An Afternoon in the Woods

Hardwood swamp still frozen but not for long.


On Saturday I took a canoe trip down the little stream with the big name (West Fork of the Moose Horn River) that passes through my property to visit the western section. This area is approximately 56 acres and forested. Most of it is upland aspen and spruce forest but there is a large hardwood swamp near the southern property line.


Another part of the swamp (finally) thawing out. Soon this will be a flowing stream.


The ground was still snow covered but it was melting fast in the warm sun. I spent most of my time in a portion of a hardwood swamp looking at tree trunks for lichens and fungi. I found several lichen species previously documented from here and possibly one new species for the list. There are also a number of unknown lichen specimens to figure out.



There were two fungi that interested me. One is Phellinus igniarius, a polypore bracket fungus, that was growing on the trunk of an old quaking aspen. This fungus decays the lignin in the wood leaving behind the lighter colored cellulose and is one of the causes of white-rot in hardwood trees. The other fungus looks like P. igniarius and like it causes decay in living hardwoods. This one seems to only grow on black ash trees. It is a polypore but the pore surface looks shaggy rather than smooth. So far no luck in figuring it out.



Most of the trees in the hardwood swamp are black ash (Fraxinus nigra) with some green ash (F. pensylvanica), yellow birch (Betula allegheniensis), paper birch (B. papyrifera), American elm (Ulmus americana), quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides), and red maple (Acer rubrum). A year ago I measured the trees in the lower two-thirds of the swamp to get a population count by species and to calculate basal area. Some of the black ash trees are huge (for this part of Minnesota anyway). Of the 64 black ash measured 14 were between 28 cm and 44 cm in diameter. There were also 12 yellow birch in this size range. Black ash and yellow birch are slow growing trees even on good sites like this one so it is possible that the largest trees are at the century mark.



More Moths

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Eight more moths for the checklist: Mint Root Borer (Fumibotys fumalis), Deceptive Snout Moth (Hypena deceptalis), Bronzy Macrochilo (Macrochilo orciferalis), Forage Looper (Caenurgina erechtea), Purple-backed Cabbageworm (Evergestis pallidata), White-banded Toothed Carpet (Epirrhoe alternata), Labrador Carpet (Xanthorhoe labradorensis), and Dark Marbled Carpet (Dysstroma citrata) bringing it to 161 species identified. There were three repeated names, a genus name with no species epithet, and one name from a set of photos misidentified as Xanthorhoe ferrugata but really Euphyia intermediata (already on the list). Those last two are members of the “Carpets” which because of their intricate patterns can be a challenge to differentiate. When the dust settled the actual number of species on April 05 was not 158 but 153. Adding these eight species on April 10 makes the total for the checklist 161 species.

Some Brief Facts

Mint Root Borer (Fumibotys fumalis) – not well liked wherever mint (Mentha spp.) is grown as its larvae feed on mint leaves and then as they get older on the roots and rhizomes.

Deceptive Snout Moth (Hypena deceptalis) – this moth confused me at first and I misidentified it as Gray-edged Hypena (Hypena madefactalis) which was wishful thinking on my part. After going over many photos of each species at Moth Photographers Group and Bug Guide it became clear my initial identification was wrong. The larvae of Deceptive Snout Moth feed on leaves of American basswood (Tilia americana). Members of Hypena are specialized feeders.

Bronzy Macrochilo (Macrochilo orciferalis) – food preferences of this species larvae are grasses but many others in the subfamily (Herminiinae, Litter Moths) eat dead leaves and leaf litter.

Forage Looper (Caenurgina erechtea) – larvae feed on a variety of grasses and legumes grown for forage and hay including alfalfa and the weedy plant giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifida).

Purple-backed Cabbageworm (Evergestis pallidata) – possibly introduced to North America in the early 1800s the larvae of this moth feed on many members of the mustard family including bittercress (Cardamine spp.), cabbage, and horseradish.

White-banded Toothed Carpet (Epirrhoe alternata) – the larvae of this species feed on bedstraw (Galium spp.).

