Hitchhiker

 

I’ve been pretty busy with work these last several weeks but on one of my free days I was out walking my dog and saw this little black wasp on a milkweed leaf. I managed to get a few photos of it with my cell phone before it flew away. Judging from its long ovipositor this is a species of ichneumon wasp although at this point I do not know much more than that. When I looked closely at the photo I noticed there was another little animal with the wasp that was clinging to it by tiny pincers (circled in red in the lower photo). It is a type of arachnid a group of arthropods that includes spiders and scorpions. This tiny arachnid is commonly called a pseudoscorpion. Pseudoscorpions are tiny and when they are not hitching rides on insects they are searching leaf litter for prey such as ants and mites. Although pseudoscorpions do not sting they do have poison glands in their pincers which they use to subdue prey. They are harmless to larger animals. My best guess to the identity of this pseudoscorpion is that it is probably in the superfamily Cheliferoidea. Without an actual specimen that I could spend some time examining that is about as far as I can get.

 

Arctic Skipper

Carterocephalus palaemon, Arctic Skipper, widespread in Minnesota. It was previously known from Carlton County by a historical record. There do not seem to be any recent records from the county other than this one.

 

This small butterfly with dark brown wings and yellow spots is the Arctic Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon). I saw it a few days ago on a warm, sunny, and humid afternoon on June 12. It was resting on a blade of grass in a sunny opening in an encroaching forest. Although the Arctic Skipper is widely distributed and ranked a G5 or “globally secure” there is only one record that I could find of it from Carlton County and it is historical but there was no information about when or where it was seen or who saw it.

Taxonomy
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Papilionoidea (Butterflies and Skippers)
Family Hesperiidae (Skippers)
Subfamily Heteropterinae (Intermediate Skippers)
Genus/species Carterocephalus palaemon

Description
The upper wing surface is dark brown to almost black with roughly rectangular yellow spots. Below they are like the color of a deer fawn and marked with black-rimmed yellow spots. Wingspread is 2.5 to 3.2 cm.

Range
A circumboreal species found in North America from Alaska to Canada’s Atlantic coast and south to California and Pennsylvania. Not truly an Arctic species.

Larval Host Plants
Larvae of Carterocephalus palaemon eat grasses. In California purple reedgrass (Calamagrostis purpurascens) is reported as a larval host. In some European countries, brome (Bromus spp.) are preferred larval hosts.  Purple moor-grass (Molinia caerulea) has been reported as a larval host in Scotland. Purple reedgrass is rare in Minnesota and purple moor-grass does not grow here. There are bromes both native and introduced in the state as well as the native Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis). It is likely that Carterocephalus palaemon larvae feed on other grass species besides the few mentioned in the literature.

 

SOURCES
Arctic Skipper Carterocephalus palaemon (Pallas, 1771) at BAMONA.

Carterocephalus palaemon (Pallas, 1771) at the Bourgogne-Nature website.

Chequered Skipper (Carterocephalus palaemon) at the Sottish Natural Heritage website.

Species Carterocephalus palaemon – Arctic Skipper – Hodges#3982 at the Bug Guide website.

 

Some Possible New State Records

 

One thing that often happens when doing an inventory of plants and animals in a particular region such as in the county where I live is the discovery of species not previously known from there. This has been my experience with plants in Carlton County beginning in 1992. Back then there was only Ownbey’s and Morley’s Vascular Plants of Minnesota: A Checklist and Atlas for plant species occurrences by county for Minnesota. The internet has greatly expanded the available information on species distributions and this holds for plants, lichens, and many kinds of animals such as moths. Many museums and universities have searchable databases listing taxa by region or even county level often on maps showing where these species have been found. Some even provide historical data such as when a particular species was seen and/or collected.

