Posts Tagged 'moths'


PsychidaeOn a young Baldcypress in a still-industrial stretch of Plymouth Street: several of these bag worm cocoons. These are the egg cases of a Psychidae family moth. From a distance they look like cones or some other part of the tree itself. Small twigs are glued onto the surprisingly, or, actually, not so surprisingly, tough cocoon silk. These are, after all, supposed to survive winter, predators, and enraged arborists.


Pyrrharctia isabella

Ant, Wing

An ant wrestles with a lepidoptera wing. ant3ant2An aerodynamic challenge.

British Bugs

A selection of the insects spotted on my Dartmoor walk, most of which I can’t identify, so if you know ‘em, holler below in the comments.Calopteryx virgoThis one was easy to look up. (And be sure to click on the image to get a closer look at the wings.) There are only two damselfly species with colored wings over there. This is the (obviously) Beautiful Demoiselle (Calopteryx virgo), even though this is the male of the species. I found this one in Lustleigh’s small park.wingsSeveral days later I came across just the wings of this species at Dartmeet. I wonder what the story here was?Calopteryx splendensThis, seen also in Lustleigh, is the female Banded Damoiselle (Calopteryx splendens), the other colored-wing species.beetles2




Pyrrhosoma nymphulaLarge Red Damselflys (Pyrrhosoma nymphula), mating at the pond at Yarner Woods. Props to the British Dragonfly Society for ID help on the odes. Feel free to throw in your two pence worth of ID help for the rest of these. Vanessa atalantaBut you need no introduction to the circumpolar Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta).combAnt working on some kind of comb, in the middle of the path.

Giant Caterpillar in the Night

Hypercompe scriboniaTraci spotted this big, burly, bristly 2.5″ caterpillar Saturday night. It was crossing the mowed median between Flatbush Ave. and the bicycle path at Floyd Bennett Field. As we approached, the ‘pillar rose up, its deep black eyes alert to hominid danger. Evidently, if we’d attempted to touch it, it would have rolled into a head-to-tail circle of spikes, but it isn’t otherwise toxic/allergic, as some of the hairy ones are. Hypercompe scriboniaThis is the caterpillar of the Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia). Some of the red intersegmental rings are visible here. I used a combination of the camera flash and Nate’s flashlight for these shots.

This critter, which over-wintered in this form (where, by Godwin?), was not heading towards Flatbush Ave (quite the opposite, in fact), a gauntlet of infernal combustion-driven death, so we just let it go on its way. It’s a nocturnal feeder, “broadly polyphagous” (hey, moi aussie!) according to David L. Wagner’s Caterpillars of Eastern North America. The leopard-patterned adult moth looks quite handsome. I’ve never seen one before. This was a first time for the caterpillar, too. The night is full of surprises.


Pyrrharctia isabellaThe familiar caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella), better known as the Wooly Bear. We usually run into these in the fall, around the time of the first frosts, often crossing the road. (Why did the Wooly Bear cross the road?) But they have several generations a year on the East Coast, and this inch-long specimen may be the first of the spring. Or it could be one that has over-wintered.

As with all elaborately patterned caterpillars, the coloring here suggests this might not be so good for you. Warning, warning! Caterpillars not so defensive opt for camouflage. Some people are allergic to the hairs, or setae, of this species.

Seen earlier this week on Lover’s Lane, Nantucket. Why did the Wooly Bear cross Lover’s Lane?

December moth

mothA mild night, and the outside light brought in these moths. The flash overexposed this one, creating the ghosts on the double paned sliding door.moth2Not enough light on this one, but check out the barbs on the rear set of legs.

It was unusually warm last week, in the last month of what has turned out to be the hottest year in American history. I saw butterflies and a bat, and heard the plop of frogs hurrying to cover as I approached.

Ailanthus Webworm

I was working my way up to taking a picture of the Ailanthus sapling that appeared this summer in a crack in the concrete in the Back 40. I was looking forward to a tree growing in Brooklyn, at least until the landlord saw it. But the Ailanthus Webworms got to it before I did. And they did a number on it. Atteva aurea is another of the communal caterpillar species who cover their handiwork in silk.

This is the adult moth:
Ailanthus altissima is of course a tree native to China. The moth seems to be native to Florida and the tropics; it has adopted to using the tree as a host plant for its larvae.

