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Posts tagged “Lepidoptera

Promethea Moth Cocoon

4-22-14  promethea cocoon 478When a Promethea Moth caterpillar, one of our giant silk moths, is ready to pupate at the end of the summer, it strengthens the stem, or petiole, of a leaf on its host plant with silk and then attaches the silk to a nearby branch, assuring that the leaf will remain attached to the tree. (Imagine having the instinctive foresight in your youth that this caterpillar had!) The caterpillar then curls the leaf around itself and spins its cocoon inside the curled leaf. The cocoon dangles from the host plant throughout the winter and in early summer the moth emerges. Now is the perfect time for finding a Promethea Moth cocoon, as last year’s leaves are gone on most trees, and this year’s buds have yet to open. Look for a tree or shrub that has just one dead leaf hanging from one of its branches. (Cecropia caterpillars favor black cherry, poplar, ash, maple, oak and willows trees among others.)

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White Admiral/Red-spotted Purple Caterpillars Emerge from Hibernation

5-15-13 white admiral larva 133Butterflies in the family Nymphalidae are also referred to as brush-footed butterflies (their front pair of legs are much reduced, brush-like and nonfunctional). Several species of Admiral butterflies belong to this family, and one of the most common in New England is the White Admiral, also known as the Red-spotted Purple. White Admirals overwinter as caterpillars and emerge in late April to feed for several weeks on the young leaves of cherries, willows, poplars and birches, as well as other trees, before forming chrysalises and transforming into butterflies. It is relatively easy to recognize the larva of any species of Admiral butterfly, as they are our only horned bird-dropping mimics. Quite an effective way to discourage predators!


Clouded Sulphurs

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Sulphurs are a group of butterflies that are usually some shade of yellow, orange or white and have a wingspan between 1 ½ “ and 2 ½ “. The three species likely to be seen in New England are the Clouded Sulphur, the Orange Sulphur and the Pink-edged Sulphur. (Distinguishing one species of sulphur from another can be quite challenging.) Sulphurs always perch with their wings closed, and are commonly seen on flowers drinking nectar as well as puddling in muddy areas, where they obtain salts and other minerals.


American Lady Larva

The American Lady larva is very distinctive with its branched spines and white bands across its abdomen.  One of its favorite foods is Pussytoes, a member of the Aster family.  The larva feeds inside a shelter it makes by tying up several leaves with silk.  In the photograph, the larva has incorporated the flower heads of Pussytoes into its shelter.  Not only is the larva feeding and growing inside this 1 ½ ”-long  cavity, it also shed its skin.  To see an adult American Lady butterfly, go to https://naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com/2012/07/08/american-lady-common-milkweed-pollinia/ .  Soon after the larva forms a chrysalis and pupates, a butterfly emerges and starts its migration south for the winter.


Monarch Butterfly Chrysalis

Of the multitude of discoveries that every summer offers us, one of the most magical is that of  a Monarch Butterfly chrysalis.  While locating a Monarch larva is not all that difficult, especially when they are as prolific as they are this summer, finding a chrysalis doesn’t happen all that often. Most butterfly chrysalises are a rather drab brown, but the Monarch’s is a beautiful green which serves to camouflage it in fields where the caterpillars feed on milkweed and eventually pupate (form a chrysalis).  The Monarch caterpillar, when mature, usually seeks a sheltered spot under a leaf or branch where rain will not cause the silk button by which it hangs to disintegrate.  The chrysalis in the photograph is attached to a blade of grass which was anchored with silk to another blade of grass in order to make it more secure.  No matter how many I’ve seen, each one still takes my breath away.


Monarch Butterfly Eggs Hatching

It appears that this may be a good year for monarchs in the Northeast, as with very little looking, you can find their eggs as well as young monarch caterpillars. Look on the underside of the top leaf or two on young milkweed plants – these leaves are tender and monarchs often lay their tiny, ribbed eggs there (usually one per plant) as they (leaves) are ideal food for young larvae. The first meal a monarch larva eats is its egg shell. It then moves on to nearby milkweed leaf hairs, and then the leaf itself. Often the first holes it chews are U-shaped, which are thought to help prevent sticky sap (which can glue a monarch caterpillar’s mandibles shut) from pouring into the section of leaf being eaten.


White Admiral Butterflies Puddling

If you’ve been traveling on sunny dirt roads lately, chances are that you have seen White Admiral butterflies all over them. They are in the road to obtain salts and minerals that have leached from the soil into standing puddles and moist dirt. Because butterflies do not have chewing mouthparts as adults, they must drink their meals. While nectar is their main source of nutrition, males often supplement their diet with these minerals. The act of acquiring nutrients in this manner is referred to as “puddling.” If there’s no water around, a butterfly may regurgitate into the soil and then drink in the hope of retrieving minerals. In addition to finding butterflies on dirt roads, look for them puddling on animal scat.


