Yesterday was beautiful. (I felt the need to start the post this way because every first-moth-of post I’ve done has started with these words, I discovered.) I took an extra-long walk with the dogs in the afternoon, soaking up as much of that lovely southern-warm air and gorgeous sunshine as I could, to store up against today, which is overcast and wet and blustery. We return to winter for a few days, but the mild temperatures are forecasted to return next week, happily.
With the weather so mild yesterday, I figured there was a pretty good chance that the first moth of the year might make an appearance. So I dug out my mercury vapour bulb from where it had spent the winter, set up my tripod and put it out. I turned it on just before 7pm; finally, at around 10:30pm, as I was beginning to consider the evening a bust and turning it off for the night, the first (and only) moth arrived.
I’d been expecting a little wee guy, most likely an agonopterix of some sort, which tuck themselves into woodpiles and other cracks and are quick to warm up. We still had a good 7 or 8 inches of snow on the ground, and I thought that might affect the potential for moths. So when I spotted this guy fluttering around over my head, I felt a rush of excitement. I was worried he’d fly off before I could catch him!
But he didn’t. The first moth of 2012 iiiis…. a Straight-toothed Sallow (Eupsilia vinulenta)! (Of course, the element of suspense is sort of lost when you head up the post with the photo of the individual in question.) He’s arrived about on schedule, compared to past years:
2011 – March 17 – Morrison’s Sallow (Eupsilia morrisoni)
2010 March 7 – Goat Sallow (Homoglaea hircina)
2009 – March 6 – Morrison’s Sallow (Eupsilia morrisoni)
In actuality, last year’s first moth was an unidentified micro in late February, but the weather hadn’t been very warm so it felt less like the first moth of spring and more like a fluke moth of winter. Winter really hung around last March, too, and our first spring-like days weren’t till the middle of the month. Also, the true first moth of 2010 was on March 2, an Inornate Semioscopis (Semioscopis inornata); but I wanted to compare the first macromoths across the years so it didn’t fit.
You’ll notice that three of the last four years, the first moth has been a Eupsilia species. Another early species that I haven’t yet recorded first but is generally seen in the earliest days is Three-spotted Sallow, Eupsilia tristigmata. This whole genus is cold-weather moths, appearing late in fall and early in spring. They all overwinter as adults so they can emerge on those first mild days. Their caterpillars all feed on tree species, so they get out early, lay their eggs on the bare branches, and the caterpillars hatch as the tender new leaves are emerging.
I’d placed my bets on a Morrison’s Sallow being the first moth of the season… so I was wrong, but not by much!