I’ll be away from my desk…

Metanema inatomaria a species seen last summer on warm humid nights.


…during much of July and so will be posting a little less frequently. But summer has arrived and brings with it a new group of moths that love the hot and humid weather. Here are five of the seventeen new moths plus one returning visitor that showed up at my porch light over the weekend. I’ll be writing about these species later in August. There are already a few in the works on the moths Habrosyne scripta (almost done!), Oreta rosea, Phlogophora iris, Campaea perlata, and Monopis spilotella seen this year and last year.


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?



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.


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.

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.).

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



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.

Another busy night and another huge moth

Sphinx kalmiae Laurel Sphinx Sphinx Moth
Sphinx kalmiae


Another busy and late night but a productive one. I added several more species to the checklist but this one was already on the list after I found a caterpillar of the species last fall. It is the Laurel Sphinx Moth (Sphinx kalmiae). There is an abundance of potential food plants (ash and lilac) for this moth to choose from right around my house so I am hoping to find a few caterpillars later this summer.

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.

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



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.

A new caddisfly


Nemotaulius hostilis
Nemotaulius hostilis


There are about 277 species of caddisflies in Minnesota but my list of caddisflies from Carlton County is dismally low at only eight species three of which are of uncertain identification plus several unknowns. So when I saw this caddisfly a last week (May 31) I felt pretty sure I had a new species to add to the checklist. And it was. This caddisfly species is Nemotaulius hostilis which in Minnesota is known from several counties in the northern forested region of the state (Houghton 2012).


Class Insecta (Insects)
Order Trichoptera (Caddisflies)
Suborder Integripalpia
Infraorder Plenitentoria
Superfamily Limnephiloidea
Family Limnephilidae (Northern Caddisflies)
Subfamily Limnephilinae
Tribe Limnephilini
Genus/species Nemotaulius hostilis

The larvae of Nemotaulius hostilis build cases from large leaf fragments in such a way that they are sandwiched between the layers (Houghton 2012). This is in contrast to the larval cases of other caddisfly species are tubular or rectangular in cross-section. Larvae live in lakes, marshes, and sluggish streams with thick beds of aquatic macrophytes where they feed on plant debris (Houghton 2012). The small stream that meanders through my property with its abandoned channels and ox-bows contains many sites with dense aquatic vegetation where I hope to find Nemotaulius hostilis larvae later this summer.

The following description of Nemotaulius hostilis is after Schmid (1952), Nimmo (1971), and Houghton (2012). Adult N. hostilis are between 25 and 30 mm long. The coloration and patterning of the forewings is the most conspicuous feature. These are a mixture of solid areas of color, mostly shades of brown, gray-brown, or even black, mixed with clear irrorate (speckled) areas. Schmid says of the translucent speckling (“macules claires”) on the wings that it is “more extensive than in other species” and the wings are “riddled” with them (“l’aile dont toute la surface est criblée de macules claires plus grosses que chez les autres espèces”). The costa is hyaline with some basal irroration. About mid-way on the forewings is a narrow, slanted bright zone. The scalloped wing tips are a distinctive feature.

Nemotaulius hostilis occurs from Newfoundland to Alberta and Alaska, and from New England to the Great Lakes Region, also in Colorado (Nimmo 1971).

Ecological importance
Case-making caddisflies (there are several families) like Nemotaulius hostilis feed by shredding dead leaves and other plant parts that fall into the water or were growing in the water. Some case-making species are predators on small invertebrates while others scrap the fine layer of fungi, diatoms, and bacteria that grow on submerged objects usually wood. A small number of species feed on living plants or construct nets to trap prey or fine particles on which they feed. Shredders and scrappers are especially important in nutrient and energy cycling in forested streams which receive little direct sunlight that would support photosynthetic plants like algae with their ability to produce carbohydrates. In these systems cellulose and lignified woody plant tissue become primary carbohydrate sources which are first acted upon by bacteria and fungi before the insect larvae consume them. Further processing occurs in the gut of the larvae with the help of symbiotic bacteria which reside there. Organisms that feed on caddisfly larvae and adults thus benefit from the ability of the larvae to transform inedible wood and rotting leaves into edible insect bodies. (see Anderson et al. 1978, Wallace 1996, Cummins 2002, Feio et al 2005, Houghton 2007, Resh et al. 2011)

And this one
I found this caddisfly Monday night (June 4). It is one of the giant casemaker caddisflies in the Superfamily Phryganeoidea that is probably Ptilostomis ocellifera, a species which is widespread and common in Minnesota. More on Ptilostomis ocellifera in an upcoming post.


Ptilostomis ocellifera caddisfly trichoptera
Ptilostomis ocellifera



Anderson, N. H, Sedell, J. R., . Roberts, M, and F. J. Triska, J. (1978). The Role of Aquatic Invertebrates in Processing of Wood Debris in Coniferous Forest Streams. The American Midland Naturalist, 100(1):64-82

Cummins, Kenneth W. (2002). Riparian-stream Linkage Paradigm. Verhandlungen des Internationalen Verein Limnologie, 28:49-58.

Feio, Maria J., Vieira-Lanero, Rufino, Ferreira, Veronica , and Graça, Manuel A. S. (2005). The role of the environment in the distribution and composition of Trichoptera assemblages in streams. Archiv fur Hydrobiologie, 164(4):493–512.

Houghton, David C . (2007). The effects of landscape-level disturbance on the composition of Minnesota caddisfly (Insecta: Trichoptera) trophic functional groups: evidence for ecosystem homogenization. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 135(1-3):253-64

Houghton, David C . (2012). Biological diversity of the Minnesota caddisflies (Insecta, Trichoptera). ZooKeys 189:1–389. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.189.2043. Description of Nemotaulius hostilis on page 259.

Nimmo, Andrew P. (1971) The Adult Rhyacophilidae and Limnephilidae (Trichoptera) of Alberta and Eastern British Columbia and Their Post-glacial Origin. Quaestiones entomologicae 7:3-234. Description of Nemotaulius hostilis on page 124.

Resh, Vincent H. , Hannaford, Morgan , Jackson, John K. , Lamberti, Gary A., and Mendez, Patina K. (2011). The biology of the limnephilid caddisfly Dicosmoecus gilvipes (Hagen) in Northern California and Oregon (USA) Streams. Zoosymposia, 5:413–419.

Schmid, Fernand. (1952). Les genres Glyphotaelius Steph. et Nemotaulius BKS (Trichop. Limnophil.). Bulletin de la Société Vaudoise des Sciences Naturelles 65(280):231-244. Description of Nemotaulius hostilis on pages 229 to 231.

Wallace, J. Bruce. (1996). The Role of Macroinvertebrates in Stream Ecosystem Function. Annual Review of Entomology, 41:115-139.

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.