urbpan: (dandelion)
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Urban Nature Walks happen on the last Sunday of the month--this shouldn't surprise me, but it often does. I sent out the call: is anyone else planning to walk somewhere? Fortunately my friend Teá said she was heading to Stonybrook Reservation to look for caterpillars! We ended up circumambulating Turtle Pond at a leisurely pace looking for all kinds of living things! This pair of bullfrogs is a good first sighting.

Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I'm sure I've written about his before, but my first encounter with a hummingbird moth was magical and disorienting. I was a child very much into insects, mostly the crawling kind easy to find under logs and rocks. The scaly-winged order--the moths and butterflies, were sometimes pretty, usually drab, and took to flight before a young naturalist could closely examine them. Then this being appeared--a chimera that flies like a hummingbird, has the face of a moth, and bears the ruddered tail of a swimming crustacean. (The individual pictured here has a worn and damaged tail).

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This is the hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe)--the wings are clear and without scales like a wasp or a fly. Colorful scales might slow down the buzzing wings, or detract from the wasp-like illusion that gives some predators pause.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I described this moth as "trapezoidal," but I should have called its posture "soaring hawk." Many moths in this genus Eupithecia* rest this way, sometimes hiding the second pair of wings entirely behind the first. This is another moth that spent its youth as an inchworm, this one probably grazing on the amble pollen supplied by plants in the aster family. The smart money is on this being a "common Eupithecia," E. miserulata**

*Good ape. No, really.

** hoo boy I can't figure this one
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Another plain brown moth with a story to tell. As a baby inchworm it (I almost said "he," as this is a male moth--but insect larvae have no sex organs) grazed on a variety of weeds like dock and smartweed. These plants are widespread around the world, as are the moths. The caterpillar possibly lived far south of Boston, flying hundreds of miles as a moth. If it doesn't reverse its journey it is surely doomed to freeze, but will be replaced by next years' migrants. This humble insect is even reported to "cross long distances of open sea." Moth-watchers call this creature Orthonama obstipata*, or sometimes "the gem."


*Off-center jointed streams.
urbpan: (Default)
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So nice to see a pretty butterfly this late in the year! This one is an eastern comma, Polygonia comma, named for a comma-shaped mark on it's underside. The larva feeds on nettles and elm, while the adults are piss-poor pollinators--preferring rotten fruit and puddles of urine over flower nectar.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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The yellow bear Spilosoma virginica* isn't nearly as well known as the woolly bear, but is nearly as widespread. The caterpillar has longer softer 'fur' (setae) and is usually all yellow (but darker forms occur). While the woolly bear is found throughout the late fall and even the winter as a caterpillar, the yellow bear pupates to survive the cold months. The caterpillar can host on almost any kind of plant, including a variety of garden plants and trees and shrubs. The moth, the Virginia tiger moth, is a pretty but unassuming white creature.

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*Virginian specked-body
urbpan: (dandelion)
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At first it looks like an extra large woolly bear, that never developed the reddish brown band. Or maybe it died it's brown setae black as a countercultural fashion statement.

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But then when its picked up, it goes into a defensive curl, revealing bare bands of bright red cuticle. It's another warning, but intended for birds and other predators.

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The giant leopard moth caterpillar Hypercompe scribonia can be handled safely by humans. Please don't squish it, as it will change into a lovely white moth with open black spots, and hidden blue and orange colors on its abdomen. The caterpillar has as broad a taste for plants as the woolly bear, and even includes tropical and subtropical plants like banana and orange. The moth occurs from Texas to Minnesota and everything east of that, including some of the Caribbean islands.

* Very shackled good writer (Scribonia is a Roman given name and an opera character--the name suggests the meaning of good writer: Scribo + bonus; the taxonomist was almost certainly referring to the black markings on the white moth, which resemble writing.)
urbpan: (dandelion)
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My moth expert friend says this is probably Coleophora,* one of a large genus of casebearer moths. The larvae of these moths spin protective cases of silk and debris, similar to the cases that aquatic caddisfly larvae make.

