Sunday, May 14, 2017

Some Magnificent Moths

Moths: the drab and boring cousins of butterflies? I think not! In fact, thousands and thousands of people around the world are beginning to fall in love with moths. Mothing—a new hobby in the same vein as birding and herping—is breaking into the mainstream. Well, mainstream as nature-centered hobbies go at least. Mothing is essentially the appreciation and seeking of moth diversity, especially with the use of "light traps." Why do people find moths interesting? Although I can't speak for everyone, I'm interested by the sheer diversity of species, colors, and patterns of moths. Just to give some perspective, there are about 130-140 species of butterflies in Ohio, with about 725 species of butterflies that are in the US and Canada. Now what about moths? Ohio alone has over 1,000 species of moths. If you combine all the species of moths in the US and Canada, that number jumps to over 10,000! This diversity is incredible!

Moth Faces
I love moth faces.
Two weeks ago I was down in Shawnee State Forest for the Ohio Ornithological Society's Warblers and Wildflowers Weekend, where I was assisting as a guide. On Friday and Saturday night of the event, when darkness fell, fellow guide Jeremy Dominguez set up his custom-built moth light trap. Although moths can be easily enough encountered, light traps are an incredibly effective way to draw in scores of moths. Jeremy uses a strong mercury vapor light (the most effective at drawing in moths) to attract any nearby moths. He strings up a white sheet next to the light to allow the moths a place to rest, which also gives the moth-ers a place to easily view the moths. The moths in this post are a few of the more eye-catching species that came to this trap.

Azalea Sphinx (Darapsa choerilus)
I'll start with the Azalea Sphinx (Darapsa choerilus). The sphinx moths are all attention-grabbers due to either their size, colors, or both. The Azalea Sphinx is a medium-sized sphinx mothwhich is on the larger size compared to most mothswith a rich chestnut color and pinkish hues. Many times the common name of a moth will reflect its preferred host plant (which is the type of plant the caterpillar will feed on), and the Azalea Moth is a great example. The caterpillars of this species will feed on various azalea species (genus Rhododendron), but will also feed on Black Gum and various Viburnum species.

Hebrew (Polygrammate hebraeicum)
This inch-long black and white beauty is the Hebrew (Polygrammate hebraeicum). The name stems from the black markings on its wings, which resemble the characters of the Hebrew Alphabet. The host plant of the Hebrew is the Black Gum, a species of tree. When it comes to host plant specificity, moths can be broken into 2 general groups. There are moths who have two or more host plant species, and then there are moths who only utilize a single specific plant species as their host plant. With the Hebrew falling into the latter group, this moth can only be found wherever there are populations of Black Gum.

Oak Beauty (Phaeoura quernaria)
Next up is the Oak Beauty (Phaeoura quernaria). Due to the sheer diversity of moths in Ohio, identification can be difficult. Unique looking moths, like the previous two, can be relatively easy to identify. When you come across a more "stereotypical" moth, with a camouflaged appearance, identification becomes more difficult. You begin relying on the shapes of lines on the wing, presence or absence of any dots or otherwise characteristic features, colors, wing shape, etc. And then you get moths like the Oak Beauty, which are "variable." With variable moths, the exact colors, lines, patterning, etc. can vary from individual to individual, making identification even harder. The Oak Beauty can be ID'ed by its overall charcoal color and the presence of 2 wavy black lines across the wings with a varying amount of white associated with these black lines.

Maple Caloptilia (Caloptilia bimaculatella)
When you're dealing with such a diverse group of animals, you're going to run into a variety of body forms. A group of moths with a rather unique body form are the leaf blotch miner moths (what a name!). These micro-moths often prop themselves up using their forelegs, such as the individual pictured above. This specific species is the Maple Caloptilia (Caloptilia bimaculatella), which can be identified by the presence of two creamy-white triangles on either side of its wings..

Plume Moth Ohio
Another group of moths with a unique body form are the plume moths. A moth can instantly be identified as a type of plume moth (family Pterophoridae) by its T-shaped body. At rest, a plume moth will roll up its modified wings, giving it this T-shape appearance. Plume moths are very difficult to identify down to species, with most cases requiring careful dissection. Suffice to say, I have no idea what species that the pictured plume moth is!

White-Fringed Emerald (Nemoria mimosaria)
A group of moths I am always delighted to see are the emeralds. The emeralds are all mostly pale green moths with lines of various other colors. This individual is a White-Fringed Emerald (Nemoria mimosaria). The emeralds belong to the incredibly diverse and speciose family of moths called the geometers (Geometridae). You might better know the geometers as the inch-worms. In fact, this is why the family is named Geometridae. Geometridae is based off of the Latin word "geometra," which translates to "Earth measurer." As the caterpillars of the Geometridae moths inch-along, they could be said to be "measuring" the Earth.

Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda) Ohio
My favorite moth of all time is this magnificent beauty, the Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda). Moths don't get much better than this, in my opinion. Luckily, the Rosy Maple Moth is pretty common in Ohio. The Rosy Maple belongs to the Saturniidae family of moths, also known as the giant silkworm and royal moths. This family holds most of the large, stunning moths people are familiar with, such as the Luna Moth, Cecropia Moth, and Imperial Moth. But not all the Saturniids are large; the Rosy Maple Moth is only about two inches long and an inch wide—small by Saturniid standards. Like other Saturniid moths, the adult Rosy Maple Moth has no mouthparts. It does all of its feeding during its caterpillar phase. The sole purpose of an adult upon emergence from the pupal stage is to find a mate, reproduce, and then wait for death.

Luna Moth Ohio
I'll end this post with the star of the weekendwell, at least when it comes to moths. As you might recognize, this is a Luna Moth (Actias luna). The Luna Moth, a large moth in the Saturniidae family, is always one of the highlights of any mothing event when they make an appearance. This individual flew in just before the sheet was closed down for the night. If you want to learn more about the Luna Moth, click on this link for a post that's all about Lunas!

Are you interested in moths? Do you live in the northeastern portion of the United States? If so, I highly recommend getting the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America! This is a must have field guide for anyone trying to identify moths in Ohio and the surrounding states. Thanks for reading!

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