Unfortunately, finding a volume like Ownbey and Morley for moths even for a state seems pretty much out of the question. There are other sources of data on moth species occurrences although their reports may not be complete. The first two sources I rely on are the maps at the Moth Photographers Group (MPG) and Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA). Maps at MPG are based on archived specimens and are accurate to the county level. BAMONA is based on citizen-scientist contributions and these are accurate to township level. The weakness in both of these sources is the human factor. For both MPG and BAMONA there seem to be more records near larger population centers where colleges and universities, and hence entomologists and/or interested amateurs, are located compared to areas of the country with smaller populations and distant from colleges.

The third source I look to for Minnesota moths is a Minnesota DNR report (A Survey of Lepidoptera in Three Priority Areas of the Minnesota State Parks System) published in 2009. This report lists all the moth (768) and butterfly (72) species found in thirteen Minnesota state parks between southeastern and northeastern Minnesota over a two-year period. Jay Cooke State Park, which is in Carlton County in northeastern Minnesota, was not included in the survey. The purpose of the survey was to determine what other lepidopteran species might be affected if a Bt spraying program were initiated to control the introduced Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar dispar), a potential pest insect in the state. Thankfully, Bt was not used and a mating disrupting pheromone was instead.

I have not done a complete list of new species records for Carlton County because it does not matter as almost every moth I find is a new record for the county. However, as I add more species to the checklist I have noticed that some appear to be new records for the state. Four of these are shown in the photo gallery above. These are not the only ones just some of the most recent. Looking at the maps at MPG and BAMONA it quickly becomes clear that there is a deficit in the record of the lepidopteran fauna of Carlton County (not too unlike the record of the county’s flora). One could get the impression that there is little moth biodiversity here but that would be a mistake. As of June 15, I have photographed and identified almost 270 species of moths. Of these, 100 were photographed and identified this year over a two month period. Even more importantly all were taken on my property. What other species might be found in the oak-maple-basswood forests? Or the bogs? Or the cedar swamps?

 

SOURCES CITED

Ownbey, G. B., and T. Morley. (1991). Vascular plants of Minnesota: a checklist and atlas. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota. 320 pages.

Quinn, Edward M., and Danielson, Ron. (2009). A Survey of Lepidoptera in Three Priority Areas of the Minnesota State Parks System Final Report. 49 pages.

Species accounts at Butterflies and Moths of North America

Species accounts at Moth Photographers Group

And yet another huge moth

 

A giant really with a wingspan of 115 mm (~4.5 inches). This is one of the giant silkworm moths known as Antheraea polyphemus. It arrived at my porch light at about 12:30 AM on June 13. So I took a lot of photos then went inside and turned out the light. At dawn it was still there but had fallen from the screen door so I set it on a tarp covered box and placed a small footstool over it for safety. By early afternoon the moth had flown away. I seldom see these large moths, including their larvae, although they are said to be widespread and common. I’m wondering what tonight will bring since I plan on staying up late again.

 

Antheraea polyphemus silk moths
Antheraea polyphemus showing wing undersides.

 

Description
A. polyphemus is a distinctive moth species. Apart from its large size the most obvious features are the four eyespots on the wings. There are two small spots on the forewings and two larger ones on the hindwings. The spots on the hindwings are the largest and most brightly colored with a deep black outline surrounding a deep blue interior dusted with many small white specks. at the bottom of the eyespot is an almond-shaped yellow spot with a translucent center. The eyepsots on the upper wings are very much like these yellow spots but with a thin black line enclosing them. The background color of the wings varies individually but is generally a pinkish cinnamon color often dusted with small black specks. Wing margins are separated from the rest of the wing by dark and light-colored bands. The scales on the body, legs, and near the points where the wings attach are long and look like hairs. The moth shown has feathery antennae (used to detect female pheromones) which means it is a male. Females have thinner antennae.

Range
A. polyphemus occurs over most of north America from southern Canada (except Newfoundland) to Mexico and coast to coast in the US.

