Christmas moth

0867 - Agonopterix pulvipennella - Featherduster Agonopterix

This week has been busy. I handmade my gifts this year, and between those and Christmas baking and other pre-Christmas tasks I’ve been pretty wrapped up. I had a few photos in backlog that I’d been trying to decide between for today’s post, but hadn’t settled on one yet. Then, as I was down in the basement gathering up some wood for the fire, a small moth fluttered in front of my nose and landed on the wall, where it patiently waited for me to get my camera and return. It was as if it was saying to me, write about me!

So I am. It’s just a little guy, a micromoth not more than a centimeter (<1/2″) long. The shape was immediately distinctive: the fairly even rectangle is a characteristic of the genus Agonopterix. This one is A. pulvipennella, Featherduster Agonopterix, as by the large dark patches; there’s usually a small white dot at the bottom of the dark patch, too, but it seems to be obscured on this one. The common name is of my own invention; I couldn’t see any indication of a previously-coined common name, so this is what I chose for the forthcoming field guide. It’s from the scientific name: pulvi means pulverized or dusty, and pennella means feathered or feathers. Neither seem to have any real connection to this species. Technically, pulvipennalla should probably translate to something like dusty-feathered, but I thought featherduster was more fun. Particularly over the alternative of a description-based name like Dark-patched Agonopterix. And that’s how common names are chosen, folks. Yup, surprised me, too, when I looked into it.

It’s a common species of Agonopterix, its larvae feeding on goldenrod, and is one I’ve seen during the winter before. Like many species of insects, including the ubiquitous Asian ladybug, these moths overwinter in their adult stage, and will crawl into cracks in your house where they’re protected. Some might squirm in so far they get confused, and end up coming out the other side during winter thinking it’s spring already. Or sometimes mild spells can do the same thing, and the moth just goes the wrong way when it goes to leave. Most overwintering moths are fairly cold-hardy, so it doesn’t take much warming to coax them out.

It’s funny that he should show up today, because over at Wanderin’ Weeta Susannah also posted about a Christmas moth that turned up at her place yesterday (hers was a Bruce Spanworm, a hardy, late-flying species that can sometimes be found in warmish days through early winter).


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

7 thoughts on “Christmas moth”

  1. This time of year, the Christmas beetles emerge — festive green scarabs — but I haven’t seen any around. So the two Christmas moths will have to take their place.

  2. I found it amusing to find yours, Susannah, when I was reading the latest posts on Google Reader prior to getting started on my own.

    I imagine you’ve a completely different perspective on Christmas fauna than us, Snail! Hope you weathered that storm alright!

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