Last Moths of the Year?

Possibly. Temperatures at night have gone below freezing four times since mid-September which has put an end to the songs of crickets and grasshoppers. Bees and butterflies are gone, either killed by the cold weather or hibernating. But in the last six days, I’ve seen a moth, Operophtera bruceata (Bruce Spanworm), flying in the woods. Operophtera bruceata is a brownish moth with faint markings and is in the Geometridae. On Thursday and Friday, I turned on my porch light and attracted about 25 moths each night. That’s the largest number of Operophtera bruceata I’ve ever seen at one time so this must be a boom year for them. Saturday and Sunday nights saw fewer moths and on Monday there were none.

Operophtera bruceata spends only a few weeks of its life as a moth. From late fall to May it is an egg hidden in cracks and crevices in tree bark waiting out the winter. In May and June, the larvae hatch and begin feeding. The larvae feed on a variety of common tree species but prefer aspen, sugar maple, beech, and willow. Pupation lasts until October.

Operophtera bruceata exhibits sexual dimorphism with winged males and wingless females. Apparently, this strategy works well as the moth is widespread in North America.

Other moths are also appearing at the lights. One is Lithophane grotei (Grote’s Pinion) which has only recently eclosed. It will not mate until next spring. Instead, Lithophane grotei will find shelter under bark or woody debris to hibernate and wait out the winter. A different life strategy from that of Operophtera bruceata. Its larvae feed on maple, birch, cherry, and apple leaves. Lithophane grotei is widespread in the northeastern US and Ontario and Quebec in Canada.

A third species at the lights was Sunira bicolorago (Bicolored Sallow). This species is common over most of the US and southern Canada east of the Mississippi River in moist forests. The larvae of Sunira bicolorago are generalist feeders of many herbaceous and woody plants and not just willows as its common name might suggest.

The fourth, and perhaps the final moth of the year, I saw was Xanthia tatago (Pink-barred Sallow). Like Sunira bicolorago, it occurs in moist forests where willows and cottonwoods grow as it is a food specialist and feeds exclusively on plants in the willow family (Salicaceae). Early larval stages feed on the catkins of willow (I can’t find any information about feeding on cottonwood catkins) and later on the leaves.

Weather forecasts over the next two weeks show decreasing day and night temperatures with highs rarely reaching the 50s and lows down in the 20s. Not unexpected weather for this time of the year. On sunny days some tiny moths or caterpillars might be out but evening mothing is probably over until March next year at the earliest. But that’s not set in stone as on December 15 last year there was this sighting of an Acleris sp. (possibly Acleris busckana). In the meantime, until temperatures are consistently at or below freezing, there will be other insects, spiders, and other small arthropods out and about waiting, I hope, to be photographed.

SOURCES CITED

Bug Guide:

Operophtera bruceata

Lithophane grotei

Sunira bicolorago

Xanthia tatago

Pacific Northwest Moths:

Sunira bicolorago

Xanthia tatago

Moth Photographers Group:

Operophtera bruceata

Lithophane grotei

Sunira bicolorago

Xanthia tatago

Autumn is coming

September 22, 2022, is officially the first day of autumn in the northern hemisphere but today it doesn’t feel like autumn is anywhere in the future. Right now the temperature is 52 degrees F and the high is predicted to be 78. Flowers are still blooming in the gardens. There hasn’t even been a frost which is very unusual for here.

When I look at the trees only a few are showing color changes. The rest are green or just looking a bit faded. But the woods has that autumn smell to it in the early evening so something is happening. And many plants in the understory are changing color. Autumn starts on the forest floor so at least that much is following schedule.

I did hear geese the other night heading south for the winter which will most certainly arrive. In the meantime, I am going to enjoy these lingering sunny days, do some cleanup around the yard, and check the snowblower to make sure it starts and runs well before the first big storm.

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.

