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Posts tagged “moths

Bruce Spanworm Moths Flying

If you’ve walked in New England woods recently, chances are great that you’ve noticed light tan moths with a one-inch wing span flitting about — an odd sight for this late in the year. These are male Bruce Spanworm Moths (Operophtera bruceata), also called Winter Moths, as the adults are active from October to December. They belong to the Geometer family of moths, the second largest family of moths in North America, which includes many agricultural and forest pests. The males are seeking wingless, and therefore flightless, females to mate with. Eggs are laid in the fall, hatch in the spring, the larvae pupate in the summer, and emerge as adult moths in the fall. Bruce Spanworm larvae periodically defoliate hardwood trees, preferring the buds and leaves of sugar maple, American beech and trembling aspen trees.


Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Of all the insects I’ve found in milkweed patches over the years, the Hummingbird Clearwing is one of my favorites. It is a species of sphinx moth, named for its habit of hovering at flowers while it gathers nectar with its proboscis in a manner similar to that of hummingbirds. In fact, they are often mistaken for hummingbirds. The transparent wings, light brown thorax and dark chestnut abdomen are the field marks to look for. A diurnal moth, the Hummingbird Clearwing can often be found during the day in milkweed patches.


Luna Moths

Yesterday’s post was, as you quickly guessed, an eyespot from the forewing of a Luna Moth, Actias luna, one of North America’s giant silkworm moths. With a wingspan up to 4 ½,” it is one of our largest moths. Markings that resemble eyes are found not only on moths, but also on butterflies, birds, fish and reptiles. When they occur on butterflies and moths, eyespots are usually on the wings and are thought to scare off potential predators as well as to direct attacks away from vital body parts. After emerging from their cocoons, Luna Moths live for only about a week, during which time their sole mission is to mate. Like many other ephemeral insects, Luna Moths have no mouthparts and thus, do not eat as adults. (The phenomenal number of Luna Moths this summer may, in part, be due to the mild winter we had, which allowed more pupae to survive.)


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.


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.

 


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.


Staghorn Sumac Seed Heads and Their Inhabitants

If you pull apart a red, fuzzy seed head of Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina) this time of year, you will find, in addition  to a multitude of seeds, a profusion of scat in the shape of miniscule round, grey balls.  If you’re lucky, you’ll find the larval insect that produced this scat.  Chances are, according to Charley Eisman, author of Tracks and Sign of Insects, that many of the resident insects are in the Gelechioidea family of moths.  The larvae of these moths are consumers of Staghorn Sumac seeds, and judging from the amount of scat usually present, they spend a considerable amount of time inhabiting the seed heads.  It’s likely that Black-capped Chickadees and other birds you see gleaning sumac fruit are actually there  for the larvae as much as the seeds.

 

 


Invertebrate Signs

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A quick look recently at the underside of a wooden bench sitting in the middle of a nearby field revealed a multitude of signs of insects and spiders that sought shelter in this protected spot.  They included the empty chrysalis of a monarch butterfly, the flat, red egg  sac of a Phrurotimpus  antmimic  spider (look closely and you’ll see bumps in the middle  made by the eggs underneath the silk), the silk and twig case of a bagworm moth larva , and a cocoon which is housing the pupa of a moth. 


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.


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.

 


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.

 


Crambid Snout Moth

Crambid snout moths are certainly distinctive, and quite unusual looking.  What I thought was the abdomen of this insect turned out to be the head!  Crambid snout moths typically rest in this position, with their head down and abdomen and wings up, looking like a bit of bark or twig.   When they land on a branch or the trunk of a tree, they are extremely well camouflaged.  If you look closely you can see this moth’s long  antennae laying against its body, as well as the brush-like appendage in front of  its head.


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.