Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Showy World of Moths

I ventured out to Buzzard's Roost Nature Preserve in Ross County, Ohio, this past Saturday night. The naturalist for the Ross County Park District, Joe Letsche, was holding an arthropod night there at the park. There were two mothing sheets set up, and some awesome moths visited us over the course of the night. 

Ohio moths
I know when many people think of moths, they think of little brown and gray insects. "Boring." "All the same." Moths like the ones above probably come to mind. As a result, many people dismiss moths altogether. Now I'm biased; I'm interested by all things nature, and I get excited even when I see the most plain brown moth ever. I think that part comes with time. When people get "into" some part of nature, it often stems from seeing something we "-ers" (birders, herpers, mothers, what have you) refer to as a "Spark Species." For example, I became a birder after I spent a summer watching a family of Cooper's Hawks nest and fledge. A Cooper's Hawk was my spark bird. In the case of moths, a Polyphemus Moth I found when I was in elementary school was my spark moth. Normally these spark species are something showy, exciting, and attention-grabbing. They pull you into their world, and eventually you begin loving everything in it whether they are showy or drab. I put together this post filled with the showy, potential spark moths from the other night. If you aren't already interested in the "dark side of Lepidoptera," maybe this might get you to go out and take a look!

Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda
Showy colors aren't just reserved for the butterfly side of Lepidoptera. Case in point: this guy. This is the Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda. As the name suggests, the caterpillars of this species feed primarily on maple trees. This is a common moth in Ohio, probably occurring in all counties. The Rosy Maple Moth is in the Royal Moth subfamily (Ceratocampinae), meaning it is related to the Imperial Moth; however, this is one of the smallest species in the Royal Moths, meaning it often gets overlooked. This moth inhabits deciduous forests across the state and flies from April to September (two broods).

Hebrew Moth, Polygrammate hebraeicum
This is the Hebrew Moth, Polygrammate hebraeicum, typically just called the Hebrew in the mothing world. Unlike the Rosy Maple Moth, which dazzles with its colors, the Hebrew dazzles people with its stark and contrasting black-and-white patterning. This moth flies from May to August in Ohio, and seems to be concentrated in the Eastern half of the state.

Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva aurea
My favorite moth of the night was the Ailanthus Webworm Moth, Atteva aurea. I had been wanting to see one of these diminutive moths for years and years, but had never been able to find one. This night there wasn't just one on the sheets, but at least 5! I was incredible ecstatic, to say the least. This is a very interesting moth. Originally it was native to the American tropics, only reaching into the USA in northern Florida. This species feeds on the tropical Paradise Tree and a closely related species found in the rainforests of Central America. Starting in the late 1700's, Americans began using a Chinese species of tree called the Tree-of-Heaven as an ornamental. This species escaped cultivation and spread as an invasive species. The Tree-of-Heaven is related to the Paradise Tree, and it turns out the Ailanthus Webworm Moth can feed on it. As the Tree-of-Heaven spread throughout the Eastern US, the Ailanthus Webworm Moth spread northward from the tropics and Florida all the way up to Canada. As a result, this moth is technically nonnative to Ohio; however, it is important to note that this moth isn't considered an invasive. Why? Since it feeds on the invasive Tree-of-Heaven, it is technically beneficial to have around here. Sadly the Ailanthus Webworm isn't making the biggest impact on the Tree-of-Heaven, which is still a serious issue in the US. Since the Ailanthus Webworm is an insect from the tropics, it doesn't take too well to the colder temperature of the US. As a result, this species actually migrates back south to Florida and the tropics in October (for Ohio) and comes back around March. 

Clymene Moth, Haploa clymene
This is the Clymene Moth, Haploa clymene, which you can see is actually a member of a black metal band. The Clymene Moth is actually a species of Tiger Moth, subfamily Arctiinae. This moth is an easy species to ID, and quite possibly might be mimicking bird droppings as a defense. The Clymene Moth can be found throughout all of Ohio and typically inhabits meadows and fields with forested areas nearby. 

Harnessed Tiger Moth, Apantesis phalerata
Next up is another species of tiger moth. This is the Harnessed Tiger Moth, Apantesis phalerata. This species can be found all throughout Ohio and flies from April well into Autumn (The Moth Photographers Group even has records from December in Ohio). Whenever I go over a species on my blog, I always like to give some cool natural history facts about the species. The problem with many insects, especially moths, is that we often don't know much of anything about their natural history. There are so many species (3,000+ species of moths in Ohio alone) in this region that it's hard for scientists to know even basic facts about most of them. This is one of those species where information is lacking.

Magdalen Underwing, Catocala illecta
Not all moths are obviously showy; sometimes an otherwise "bland" moth is more than meets the eye. This is the Magdalen Underwing, Catocala illecta. The Underwings are a group of moths with camouflaged forewings and brightly colored hindwings. There have been over 60 species of Underwings recorded in Ohio, with some being rare and state-listed. The Magdalen Underwing is one of the more common species. The bright hindwing colorations of the Underwings serve to deter predators. If a predator happens to find a camouflaged Underwing, the Underwing will open its wings and flash the bright colors, momentarily scaring the predator. This will give the moth just enough time to escape.

Imperial Moth, Eacles imperialis
And last but not least, we have the Imperial Moth, Eacles imperialis. This species stands out not only for its colors, but also for its size, with wingspans reaching from 3-7 inches. If you want to learn more about the Imperial Moth, check out my previous post on it!

Hopefully you're leaving this post with a little more interest in moths. Looking for and identifying moths is a fun, and challenging, hobby to get in to. Not only can identification be challenging, but there's so many species in Ohio that you will almost always see a new species every time you go out! Thanks for reading!