*Sheath-carrier
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I've found woolly bears (Pyrrharctia isabella*) in lots of weird places--basically under anything you leave in the yard overnight--but in a small juniper bush? That's new on me. They eat the foliage of broadleaf trees, lots of weeds, and even grasses, but not conifers to my knowledge. Maybe it just went for a walk out on a limb. Woolly bears on the short list--for some people a VERY short list--of insects that people don't really mind. Their protective covering of defensive black and red-brown setae are reminiscent of the pelage of a charismatic mammal. They overwinter in leaf litter and in under loose objects as larvae, ensuring that they are familiar to anyone tidying their property in the fall. Their diet and their ability to survive difficult weather has led them to spread throughout most of North America. Normally I'd tell you not to handle any colorful hairy caterpillar, but I spent half my childhood playing with these, so knock yourself out.
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*In Latin "Pyr" means fire or heat and "arc" means cold (referring to the arctic or the North pole). "Isabella" refers to an isabell color (greyish-yellow). When all of these Latin word parts are pieced together, the name Pyrrharctia isabella is fitting due to the fact that in the larval stage Pyrrharctia isabella has bright orange bands resembling fire, and portrays the isabella color in the adult stage. Additionally, this species is able to survive cold temperatures and is commonly found in arctic regions, thus attributing significance to the "arc" part of it's name.
urbpan: (monarch)
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One of North America's largest and most beautiful butterflies might be on the ropes. The monarch butterfly Danaus plexippus* has two big challenges: it migrates halfway across the continent, and it relies on an agricultural pest plant to survive. Deforestation of its southern wintering spot and industrial control of its host plant are converging to make life tough for an insect recognized as state insect or state butterfly for seven US states.

This individual and several like it that I saw in the Missouri Botanical Garden was among the very few I've seen this year. Citizen science is catching up with anecdotal evidence to prove that the population of monarch butterflies is plummeting. We should all plant milkweed in our yards, and hope that the orange giant is with us for years to come.

*Danaüs = Greek myth a king of Argos who told his fifty daughters, the Danaides, to kill their bridegrooms on their wedding night
Plexippus = In Greek mythology, Plexippus or Plexippos (Πλήξιππος) is a name that refers to:
A son of Thestius, who, together with his brother Toxeus, participated in the hunt for the Calydonian Boar. He was angry that the prize of the boar's hide had been given to a woman (Atalanta) by his nephew Meleager, who then killed him in the ensuing argument.
A son of Phineus and Cleopatra, brother of Pandion. He and his brother were blinded by Phineus at the instigation of their stepmother Idaea.
One of the sons of Aegyptus. He married (and was killed by) Amphicomone, daughter of Danaus.
A son of the Arcadian king Choricus, brother of Enetus and Palaestra.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I found this little one way back in September, it was at my porch light. I sent the photos in to the "Mothing in Massachusetts" facebook group:

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I know two of the people involved, so I'm not too offended. What's going on here I think is that I requested an ID for a super common, super boring, easy to identify moth. What can I say? I'm a beginner when it comes to leps. This cutworm moth Nephelodes minians* is found across the continent. It's larva feeds on grasses, which humans have helpfully planted by the thousands of square miles, everywhere in North America, even places that won't support them without great human effort.

*"Nephelodes" refers to the moth's resemblance to dark clouds. "Minians" has nothing to do with one-eyed twinkies, despite Google's insistence.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I've gotten almost foolhardy with my confidence in my network of friends who are smarter than me. This little tan moth was on my kitchen windowsill, so I photographed it, excited to see a species identification. Don't be silly! @Coolbugs was able to identify it to family Crambidae*, much better than I was able, but still one of 850 possible species in our area. I'm just happy to add the word "Crambid" to my vocabulary.


*Crambidae from type genus Crambus (Fabricius), from Greek meaning "dry, parched." Also, in Greek mythology, the child of Phineus and Cleopatra.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Well this hasn't happened to me in a while. I found a new moth--indoors, of all places--and thought I'd check with the experts. Turns out it's something I should have known about, because it is a household pest. Despite my never have encountered it before, it's a well-known grain feeder called a meal moth Pyralis farinalis*. It's not the creature I call the grain moth (also known as the Indian meal moth, pantry moth, or pasta moth Plodia interpunctella**) which is a much smaller relative. Both species have larvae that feed on milled grain products, often with very disappointing results (in the eyes of the human owners of the grain products). Thanks to coolbugs for making the identification--and by the way, I haven't found any more (yet).

