Merry moths of May

Polyphemus Moth

I haven’t posted anything about moths in a little while. Part of this is that there haven’t been many moths to post about. The weather over the last month has been unseasonably cool and rainy. The few nice days we’ve had generally haven’t corresponded with times where I could get out to set up the lights, and the nights I would have had the opportunity to set up, were cold and not good for moths (there was actually frost a few nights ago!).

However, I have done a little bit of mothing. For instance, I went out last night, down to the research station where I set up the trap to leave running overnight since I was going to be in this morning anyway. And since I was down there, I thought I’d stick around for an hour or so and see what I could get in to a sheet. The answer: not too much. I got hundreds of mosquitoes and midges, but moths were scarce. On the other hand, the dozen or so I did get were more than I’d got to the sheet on previous visits to the station. So I shouldn’t complain too much.

The highlight was the above Polyphemus Moth. This giant moth, about the size of my open palm, is a relatively common member of the silk moth family. They have huge, globular, bright green caterpillars that spin large silken cocoons on tree branches (which I wrote about in an earlier post). I’m not sure if this is the actual resident from that cocoon, but I discovered him rustling in the grass not too far from my light, which in turn was not too far from where the cocoon was. One of the things having him up close like that allowed me to notice was that the centres to the spots on the wings are actually transparent. They look like holes in the wings, but are actually clear membrane. This is apparently a feature shared by many of the silk moths. It sounded like it was squeaking while I had it in the net I caught it in, but I’m not certain about that – I found reference to a few types of moths squeaking, but not silk moths.

Black-rimmed Prominent

This is a Black-rimmed Prominent. I discovered it, perched at the edge of the sheet not far from the trap, when I arrived in the morning and went to shut the trap light off and take the sheet down. The prominents are a striking group, many sleekly coloured like this. This particular species is found coast to coast in North America. The caterpillars feed primarily on the poplar family, which is not in short supply at the station.

One-eyed Sphinx

A couple weeks ago I had a warmish night while at my parents’ and set up a couple of traps to see what I could draw in. It was a pretty good night, with some 30 species of moths. As I was closing up shop for the night, taking down all but the trap, I discovered this guy hanging from the clothesline where I had one of the blacklighted sheets suspended. It’s a One-eyed Sphinx, so named for the single eyespot on each hindwing. The sphinx moths are a pretty neat bunch. Along with the silk moths and the underwings, they’re one of the most frequently observed and tracked groups of moths. There are moth’ers who are crazy about these groups but don’t pay a lot of attention to the smaller, less striking groups. This one was about three inches across or so.

Ruby Tiger Moth

That same night I got this very orange, fuzzy moth. This is a Ruby Tiger Moth. The tiger moths as a whole are generally a very fuzzy group. The adults have fur shawls draped across their shoulders, and (if you peek under their petticoat), furry undergarments. Even the caterpillars are fuzzy. The very common and familiar Wooly Bear caterpillar is a member of the tiger moth family (it becomes the Isabella Moth, a gentle beige moth, very toned down compared to its boldly-pattered larvae). The Ruby is found throughout the northern states and nearly all of vegetated Canada (barren polar ice sheets excepted).

Agreeable Tiger Moth

This is another tiger moth, this one the Agreeable Tiger Moth. I’m not sure what specifically about it makes it Agreeable, but it did seem like a very laid back, cooperative moth while I was photographing it. There are a whole bunch of white tiger moths, which are very beautiful in their simplicity and purity. One of my favourite things about many of them are their thighs – in this case, an orangey-brown, but in some they’re bright pink or orange.

Lappet Moth

And then the week before that, back in early May, I had another pretty good night at my moths, catching a number of new species for me, including this one, the Lappet Moth. The great thing about starting out in something is that everything’s new and exciting. This is not an uncommon moth, but I was nonetheless stoked to catch it because of its really neat appearance. The flanges on its sides are actually the hindwings poking out from under the forewings. It’s found throughout North America, feeding on a variety of deciduous trees.

6842 - Straight-lined Plagodis - Plagodis phlogosaria

One last moth to share today. This one, caught the same night as the Lappet, is a Straight-lined Plagodis. I got a second one the following week, as well. Another species found throughout North America, it’s associated with deciduous and mixed forests, the larvae feeding on a number of deciduous tree species. BugGuide.net, one of my primary online reference sources for identifying insects, indicates that it’s also called The Scorched Wing, as stated by the University of Alberta’s entomology department. I rather prefer this latter name myself. There are many moths with very colourful and creative common names, yet another thing that appeals to me about moths. That said, there are some great bird names, too, especially when you get down to the tropics.

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