Cecropia Moth

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Who would ever associate a lime green caterpillar with colored knobs with a large, brown moth? Thanks to someone’s keen observation, we know that these are both stages of one and the same insect — a Cecropia Moth. It is North America’s largest native moth — individuals with a wing span of over six inches have been documented. Cecropia Moths are emerging from their 3-inch cocoons this month, as are other giant silk moths, including the Luna Moth and Prometheus Moth.
NOTICE: I will be away for the next week in northern Maine, trying to photograph the largest member of the deer family. Blogs will resume on Monday, June 11.


Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

The male Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly (pictured) is yellow with four “tiger stripes” on each of its forewings. The female can be yellow or black, and has more blue on the hind wings than the male. Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are currently mating and laying eggs on plants which their larvae eat, which include black cherry, red maple and American hornbeam. When the caterpillars first hatch, they resemble bird droppings – an effective way of decreasing predation. As they get older, the larvae turn green and have a large head and bright eyespots.


Question Mark Butterfly

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The butterfly known as the Question Mark is in a group of butterflies known as “commas” (a silvery comma can be seen on the underside of their hind wings) or “anglewings”  (for their sharply angled wing margins).  The Question Mark has a silver dot adjacent to the comma, turning it into a question mark.  When its wings are open, the question mark is fairly bright orange and quite noticeable, but when it closes its wings, it transforms into a dead leaf, for the undersides of its wings are dull brown and gray. This Question Mark was drinking sap from a wound in the trunk of a tree. These woodland butterflies prefer rotting fruit, mud, scat, carrion and tree sap over the nectar of flowers.

 


Rusty Tussock Moth Egg Case

There are many species of tussock moths, and in their larval, or caterpillar, stage, most are covered with tufts of hair-like setae, some impressively long.  The female rusty tussock moth, Orgyia antiqua, is flightless, so after emerging from her cocoon, she stays put, releasing alluring pheromones and awaiting the arrival of a male suitor.  After mating, she lays up to several hundred eggs on top of her empty cocoon and then dies.  The flat-topped, cylindrical eggs (with a dark depression on their top) overwinter, and as soon as leaf buds start opening, the eggs hatch, with ready-made meals inches away.  Larvae feed on the leaves of birches, oaks, crabapples and black cherry, among others.  Pictured is an egg mass on an apple leaf.

 


Mourning Cloak Butterflies

With the warm temperatures this week, mourning cloak butterflies have been seen gliding through the leafless woods.  Like eastern commas, question marks and red admirals, mourning cloaks overwinter as adults.  They resemble dead leaves so much that from a distance the entire insect seems to disappear.  Up close you can see the velvety texture of the wing scales, said to resemble the clothing mourners used to wear; hence, their common name. Mourning cloaks live up to ten months — an impressive life span for a butterfly.  As they age, the yellow border of their wings fades to an off-white.


Butterflies that Overwinter as Adults

With all the warm weather this week, butterflies are suddenly appearing out of nowhere. Unlike most butterflies, which typically spend the winter as eggs or pupae (inside of chrysalises), red admirals, mourning cloaks and eastern commas (pictured) simply slip out from behind loose bark, where they overwintered as adults, and take to the air. Those species of butterflies which spent the winter as eggs or pupae must undergo metamorphosis this spring, and won’t appear in their adult form until later in the year. With so few wildflowers out now, especially this year, sap from broken tree branches sustains early-emerging butterflies!


Noctuid Moth Larva

The striped caterpillar that is crawling along the surface of fresh snow is the larval stage of a noctuid or owlet moth (species unknown).  Noctuids are dull-colored, medium-sized, nocturnal moths that are attracted to lights in the summer. They usually possess a well-developed proboscis (mouthpart) for sucking nectar.  You may be familiar with the common garden pests, cutworms, which are also noctuid larvae.  How this larva survives freezing temperatures I do not know, but I have seen several dozen at a time crawling around on top of the snow.  Note:   Jean Harrison, a fellow nature lover, just identified this larva as  Noctua pronuba, a winter cutworm also known as the greater yellow underwing (moth), a recent immigrant from Europe.


Bruce Spanworm Moths

Depending on the woods you walk in these days, you may be greeted by a flurry of inch-long, tan wings belonging to male Bruce Spanworm moths (Operophtera bruceata).  From October to December these moths emerge , mate and lay eggs.  Females cannot fly; they crawl up the trunk or branch of a tree and send out pheromones to attract winged males.  After mating, the female lays eggs which initially are pale green, but become bright orange with age.  The eggs hatch in the spring, and the larvae feed on a wide variety of deciduous leaves, favoring trembling aspen, willows, sugar maple and American beech.  Periodic outbreaks of these caterpillars can result in heavy defoliation.  In 1958 in Alberta, Canada, at the peak of a 10-year infestation, over 50,000 acres were moderately or heavily affected by Bruce Spanworm larvae.


Woolly Bears

Legend has it that the more black at either end of a woolly bear, the harder the winter that lies ahead.  Truth be known, the woolly bear caterpillar (larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth) molts its skin up to six times, and each time a brown section is added; thus, the longer the summer, the greater the ratio of brown to black on a woolly bear.   A mostly-brown caterpillar is more an indication of an early spring or late fall, rather than a forecast of the coming winter’s severity!


