Posts Tagged 'moths'

Hemaris thysbe

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.I love watching these creatures at work. They are almost constantly in motion, never landing on flowers like bees and butterflies, and moving quickly between different flowers. I’m surprised these phone pictures came out so well. Although the moth is throwing its own shadow over its legs, there are bits where you can see that the legs are white, which nails down the species identification.

Unlike most moths, these are diurnal. There were a few working the bumblebee heaven of Monarda behind the Visitor Center at Great Swamp NWR. By a nice coincidence, at least two hummingbirds were dipping into a feeder on the other side of the center.

Lymantria dispar

The infamous Gypsy Moth caterpillar. Introduced to North America in 1869 by a fellow who wanted to cross them with silk worms. Within a decade, they were munching their way through our hardwood forests. The young larvae travel by wind, shooting out a silky thread like spiders to ride the currents of the sky.

Mature Lymantria dispar caterpillars are distinguished by five sets of raised blue dots and six sets of raised red dots. The binomial translates as “destroyer unequal” referring to both their amazing skill at defoliating forests and the disparity between males, which typically have five instars (stages), and females, which typically have six. The female moths are also larger than the male moths.All these, on the museum building and a nearby beech at Storm King, were dead.

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This is interesting: how one climate-change-denial Republican rep is screwing his climate-chaging district, not least with his contempt for their lived experiences.

Pale Beauty

Subtly tinged with green, Campaea perlata is known as the Pale Beauty moth. The caterpillars, also known as Fringed Loopers, enjoy munching away on the leaves of a broad range of deciduous trees and plants (65 species!). Like most moths, it’s nocturnal, hiding away from predators during the day.  This particular day was quite overcast, so there it was, the pale greenish beauty.

Eastern Tent

Here are two examples of Eastern Ten Caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum), which are often mistaken for Gypsy Moth caterpillars. The invasive Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar dispar) was introduced to Massachusetts in 1869 by some idiot who wanted to improve silk production: they got loose and have been a serious threat to our eastern hardwood forests ever since. I’ve never seen one of the handsome devils. These native Tent caterpillars can eat a lot of greens too, but not to the extent of the (unfortunately named) Gypsy moths. Last week, Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge was crawling with Tents, which are also rather good-looking specimens.

Yes, when I say “crawling,” I mean it. Populations fluctuate year to year, and this looks like a boom year. We were on the lookout for the two types of cuckoos, Yellow-billed and the less common Black-billed, who love to scarf these up, but saw/heard no evidence of the notoriously discreet birds.

Natural History Note 1: The sapling above was one of several newly planted oaks. A tag on one identified it as coming from the Greenbelt Native Plant Center.

Natural History Note 2: It’s getting rarer and rarer for me to see a local life-bird, that is, a species for the first time. The Black-billed Cuckoo eluded me until last week in Prospect Park.

Wooly Bear

Pyrrharctia isabellaOur old friend the Banded Wooly Bear caterpillar, bearishly larval stage of the Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella. This was found behind a large piece of bark, which was put back. img_2643Have you heard the one about judging winter’s length/severity by the amount of black and/or orange on the animal? Turns out that the colors are just a factor of age: the orange expands and the black contracts during each successive molt.Pyrrharctia isabellaThe caterpillar is overwintering in a state of dormancy. They can actually freeze solid and thaw out without ill-effects. An Arctic Wolly Bear (I’m not sure it’s the same species) has such a short period of summer that it can stay in the caterpillar stage for a dozen years, growing a bit each summer before finally cocooning and reforming as an adult, when it lives for about a day.

I would not recommend living in a state of dormancy right now. Things to do instead.

Cocoon

cocoonThe winter woods are quiet and relatively monotone in color. But look closer. (And listen!)

We were looking at tree buds. This big cocoon with remnants of leaf-covering was just hanging there. One of the giant moths of the family Saturniidae made this, I think. Will it make it? Has it already be taken over by parasitic wasps? Overhead, a trio of Red-tailed Hawks explored their own futures.

Ah, the future. There is a subset of Americans who seem pretty immune to reality. Perhaps it is a grounding in the fiction of religion, because if they believe that, they may well believe anything. Or perhaps it is the authoritarian personality that wants to be led.  Or maybe it’s the willful ignorance of the self-satisfied. All these could be in play. Don’t forget the power of conspiracy thinking, a strange urge to make everything seem rational, orderly, and controlled by somebody. And the windowless rooms of Fox and Facebook…

It’s really up to them in too many ways. They have to be convinced that lies, more lies, and damned lies are antithetical to democracy and civilization, not to mention their own damn-fool asses.

Lepidoptera Lowdown

A veritable blizzard of Lepidoptera over a patch of ground-loving Buddleja last week. img_9900Lots of skippers skipping. This is a male Sachem (Atalopedes campestris), I think. img_9898Several sulphurs ever so briefly alighting. This is purported to be a Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice)… probably: Orange and Clouded can mix it up genetically, so these are hard to differentiate; perhaps the species definition should incorporate them both? One of them had an intense orange to its inner wings. Junonia coeniaA common Buckeye (Junonia coenia) showing a lot of late season wear and tear. A bird attack? Helicoverpa zeaAnd a lone moth, Helicoverpa zea, the Corn Earworm, obviously named for its caterpillar form. Most moths are active at night, which is why this blog is so notably absent in them; also, they’re hard to identify, not least because they are so many of them: there 11,000 species currently recognized in North America. Bugguide.net helped me with this ID. Curiously, this individual was chased by groups of several skippers, as if they really did not want the competition.


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