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* Of fire, living in the flour

** Generic name Plodia apparently has no significance ("sans étymologie"), Specific epithet interpunctella is Latin meaning "well divided, pointed."
urbpan: (dandelion)
palthis angulalis photo IMG_0001_zps4zngtxl5.jpg
There are some beautiful sculpted contours on this Dark-spotted palthis Palthis angulalis*. This species is one of two in its genus in North America. The caterpillars feed on a wide variety of trees, shrubs, and other plants.

palthis angulalis photo IMG_0006_zpsyggctagn.jpg

* Nobody seems to know what Palthis means. Angulalis refers to the angular appearance of the animal.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Certain members of the moth night event decided this was a battle scarred female warrior, battered but not beaten. They weren't wrong, as far as I can tell. She has that Geometridae wing posture that I mentioned with the last moth I posted. At this point I can say yes, it's a female and yes, she's a Geometrid. I'll even go so far as to agree with the expert who said she's Besma quercivoraria*, since that looks right to me. Battle-scarred? Perhaps. Something bit the crap out of her left hindwing, and here she is at our moth light, making me wonder what she is--that's a kind of victory.

* I can't for the life of me figure out what "besma" means. I'll throw it out to the entomologists, librarians, and language scholars who are reading this. The rest of it means "she eats oak." Sure, why not?
urbpan: (dandelion)
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As a novice mothwatcher, I've learned a couple things. One is that moths that rest with their wings out wide and flat like this one are usually collected into Geometridae*. That means that their larvae are inchworms, measuring the world with their bodies, from proleg (soft rear appendages) to true leg (chitinous jointed appendages). Bugguide tells me that this lovely moth is in the genus Macaria**.

* Earth-measuring family

** Generic epithet Macaria is from Greek mythology, the daughter of Hercules.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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I asked for an identification for this one on the Mothing in Massachusetts Facebook group, and who should answer, but coolbugs! Her answer was, "It's either yellow-fringed Dolichomia (Dolichomia olinalis*) or the one that looks just like [it]." When I dug a little deeper on that, I realized that she meant that this moth could be the very similar looking moth by the common name clover hayworm. Also, I discovered that Bugguide was calling the "yellow-fringed Dolichomia" by a new scientific name Hypsopygia olinalis**. Coolbugs, an experienced insect identifier who has memorized hundreds of scientific names, replied "blerg." I feel that.

For what it's worth, the subtle characters of the moth's coloring made another commenter suggest that olinalis was the proper identification. Both species are found in our area, but the larva of the hayworm feeds on dried vegetation (makes sense) while the "Dolichomia" larva feeds on oak.

* The light, long one

** High-assed light one
urbpan: (dandelion)
 photo IMG_0012_zpspspe4wgk.jpg

This tiny living jewel is a tortricid* moth. They are known as leaf-rollers, since their larvae do just that, turning the edge of a leaf over themselves as refuge to forage from. Many tortrix moths are orchard pests, notoriously of apple. This individual belongs to tribe Archipini**--the first time I've had an identification resolve into the "tribe" category.

* close to Latin tortilis "twisting"

** from the genus Archips = "chief worm"
urbpan: (dandelion)
Noctua pronuba photo IMG_0026_zps3gr0prhr.jpg
For much of the moth night, this was the largest and most impressive moth at the light. But the moth experts (coolbugs, eumorphadream, and a guy named Kirk) kept looking at it and saying, oh that. Because it was the biggest moth there, every new person who encountered it said hey what's that big one?? And the moth experts would say, oh that. It's a "large yellow underwing" Noctua pronuba.* Why the disappointed reaction? They seemed excited at the prospect of other "underwings" showing up.

This underwing is an introduced invasive pest, an entirely different genus from North American underwings. This one has actually appeared on this journal before--but as a caterpillar. As a larva it is a garden pest called a cutworm--a caterpillar that overwinters, waking in spring to march across the waking earth cutting all the new growth down to nothing. Still it's kind of pretty as a moth.

* Night owl for the bride
urbpan: (dandelion)
Yponomeuta sp photo IMG_0030_zpsvreljbv0.jpg
This pretty little moth perched on the post of the mercury vapor light instead of the sheet. I suppose if it was on the white sheet it would have been hard to see. This moth's white coat gives it the name "ermine moth," though the family name is Yponomeutidae*. This one belongs to the type genus Yponomeuta.

*The word Yponomeutidae comes from the Ancient Greek ὑπό (ypo) meaning under and νομός (nomós) meaning food or dwelling, thus "feeding secretly, or burrow"

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