Some new moths

Agonopterix argillacea


The tiny gray moth in the photo above is one of the latest moth finds here this month. I’ve seen several of these moths in the last week flying just above the ground or walking on the snow. Some even came to my porch light one warm night (April 22) with an air temperature of 46° F and also my kitchen so I was able to photograph them. They are Agonopterix argillacea. Adult moths in this genus aestivate during the winter and emerge in the early spring to lay eggs. The larvae of A. argillacea feed on willows (Salix spp.) which are abundant in the wetlands around here.

Besides A. argillacea other species of moths are showing up as the temperatures get warmer. By “warmer” I mean between 32° F and 40° F.  The three moths shown below were found flying just above the snow when air temperatures were almost 40° F in the early morning (April 18 and 22) and late afternoon (April 22) as the sun was setting. I have not been able to identify them despite going through hundreds of photos at the Moth Photographers Group and Bug Guide websites. One may be in the genus Apotomis.



On Sunday night (April 22) when the air temperature was 46° F (after almost reaching 70° F during the day) I turned on my porch light and two individuals of this large moth came to the light. I am not certain of the species but it looks like an Orthosia. I’m going to take a break from trying to figure this one out.



Ctenucha Moth (Ctenucha virginica) and other caterpillars are also coming out of hibernation venturing out onto the snow it seems not wanting to wait for the really warm weather. I found this Ctenucha Moth caterpillar (below) and several others in the late afternoon (April 22) on some icy snow floating in a flooded field. They were soaked and looked dead but after a few minutes in my hands perked up so I moved them to some higher and drier ground. Ctenucha Moth caterpillars overwinter as immature larvae. When warm spring weather comes back they emerge from hiding and begin to eat grasses and sedges their primary food plants. In a few weeks they are fully grown and pupate. By early summer the Ctenucha Moths hatch from their pupa to start the process over. Ctenucha Moths are in the Subfamily Arctiinae which includes the familiar Woolly Bear (Pyrrharctia isabella).



This next fuzzy caterpillar was found on April 19th crawling across the snow in a sedge marsh. The caterpillar, whose species identification is unknown but may be related to the Ctenucha, seemed to have no problem with the cold. I watched it for a little while until it reached a clump of exposed sedge and then went inside. It is fascinating to me that these cold-blooded animals can function just fine when ambient temperatures are only a few degrees above freezing and snow is still on the ground.



Now that most of the snow is gone it is becoming harder to find these tiny moths. But soon other species will emerge as the days get warmer and plants start to grow.

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