 

Mothing Update April/May

Phyllodesma americana
American Lappet Moth (Phyllodesma americana)

 

I’ve been trying to wrap up this post but keep finding more moths. At the end of last week I had 6 identified moth species and 5 unidentified species since seeing the first moth of 2018 on April 18th. Over the weekend I added five more: American Lappet Moth (Phyllodesma americana), Willow Dart Moth (Cerastis salicarum), Variable Carpet Moth (Anticlea vasiliata), Featherduster Agonopterix (Agonopterix pulvipennella), and Mottled Black-marked Moth (Semioscopis aurorella) bringing the count to 11 species. But as of Tuesday (May 15) the count now stands at 16 species when I added these five: Multiform Leafroller Moth (Acleris flavivittana), Snowy-shouldered Acleris (Acleris nivisellana), Strawberry Moth (Acleris fragariana), Bent-wing Acleris (Acleris subnivana), and The Herald Moth (Scoliopteryx libatrix). And I have added six more to the “Unknown Moths” file four of which are discussed at the end of the post. So, a lot of new moth species for the property’s species checklist and summer is still a month away.

On to the featured image and the other new moths

The American Lappet Moth shown above is much more blue than is typical for the species which is yellowish-brown or reddish to almost orange. It is in the Tent Caterpillar family (Lasiocampidea) and the larvae feed on alder (Alnus spp.) birch (Betula spp.), oak (Quercus spp.), and rose (Rosa spp.). American Lappet Moth occurs over almost all of North America north of Mexico.

 

 

Willow Dart Moth (Cerastis salicarum) is in Noctuidae (Owlet Moths), Subfamily Noctuinae (Cutworm or Dart Moths) but different tribes (Noctuini and Xylenini respectively). Larval host plants of Willow Dart Moth are thought to be willows (Salix spp.) but this may not the case. The range of Willow Dart Moth is from southern Canada to the northern US.

Variable Carpet Moth (Anticlea vasiliata) is in the Family Geometridae (Geometrid Moths), Subfamily Larentiinae. Its larvae feed on red raspberry (Rubus idaeus). Variable Carpet Moth occurs from Newfoundland to North Carolina and Tennessee, west to California and British Columbia.

Featherduster Agonopterix (Agonopterix pulvipennella) and Mottled Black-marked Moth (Semioscopis aurorella) are in the moth Superfamily Gelechioidea (Twirler Moths and kin), Family Depressariidae, Subfamily Depressariinae. The larvae of Featherduster Agonopterix feed on the leaves of goldenrod (Solidago spp.) and stinging nettle (Urtica spp.). Those of Mottled Black-marked Moth feed on leaves of Prunus spp. (plums, cherries). Featherduster Agonopterix occurs from Quebec and New Brunswick to Georgia and Mississippi, and north to Saskatchewan. Mottled Black-marked Moth occurs from southeastern Canada to the northeastern US as far south as Virginia and Indiana.

 

 

Multiform Leafroller Moth (Acleris flavivittana), Strawberry Moth (Acleris fragariana), Bent-wing Acleris (Acleris subnivana), and Snowy-shouldered Acleris (Acleris nivisellana) are in the Family Tortricidae (Tortricid Moths), Subfamily Tortricinae, Tribe Tortricini. All four species range from southern Canada to the northeastern US with scattered occurrences from Louisiana to Georgia. Snowy-shouldered Acleris and Strawberry Moth are also found from California to British Columbia.

Strawberry Moth (Acleris fragariana) is a generalist feeder on members of the Rosaceae. Larval hosts include strawberry (Fragaria spp.), blackberry (Rubus spp.), rose (Rosa spp.), plum (Prunus spp.), cinquefoil (Potentilla spp.), and black chokeberry (Photinia melanocarpa).

Snowy-shouldered Acleris (Acleris nivisellana) larvae feed on pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica) and Multiform Leafroller Moth (Acleris flavivittana) feed on apple (Malus spp.) and pin cherry (Prunus pensylvanica). The larvae of Bent-wing Acleris (Acleris subnivana) are more specialized feeding on red oak (Quercus rubra) but also Vernonia spp. (ironweed) which is a herbaceous plant in the aster family (Asteraceae). Note: The Bent-wing Acleris I have here looks a little like what I thought might be (but wasn’t very sure of) Forbes’ Acleris (Acleris forbesana) in an earlier post. I will have to revisit that one.