Life Cycles in Brooklyn Bridge Park

The rare Two-spotted lady beetles (Adalia bipunctata) I discovered in July are still active in Brooklyn Bridge Park. In fact:“Houston, we have coition.” Luckily, I didn’t learn about reproduction from Republicans, so I know that this kind of activity leads to:Lady beetle eggs. I assume Two-spotted, but don’t know for sure.A recently emerged adult, whose markings and coloring will soon develop.

And continuing on the theme of life cycles:Fall Webworms (Hyphantria cunea) have broken out, formed silken webs, and are skeletonizing their hosts inside the webs.This defoliator is sometimes confused with Gypsy Moths and Eastern Tent caterpillars, who also make communal silk nests in trees. The Fall Webworm can make a tree look fairly ghastly but isn’t very dangerous because it strikes in the fall, when the trees are at the end of their leaf cycle. Brooklyn Bridge Park tends to leave “pests” like this alone because they will attract other species, including predators. Indeed, the aphid infestation on the catalpas probably lured in the Two-spotted lady beetles. H. cunea, meanwhile, has been called a “parasitoid hotel” because it is parasitized by more than fifty species of wasps and flies.

When I poked my camera lens in for the close-ups, the caterpillars outside the nest started wagging in unison, a characteristic of the species. It’s the dance sensation sweeping the nation: the “Funky Caterpillar.”

Moth Bible

I picked up the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by Beadle and Leckie as soon as it came out earlier this year. I’d been anticipating it because I’ve been following Seabrooke Leckie’s blog for several years now. In fact, I was inspired to blog myself by her example.

Moths, which well outnumber the butterflies in the order Lepidoptera, are a subject I know little about. Usually nocturnal, often small and nondescript (Lepidopterans roll their eyes), they are a generally elusive. Most of us probably know them best as those things which batter against lights on summer nights. Now that I’m armed with this book I should do better.

I wanted to test the book out when I first got it, but it was early in the mothing year. Not much flying around. I chose the moth closest to me at the time.

I first identified the Meal moths who hang out in the hallway of my building using the NWF’s Field Guide to Insects and Spiders of North America by Arthur V. Evans ~ an excellent guide, but necessarily limited, even at 500 pages, in what it can include. For instance, Evans has some 40 pages of moths (c. 120 species), while B&L have 500 pages (c. 1,500 species). Evans is now working on a guide to just our beetles, which is something to anticipate. B&L note that there are around 11,000 species of moths in North America, an impossible number for a field guide, so of course they’ve had to winnow. They’ve done that geographically (sorry, Westerners, Southerners) and to the most common and most eye-catching (a subjective enterprise, but what are you going to do when it comes to the great numbers of insect species? There are no doubt moths that have never been identified).

So I knew they were Meal moths. How would I find them in the Peterson without hitting the index? As it happens there’s no entry for “Meal moth” in the index. Ah, there’s the rub: how do you organize 1,500 species? Hell, how about merely 300 or so species, as in, say, the birds? A friend has asked more than once why all the yellow birds aren’t clumped together, for instance. One of our most preeminent yellow birds is the male American Goldfinch, whose black wings contrast strongly with its butter-yellow body. However, the female isn’t nearly this yellow, and the male isn’t either during the non-breeding months…. Birds are usually done taxonomically, but that means diddly to most of us. However, the more you use a taxonomic field guide, the better at it you get. This moth guide is also taxonomic. When you first use it, that won’t mean much if you’re a novice. But the more you page through it, the better you’ll get.

I opened the book, handily enough, directly to the page with a Meal moth on it. Awesome, a field guide that anticipates my needs! More recently, a friend’s Twitter sent a Flickr link to an “Unknown butterfly” which I was pretty sure was a moth. I paged through, found one I thought appropriate, had second thoughts, paged through some more and found it. Then I noticed the very species was on the book’s cover! An Eight-spotted Forester, a handsome black-winged, white-spotted moth with orange tuffs on the legs. Stylin’! I look forward to some real challenges in the future. The book includes a moth bait recipe — basically a ripe banana, molasses and beer, since not all moths go into the light — that with the addition of yogurt would probably make a pretty good smoothie.

The Eight-spotted Forester — I mean, the thing has orange muffs! –is also a good reminder that while many moths are tan, grey, brown, and/or modestly marked, others are quite spectacular, like the silk moths and tiger moths. All my moths can be seen here.
Here’s one I pulled out of my archives. I didn’t know what it was, besides being an “Emerald.” According to this guide, it’s Synchlora aerata, a Wavy-lined Emerald. Now, that’s a field guide!


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