Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Mothing at Clear Creek: The Showy

On the night of June 17th, I traveled to Clear Creek Metro Park in Fairfield County, Ohio, to participate in a moth night. I talked about some of the drab and subtle moths of the night in my previous post, but now I want to take a moment to highlight some of the showy species.

 Mothing in Ohio
Weather plays an important part when it comes to mothing. As a general rule, moths like warm and dark nights. The darker and warmer the night, the more moths you will see. Luckily, the night was not only in the mid 70's, but was also pitch black. No Moon was out, and clouds covered the sky. The amount of moths flying and visiting the mothing sheets was incredible, as the photo above shows.

Io Moth (Automeris io) Ohio
I'll begin with the Io Moth (Automeris io). The Io Moth is a stunning species in the Saturniidae family, the same family the contains other knockout species like the Luna Moth, Cecropia Moth, and the Imperial Moth. The Io Moth is a relatively common moth across the entirety of Ohio, and over a dozen visited the sheets during the course of the night. As you have probably noticed, the wings of the Io Moth have two large eye spots. These eye spots serve to ward off predators. The Io Moth typically sits with its wings closed. If a potential predators comes near, the Io Moth will open its wings and flash its eye spots. If everything goes according to plan, the surprised predator should back off, giving the Io Moth time to escape.

Painted Lichen Moth (Hypoprepia fucosa) Ohio
Moths have a diverse array of anti-predator defense mechanisms, and not all are based on appearances. Take the Painted Lichen Moth (Hypoprepia fucosa), for example. This species, along with many other related tiger moths (subfamily Arctiinae), has another line of defense. When the Painted Lichen Moth flies at night, they are at risk of being eaten by various bat species. The Painted Lichen Moth is semi-toxic though, and relatively unpalatable to bats. The problem is, bats won't be able to see the red-orange-black warning coloration of the moth at night. So how does the moth let bats know not to try to eat it? They click! When a bat is in the area making its own clicking noises for echolocation, the Painted Lichen Moth will hear the bat and begin clicking in defense. This lets the bat know that this moth isn't a good meal, and the bat will hopefully leave the moth alone.

Orange-Headed Epicallima (Epicallima argenticinctella) Ohio
This tiny moth is the Orange-Headed Epicallima (Epicallima argenticinctella). This species inhabits deciduous forests, where the caterpillars feed on elm trees. The Orange-Headed Epicallima is what is commonly known as a micro-moth. "Micro-moth" is general name given to tiny moths. There is no strict definition of a micro-moth, but most people seem to consider moths that are 1/2 inch long or smaller as a micro-moth. Identifying micro-moths is oftentimes a difficult process, but the Orange-Headed Epicallima is one of the more easily-identifiable species.

Labyrinth Moth (Phaecasiophora niveiguttana) Ohio
Another showy micro-moth of the night was the Labyrinth Moth (Phaecasiophora niveiguttana). The caterpillars of this species feed on the mid-story tree species Sassafras and Witch Hazel. This moth gave me quite the headache, and this frustration underscores a problem with arthropod field guides. I must have flipped through the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America a good 5-7 times while trying to identify this moth, but I simply couldn't find it. I posted a photo of it on the Facebook group Mothing Ohio to see if someone could help. Within a few minutes a member ID'ed it for me, and I soon realized why I couldn't find it in the guide—it wasn't in there! When it comes to arthropods, there are tens of thousands of species. There are over 11,000 species of moths alone in North America! A field guide can not simply contain every single species with numbers like these, even if that guide only focuses on one group of arthropods in one section of the continent like the Peterson Guide does. Choices have to be made on what to include and what to exclude, and the authors of the Peterson Field Guide to Moths only included "1,500 of the most common or most eye-catching moths in" Northeastern North America. Luckily, the internet fills in these field guide gaps, and Facebook groups or sites like BugGuide will help you out!

Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia) Ohio
When I was a young kid, this was the first moth that I learned the name of. This is the Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia). The Giant Leopard Moth, along with the Polyphemus Moth, were my two "spark moths." A spark animal is the colloquial term for a species that inspires a curiosity or admiration of a given group of animals in a person. The individual pictured above is actually a female Giant Leopard Moth, as can be told by the loss of wing scales on the ends of the wings. When Giant Leopard Moths mate, the male and female will stay attached for 24 or more hours. During this long-lasting session of mating, the male will position his wings over the female's. This results in the male accidentally rubbing off the female's wing scales, leading to an appearance like this.

The Neighbor (Haploa contigua) Ohio
Staying with black and white moths for a moment, here's The Neighbor (Haploa contigua). Moths have the best names, don't they? The Neighbor belongs to a group of tiger moths in the genus Haploa, which are often referred to as the haploa moths. haploa moths all have various black lines set against white wings, and identification involves carefully studying the patterns of those black lines. To see the diversity of wing patterns in the haploa moths, check out this BugGuide link.

Beautiful Wood Nymph (Eudryas grata) Ohio
This is the Beautiful Wood Nymph (Eudryas grata). The Beautiful Wood Nymph is just one of several moth species which are hypothesized to be mimicking bird droppings. Imagine you're a small predator making your way through the forest in search of a meal. If this moth was just sitting on a leaf out in the open, you would probably be quick to dismiss it as some unsavory bird feces. You would move on in search of some actual tasty food, and the Beautiful Wood Nymph would live another day.

Dark-Banded Geometer (Ecliptopera atricolorata)
This stunning moth is the Dark-Banded Geometer (Ecliptopera atricolorata). For many, this was moth highlight of the night. This is another relatively uncommon species that is missing from the Peterson Field Guide to Moths. Typically when I write a post like this, I try to find at least one neat fact to share for each species. The problem is, I can barely find any information on this species. I did, however, find a quote about this moth from the famous Lepidopterist and naturalist William Jacob Holland in his 1903 book entitled The Moth Book. Holland writes that the Dark-Banded Geometer is "One of the most beautiful of the geometrid moths found in the Atlantic States." There you have it: the Dark-Banded Geometer, always a show stopper.

Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) Ohio
I'll end with the very last moth of the night. This gigantic beauty is the Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus). Due to Columbus Metro Park rules, the moth night had to officially end at midnight. The night, however, did not end there. After shutting down the mothing sheets, many of the moth-ers traveled down the road to a gas station that straddles the intersection of Clear Creek Road and US Route 33. Why travel to a gas station, you might ask? Well, there are bright lights, and these lights attract moths. We might not have been able to moth in Clear Creek Metro Park at that point, but we could still moth at a gas station! And yes, I realize how absolutely ridiculous this must sound to those of you not into moths. As I mentioned earlier in this post, the Polyphemus was one of my spark moths, and you can probably see why. This thing is huge. Just to give you an idea of size, my hand is about 8 inches long. This Polyphemus moth has about a 6 inch wingspan, making it one of the largest moth species in Ohio. It's hard not to stop and take a closer look at this moth, even for those who might hate insects.

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That wraps up my two-part series on some of the moths of Clear Creek Metro Park. Once again, the first part can be found at this link: Mothing at Clear Creek: The Subtle. Thanks for reading!

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