paper wasp

I saw a couple of Polistes paper wasps, probably P. fuscatus, the Northern Paper Wasp. I wrote a bit about the life cycle of paper wasps in one of my early posts here, a little over two years ago now. The colony spends the whole summer growing in size in order to eventually produce a crop of new queen wasps in the fall. These young queens mate and then overwinter, while the old queen and all the workers die at the end of the fall. Come spring, the wasps you see emerging are these mated queens, looking to start new colonies. They’ll find a good spot (old nests are never reused) and start building a new nest, laying eggs and provisioning the developing young themselves until enough workers have grown up to be able to take over the duties.

spider

Spiders have been everywhere. They’re so far the only invertebrate I’ve seen active out in the meadows. I’ve seen a few species, and I don’t know what any of them are. I don’t think they’re the same ones I saw on the snow in the winter, but I could be wrong about that. They skitter over the grasses and dead vegetation, and they were dashing about on the foundation of the house. Just little small guys, less than half a centimetre (1/4″) long.

I also saw a Boxelder Bug on the foundation, but it disappeared around a corner and I couldn’t relocate it. I’ve encountered these guys before, on a maple tree at my parents’ old house. At the time I noted that they supposedly would invade homes to find overwintering sites the same way that ladybugs do, but I’d never seen them indoors. Still haven’t, but at least the one this weekend was actually on the house.

9881 - Homoglaea hircina - Goat Sallow

Both Saturday and Sunday I was tempted into putting out my mercury vapour lamp to see if there were any moths out and about, woken up by the spring-like character of the day. (When Dan asked what I’d been doing outside and I told him, he said “You really like moths, don’t you? I mean, you don’t just like them, you really like them.” Yes, yes I do.) Saturday wasn’t quite warm enough, and I didn’t get anything. I brought the bulb inside after a couple hours. Sunday, however, I had three – three! – moths come to the house. And not just little micro guys, either. These were all macromoths, big species at least as large as your thumbnail. (Hey, in the world of moths, that counts as large).

The one above was the very first one to arrive. It’s one of the beautiful chunky sallows I was hoping for. In fact, this one was a new species for me. It’s a Goat Sallow, Homoglaea hircina, a species of the northern woods – the Carolinian, Great Lakes-St Lawrence, and Boreal forests (I haven’t mapped this one yet, but I’m getting really good at interpreting written range descriptions…) – where its caterpillars feed on aspen and poplars. It’s a super-early flyer, the overwintering adults out and about in March and April, as soon as the snow starts melting back from the ground. So not a surprise to see it, and perhaps funny that I hadn’t encountered it before.

9915 - Lithophane grotei - Grote's Pinion

And the second moth here is a Grote’s Pinion. This one’s found through most of the northeast, and feeds on a variety of tree species. They’re usually encountered among the last of the moths in the fall, and again with the first of the moths in the spring. Like the Goat Sallow, they overwinter as adults and are quick to take advantage of warm weather.

The third moth I saw fluttering in the eaves of the front porch overhang, but wasn’t able to relocate it when I came back with my long-handled butterfly net to try to reach it.

Judging from the weather forecast, that looks like it might be it for moths for at least the next week or so. A tantalizing hint of things to come!

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9 responses to “The bold and the beautiful

  1. I’m getting more and more covetous of the Moth Guide you’re working on, Seabrooke! And maybe a decent magnifying glass, or more practice with Gillian’s macro lens. Your close-up pictures display such a wider diversity than my old “Brown and fuzzy: it’s a moth” identification technique allows.

    • And these ones are relatively bland compared to what will start showing up toward the end of April, Lavenderbay! The world of moths is a pretty amazing place, all the more so because most of it is hidden away in the nighttime. You should check out my daily moths over at my moth blog site for a good taste of some of the diversity.

  2. Your moth photos make me want to learn my moths more and more every time I see them! What wonderful fuzzy creatures they are.

    I, too, eagerly await your moth book.

    • There are some amazing shapes, striking colours and outstanding patterns in the moth world, Ellen, but even the simple muted ones are lovely, the same way the sparrows are just as beautiful as the tanagers or warblers, in their own way. I’d seen the occasional moth prior to really getting involved but never really paid much attention. It took a couple evenings of running a blacklighted sheet in the summer to really allow me to appreciate the diversity that I personally could find. But a word of warning: it’s pretty easy to get hooked! :)

  3. That Goat Sallow looks very good. I guess the species doesn’t get this far south if it’s a moth of northern woods.

    • I think you’re just a tad too far south, John, but of course the boundaries that I’m mapping are far from precise. I’m simply mapping according to ecoregions and figuring out a range based on matching the data I have to the map below. Covell describes the range as reaching south to NJ and PA, but my interpretation of that is the northern half – you can see the apple green ecoregion (Carolinian forest) and sky blue (northern Appalachians and associated ranges) end at NJ and PA. Habitat is rarely an abrupt change like that, though, and I know some moths are going to occur outside of the ranges I’ve drawn for them.

  4. Well, I have to thank you for saving me some time. I’d never heard the term “greenbottle” before, but your fly looks like one (or more) that I’ve photographed, along with a similar blue species that I’ve since found to be the “bluebottle” variety. But I wouldn’t have pinned those down as quickly were it not for your insight. Thank you!

    I’m thrilled to see so much life getting started up there. The spider especially fascinates me, though the wasp enraptures me because, like ants, any wasp to me is like playing with fire–I’m deathly allergic to their stings, which makes them high on my list of fascinating subjects to be appreciated. (When I die, it’ll be with my camera lens stuck in the face of an ant or wasp. Just wait and see.)

  5. Pingback: First moth of 2012 | Seabrooke Leckie

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