Labrador Carpet (Xanthorhoe labradorensis) – larvae feed on many species of woody and herbaceous plants

Dark Marbled Carpet (Dysstroma citrata) – larvae feed on blackberry, raspberry, and thimbleberry (Rubus spp.), alder (Alnus spp.),  willow (Salix spp.) and several other woody and herbaceous plant species.

The list keeps growing

Just before publishing this I added seven more species: Crambus leachellusAgriphila ruricolellusPalpita magniferalis, Monopis monachellaEpinotia lindana, and possibly Herpetogramma aeglealis and Dichomerus fistuca (these last two seem at least to be in the right genus) bringing the total to 168 species identified. The list keeps on growing as I sort through photos and to that list can be added 219 photos of yet to be identified species. Given that there are an estimated 1,500 to 2,200 moth species in Minnesota the possibility of 600 to 900 moth species in my county does not seem far-fetched. I hope to add another 100 species this summer as I explore new areas at night on my property (not just the porch) and search for moth larvae by day.


In the April 05 post “Four new finds in the moth photo files and a rediscovery” I mentioned I had found Ancylis albacostana. It turns out I had not but instead had misidentified Capis curvata as that species. They are similar especially if the white band on the ends of the forewing is wide on C. curvata. A. albacostana is somewhat rare in northern Minnesota where I live so chances of finding it are small (but not impossible).

What I had previously thought was Toothed Brown Carpet (Xanthorhoe lacustrata) in an earlier version of this post is White-banded Toothed Carpet (Epirrhoe alternata).



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

R. E. Berry and L. B. Coop (2000). Mint Root Borer Lepidoptera: Pyralidae Fumibotys fumalis. Publication No. IPPC E.01-01-1. Oregon State University, Department of Entomology and Integrated Plant Protection Center, Corvallis, Oregon. October 24, 2000.

E. M. Quinn and R. Danielson (2009). A Survey of Lepidoptera in Three Priority Areas of the Minnesota State Parks System Final Report. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources – Division of Parks and Trails. 49 pages.

Robinson, G. S., P. R. Ackery, I. J. Kitching, G. W. Beccaloni and L. M. Hernández (2010). HOSTS – A Database of the World’s Lepidopteran Hostplants. Natural History Museum, London.

J. Sogaard (2009). Moths and Caterpillars of the North Woods. Kollath+Stensaas Publishing. Duluth, MN. 276 pages.

D. Schweitzer, J. R. Garris, A. E. McBride, and J. A. M. (2014). The current status of forest Macrolepidoptera in northern New Jersey: evidence for the decline of understory specialists. Appendix D. Journal of Insect Conservation. Vol. 18, Issue 4, pages 561–571.

Species accounts at the Bug Guide website

Moth Photographers Group website (check out their Plate Series)

University of Alberta E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum website




Not Spring Yet

Here it is already April 12 and there is still two feet of snow on the ground and more in the forecast. Temperatures have been hovering around freezing with occasional warm days in the mid-40s followed by nights near zero. Ice is still on the lakes in Minnesota when at this time of year it should be breaking up.

In just over two weeks it will be May and I am wondering what that month will be like. During most years in May I’d be getting my garden ready, planting onions and potatoes, and putting off mowing the  lawn. At this rate all of that may have to wait until June. Instead, I need to get more gas for the snow blower just in case we get the half-foot of snow predicted. And get some more oranges and grapefruit. And mushrooms for pizza.

Below is a serenade by spring peepers and wood frogs at 3 in the afternoon on April 14th last year (hit play and the video straightens out). The high for the day was 68º F. This year it is predicted to be 29º F. Looks like the frogs will be sleeping for a few more weeks.






















About a year ago

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Its hard to believe when I walk in the woods now but last year by the second week of April almost all of the snow had melted, plants were beginning to grow in sunny patches under the trees, frogs were laying eggs, and insects from bees to bugs were active. But this year everywhere I look there is deep snow and cold temperatures. In the spruce and tamarack woods there is only the occasional call of the chickadees and nuthatches. Spring flowers are a long way off.


Down by the stream. April 8, 2018