Ribbed Petiole Poplar Gall

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If you look at enough Trembling  Aspen (Populus tremuloides) leaves (and to some degree, those of other poplar species), you are bound to come across some that have an oval swelling about the size of a pea where the leaf  and stem, or petiole, meet.  This swelling is a gall – an abnormal plant growth caused by chemicals coming from the moth (Ectoedemia populella) that laid an egg at this spot this past summer, or from the chewing of the hatched larva as it bored its way into the stem of the leaf.  This gall provides shelter and food for the developing larva, which will, after the leaf falls, go down into the ground to pupate.  An adult moth will emerge next  spring.   

 


Blinded Sphinx

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Sphinx moths (also known as hawk moths, and the larvae as hornworms) are a group of long-tongued moths that possess the most acute color vision of any animal. The larvae possess a “horn”, eyespot or hard button on their abdomen. (The tobacco hornworm and tomato hornworm are sphinx moth larvae.) The larva of the Blinded Sphinx moth (Paonias excaecatus) is the most common sphinx moth larva in many of New England’s woods.  Its bright green color and granulated skin may camouflage it amongst the leaves of the oak, hop hornbeam, cherry and poplar trees that it eats, but when crawling on the forest floor, as this one was, it’s hard to miss.  The larva burrows into the soil in the fall and pupates. An adult moth emerges the following summer and mates, but does not feed. This moth ‘s name refers to the fact that the small blue spot (or “iris”) on the hindwing has no central black spot (or “pupil”)  and is therefore “blind.”  The spots of the similar Twin-spotted Sphinx (Smerinthus jamaicensis)  has a black “pupil” which allows it to see.  p.s. Old habits die hard — I will continue to post whenever time allows!


White-marked Tussock Moth

The white-marked tussock moth caterpillar is brightly colored, with tufts of hair-like “setae.”  As you might guess, it’s in the same family (Arctiidae) as the woolly bear/Isabella tiger moth.  Although these caterpillars are appealing to the eye (of some people), it’s best not touch them, as their hairs break off very easily and can cause a painful reaction on your skin.  There are a number of species of tussock moths, many of which, in their larval stage, have these bristles and tufts.  As adult moths, most are brown or grey, and live long enough to mate, but they do not eat.


Cecropia Moth Caterpillar Molting

The caterpillar, or larval, stage of a butterfly or moth is the only stage in which the insect has chewing mouth parts.  Hence, it is the stage during which a great deal of eating takes place.  As the caterpillar eats, it grows larger, and eventually molts its skin, revealing a new, larger skin underneath the old.  A cecropia caterpillar molts four times before spinning its cocoon and pupating. The cecropia caterpillar in this photograph has just molted its skin, which is attached to the plant just above the caterpillar’s head. If you look closely, you can see where the colored tubercles were.  Within an hour of when this photograph was taken, the caterpillar had eaten its skin.

 


Monarch Butterfly

This 15-minute-old monarch butterfly that emerged yesterday will live for 2 to 5 weeks, long enough to mate and produce the next generation of monarchs.  The generation of monarchs that emerges a month or more from now will live six to nine months, and not mate until next March or so – after flying  to one of about a dozen locations in the Transvolcanic Mountains of central Mexico (a flight of up to 3,000 miles) and spending  the winter.  Late summer-emerging monarchs live longer than monarchs that emerge earlier in the summer because they do not immediately expend energy on breeding and the cool winter temperature in Mexico slows their metabolism, allowing them a longer life.

 


Cecropia Moth Caterpillar

The larval stage of the Cecropia Moth ( Hyalophora cecropia), a giant silk moth, is a sight to behold.  The yellow, blue and red knobs that adorn its 4″ pale green body are striking.  Look for this caterpillar on apple, ash, box elder, cherry, lilac , birch, maple and poplar trees, whose leaves it consumes with relish.  The larva spins a brown, spindle-shaped, 3” cocoon in the fall, and overwinters as a pupa inside it.  In the spring, the adult Cecropia Moth , North America’s largest native moth, emerges.  Brown, with a 4” to 5” wingspread, it has no mouthparts, and lives only about a week to ten days, during which time the males mate numerous times, and the females lay eggs. Unfortunately, this species of moth seems to be declining in number, in part because it suffers from parasitism by a fly that was introduced to control the Gypsy Moth.

 


Blinded Sphinx Moth

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The blinded sphinx moth, Paonias excaecatus, is a member of the Sphingidae family of hawk moths.  Most of this family’s larvae possess a horn at the tip of the abdomen.  The tomato and tobacco hornworm larvae are members of this family, as is the hummingbird clearwing moth.  The blinded sphinx moth has strongly scalloped margins on its forewings and a single blue eye spot on each of its two hind wings (which don’t show if the moth’s wings are folded).  Its common name derives from the fact that these “eyes” have no pupils.  In its larval stage, the green larva eats the leaves of  many deciduous trees, including willow, birch, poplar and cherry; the adult moth does not feed. After pupating underground, the adult moths emerge and mate.  Males (pictured) rest with their abdomen curved upwards.