Larval Hosts
The larvae of A. polyphemus feed on the leaves a variety of deciduous trees and shrubs including oak (Quercus spp.), hickory (Carya spp.), ash (Fraxinus spp.), grape (Vitis spp.), maple (Acer spp.), birch (Betula spp.), pine (Pinus spp.), and willow (Salix spp.).

Taxonomy
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Bombycoidea (Silkworm, Sphinx, and Royal Moths)
Family Saturniidae (Giant Silkworm and Royal Moths)
Subfamily Saturniinae (Silkmoths)
Tribe Saturniini
Genus/species Antheraea polyphemus

 

SOURCES

Beadle, D. and Leckie, S. (2012). Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston. 640 pages.

Species Antheraea polyphemus – Polyphemus Moth – Hodges#7757 at the Bug Guide website.

890070.00 – 7757 – Antheraea polyphemus – Polyphemus Moth – (Cramer, 1776) at the Moth Photographers Group website.

I’m tired out

Pachysphinx modesta
Pachysphinx modesta

 

But it was worth staying up late for the past several nights resulting in the addition of another 25 species to the checklist since June 4. The moth shown above, Pachysphinx modesta, is the latest addition and was made late last night. This is a large moth with a total body length between 45 and 65 mm and a wingspread almost twice that. When it flew by me towards the porch light I thought it was a bird. Pachysphinx modesta occurs over much of North America north of Mexico and can be found wherever the larval host plants poplars and cottonwoods (Populus spp.) and willows (Salix spp.) grow. The related Pachysphinx occidentalis is yellowish brown in the pale form and brownish-gray in the dark form. It can be told apart by the large area of red or pink coloration on the hindwings and by the dark lines that contrast with the background color of the forewings. Pachysphinx modesta is greenish-gray, lines of the forewings do contrast with the background color, and the hindwings are greenish-gray with no red or pink.

Taxonomy
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Bombycoidea (Silkworm, Sphinx, and Royal Moths)
Family Sphingidae (Sphinx Moths)
Subfamily Smerinthinae
Tribe Smerinthini
Genus/species Pachysphinx modesta

 

SOURCES

Species Pachysphinx modesta – Modest Sphinx – Hodges#7828 at the Bug Guide website.

Species Pachysphinx occidentalis – Western Poplar Sphinx – Hodges#7829 at the Bug Guide website.

Moth Checklist Update

 

Its been a busy month and a half of mothing so far with many new species and as well as returning species seen last summer. As of May 31 the moth checklist for 2018 is now at 57 species with a combined checklist for 2017 and 2018 of 225 species. There are also many new ones in the “Unknown Moths” file. The latest checklist additions, all observed between May 26 and May 31, are Argyrotaenia marianaHelcystogramma melanocarpaAcronicta morulaElaphria versicolorEucosma awemeana, Petrophora subaequaria, Acronicta interrupta, Ancylis albacostanaLeuconycta diphteroides, Ectropis crepusculariaOrthofidonia flavivenata, Palpita magniferalisBibarrambla allenellaPlagodis pulverariaMonopis monachella, Pero morrisonariaApotomis funereaSemioscopis packardella, Tacparia desertata, Hydriomena renunciata, and Galgula partita. Returning species include Caloptilia stigmatella, Pseudeustrotia carneolaEuphyia intermediata, Tetracis crocallata, Gluphisia septentrionalis, Prochoerodes lineola, Metanema determinata, Metanema inatomaria, Plutella xylostella, Clostera albosigma, Acronicta lobeliae, and Idia americalis.

 

I finally found it

 

Ancylis albacostana that is. This was the moth species I believed I had found twice before but was wrong each time being thrown by the white wing margins. This time it is the real deal and was confirmed at Bug Guide last night. The first “discovery” was made several weeks ago after going through photos from last summer. The second was in late April after seeing another moth with a white stripe along its wing edge. It later turned out that these were two different species. The first one turned out to be Capis curvata and the second Acleris celiana. I’ve added photos of Capis curvata and Acleris celiana for comparison with this new moth so that the differences and similarities can be seen.

