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Posts tagged “Lepidoptera

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.