The Herald Moth (Scoliopteryx libatrix) is in the Superfamily Noctuoidea (Owlet Moths and kin), Family Erebidae, Subfamily Scoliopteryginae, Tribe Scoliopterygini. Its larvae feed on poplar (Populus spp.) and willow (Salix spp.). There are typically two generations a summer. The last generation overwinters in the adult form in cavities, shed walls, and caves and emerges in the spring. The Herald Moth is a Holarctic species which in the North American part of its range occurs from southern Canada and over much of the US.

Some unknown moths no longer unknown

Also, in the past couple of weeks I have figured out several more moths from last summer’s photos. Among them are Large Mossy Lithacodia Moth (Protodeltote muscosula), Morrison’s Sooty Dart Moth (Pseudohermonassa tenuicula), Jeweled Tailed Slug Moth (Packardia geminata), and Garden Tortix (Clepsis peritana). With the newly identified species from last year and this year the moth species checklist is now at 190 species.

 

 

Large Mossy Lithacodia Moth (Protodeltote muscosula) is in the Superfamily Noctuoidea (Owlet Moths and kin), Family Noctuidae (Owlet Moths), Subfamily Eustrotiinae. The larvae are reported to feed on feed on sawgrass (Cladium) which is not a grass but a sedge (Cyperaceae). Because the only Cladium in Minnesota is Cmariscoides, a rare species, I suspect this moth’s larvae also feed on other wetland species of Cyperaceae. Large Mossy Lithacodia occurs over much of the eastern US east of the Great Plains and parts of southern Ontario and Quebec.

Morrison’s Sooty Dart Moth (Pseudohermonassa tenuicula) is in the Superfamily Noctuoidea (Owlet Moths and kin), Family Noctuidae (Owlet Moths) Subfamily Noctuinae (Cutworm or Dart Moths), Tribe Noctuini, Subtribe Noctuinaarvae. Larvae feed on mannagrass (Glyceria spp.) a plant commonly found in wetlands. Morrison’s Sooty Dart Moth ranges across the northern United States and southern Canada and north to Northwest Territories.

Jeweled Tailed Slug Moth (Packardia geminata) is in the Superfamily Zygaenoidea (Flannel, Slug Caterpillar, Leaf Skeletonizer Moths and kin), Family Limacodidae (Slug Caterpillar Moths). The green slug-like larvae are polyphagous and feed on a variety of plants such as cherry and plum (Prunus spp.) and wild raisin and arrowwood (Viburnum spp.). Jeweled Tailed Slug Moth occurs in the eastern US east of the Great Plains and in southern Ontario and Quebec.

Garden Tortix (Clepsis peritana) is in the Superfamily Tortricoidea (Tortricid Moths), Family Tortricidae (Tortricid Moths), Subfamily Tortricinae, Tribe Archipini. Larvae are generalist feeders. Among the plants they have been observed eating are strawberry (Fragaria spp.), cardoon (Cynara cardunculus), hedgenettle (Stachys spp.) and other low plants. Dying or dead leaves are the preferred food source but they will eat the fruit of strawberries. The larvae also eat dead citrus leaves in groves and will switch to live leaves once these are used up or caterpillar populations are high. Garden Tortix occurs widely across North America.

And this

 

caterpillar
Unknown moth larva

 

A small brown moth larva I found the other day in a wetland on a clump of Canada bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis). Species? I don’t yet. That’s it for now.

 

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 accounts at Bug Guide, Moth Photographers Group, Tortricid.net, HOSTS – a Database of the World’s Lepidopteran Hostplants, and Butterflies and Moths of North America (BAMONA)

E. L. Atkins, Jr., E. L. (1958). The Garden Tortrix, Clepsis peritana (Clemens): A New Economic Pest in Southern California. Journal of Economic Entomology, Vol. 51(5): 596–598.