This moth, which I found on Monday night, fits Kearfott’s description of Ancylis albacostana very well: “Fore wing lead color, rather heavily overlaid on inner two-thirds below the costa [main vein along leading edge of wing] with brownish and blackish scales. From the base to the apex on the costa is a pure white band, widest at end of cell, where it is nearly a quarter the width of wing; continuing to base with only a trifle less width, and lower edge curving evenly into costa and ending in a point at apex.”

Heinrich (1923) says of Ancylis albacostana: “A striking species at once to be recognized by the shining white unmarked costa of fore wing.”

Taxonomy
Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Lepidoptera (Butterflies and Moths)
Superfamily Family Tortriciodae (Tortricid Moths)
Family Tortricidae
Subfamily Olethreutinae
Tribe Enarmoniini
Genus/species Ancylis albacostana

Acleris celiana is also in the Superfamily Tortricidae, Family Tortricidae but separated to the Subfamily Tortricinae and Capis curvata is in the Superfamily Noctuoidea and Family Noctuidae (Owlet Moths).

Range
A. albacostana is known from a few locations in nine states Indiana, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and North Carolina) and three Canadian provinces (New Brunswick, Quebec, and Ontario). In the Alberta Lepidopterists Guild 2011 spring newsletter there is a tentative report of A. albacostana from Medicine Hat, Alberta collected in 2009. The same report also mentions A. albacostana from Minnesota and Manitoba. Tortricid.net notes it was found in Manitoba in 1905 and that the specimen, which is shown on the web page, is housed in the U.S. National Entomological Collection a part of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

The Minnesota occurrence of Aalbacostana is referenced by Miller (1987) in Guide to the Olethreutine Moths of Midland North American Moths (Tortricidae) in the description of A. albacostana on page 82: “Forewing 7.5 to 8.5 mm long, dark areas grayish brown or brownish black. Adults captured May 29-June 30. Ml, MN.” It does not seem that a year for the collections is given in the paper.

Larval Host Plants
Caterpillars of A. albacostana feed on leaves of maple (Acer spp.).

 

SOURCES
Ancylis albacostana – White-edged Ancylis Moth – Kearfott, 1905 at Moth Photographers Group.

Ancylis albacostana Kearfott 1905 at Tortricid.net

Alberta Lepidopterists’ Guild Newsletter – Spring 2011 on page 15.

Beadle, D. and Leckie, S. (2012). Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Boston. 640 pages.

Kearfott, W. D. (1905). Descriptions of New Species of Tortricid Moths From North Carolina, With Notes. Proceedings of the United States National Museum, Vol. 28: 319-364. Description of Ancylis albacostana on page 360.

Grehan, J. R., B. L. Parker, G. R. Nielsen, D. H. Miller, J. D. Hedbor, M. S. Sabourin, and M. S. Griggs. (1995). Moths and Butterflies of Vermont (Lepoidoptera): A Faunal Checklist. A joint Vermont Agricultural Experiment Station and State of Vermont publication. Misc. Publication 1167, VMC Bulletin 1. 86 pages. Vermont occurrence of Ancylis albacostana on page 16.

Heinrich, C. (1923). Revision of the North American moths of the subfamily Eucosminae of the family Olethreutidae. United States National Museum Bulletin. 123:1-298. Description of Ancylis albacostana on page 253.

Miller, W. E. (1987). Guide to the Olethreutine Moths of Midland North America (Tortricidae). United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service Agriculture Handbook 660. 110 pages. Description of Ancylis albacostana on page 82.

Species Ancylis albacosta – White-edged Ancylis Moth – Hodges#3387 at Bug Guide.

Species Acleris celiana – Hodges#3533 at Bug Guide

Species Capis curvata – Curved Halter Moth – Hodges#9059 at Bug Guide.