Readers’ wildlife photos

January 26, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s contribution includes collages of moth photos by reader Aaron Hunt; the theme is “polymorphism”, or variability in appearance among individuals within a species.  The photos were taken on Block Island, off Rhode Island. You’ll have to enlarge the photos by clicking on them (preferably twice in succession with a pause between clicks).  Aaron’s narrative is indented.  Especially note the last species group, which has wing patterns mimicking salticids (jumping spiders).

The theme of this batch of images is identification. Moth identification presents a variety of challenges, not least of which are the very incomplete state of knowledge of many taxa and the enormous species diversity of the order. The more than 13,000 described species of moths found in North America north of Mexico represent less than a tenth of the global described fauna. Perhaps a thousand more Nearctic species, and probably several tens of thousands globally, remain undescribed, In principle, most moths can be identified to species from wing pattern alone, but reliable sight recognition of unfamiliar species at higher taxonomic levels takes an enormous amount of experience. At the species group level, intraspecific variability in markings often visually overwhelms the modest consistent differences between species. Identification of higher taxa is easiest using a combination of structural characters of the head, labial palpi, and antennae in combination with the subtle, basic wing pattern elements that are most resistant to change over evolutionary time scales.

Most of the images shown here are collages showing numerous individual moths to illustrate variation and differences in pattern and color. Dimensions of individual photographs in each of the four large collages range from 500×500 to 900×900 pixels, so each collage is much too large to show up here at full resolution. Each has also been compressed into a smaller jpeg to reduce file sizes. At the end of the text corresponding to each collage [JAC: Pictures are beleow the text] is a link to the image (hosted in my Google drive) at full resolution in its original png format. There, you’ll be able to view the individual moths included in the collages in much greater detail than can be shown on this page.

Macrochilo orciferalis (Noctuoidea: Erebidae: Herminiinae) — This specialist of dune habitats is bivoltine on Block Island, with adults on wing mainly in June and August. Both sexes are highly variable in forewing maculation, with several characters seeming to vary independently and with no sexual dimorphism in markings apparent. (Males, which have bipectinate antennae, are much commoner at lights than females, which have simple antennae.) One photographer on the coast of New Brunswick across from Prince Edward Island reports seeing mostly dark (like those at bottom right and one below top left in my collage) or striped (like four individuals in my collage) moths of this species, whereas I see mostly lighter specimens on Block Island. One wonders what mix of environmental and genetic factors underlie color and pattern variation in this species and what selective forces sustain it. Click here for the collage at full resolution.

Hypsopygia olinalis (Pyralidae: Pyralinae) — This species is quite common on Block Island, where it is univoltine, flying June through early August. (I have seen a handful of fresh specimens in August and September that are either extreme stragglers or overly precocious offspring of the main generation; either way, I imagine any offspring they produce fail to complete development so far out of season. Still, this phenomenon illustrates how species can adapt to changing climate; if Block Island’s climate warms enough in the coming decades, some populations not quite able to complete a second generation each season will become able to do so with a slightly longer growing season.) Adults vary dramatically in coloration from pale greenish yellow to a dark brick red. This variability helps to make the species easy to confuse with a few similar congeners with overlapping ranges in eastern North America. I photographed all the moths in this collage on a single sheet one night last June. Unfortunately, I just now noticed that I missed a duplicate, so I got good photos of only 19 individuals, not 20 — see if you can spot the moth shown twice. Click here for the collage at full resolution.

Phyllocnistis Vitaceae feeders (Gracillariidae: Phyllocnistinae) — At least two or three species form long, narrow leaf mines in plants in the grape family (Vitis and Parthenocissus) in eastern North America. Species boundaries need to be sorted out in this species complex of minute moths. On Block Island, mines in the Virginia creeper around my yard yield at least two generations of moths that regularly come to lights. Adults in the summer generation (large photo) are shining white with faint black and yellow markings in the distal half of the forewing; those in the fall generation (small photos at right) are somewhat to much more strongly and extensively marked. This species complex offers a good example of seasonal dimorphism as well as confounding external similarity of same closely related species.

Acleris (Tortricidae: Tortricinae: Tortricini) — A number of species in this large, mostly Holarctic genus are highly polymorphic. The group has been popular with collectors since the dawn of modern taxonomy, with European lepidopterists naming up to dozens of color forms for some species from the early 19th century to the early 20th century. Very similar color forms often occur in two or more polymorphic species; genitalic dissections finally established species boundaries in the early- to mid-20th century. Block Island is mercifully short on polymorphic Acleris, with only two similar species present. The island’s population of flavivittana exhibits four highly discrete color morphs, two of which closely resemble the two local color morphs of robinsoniana. A non-polymorphic species found on Block Island, inana, very closely resembles one of the local morphs of flavivittana and somewhat less closely the corresponding robinsoniana morph, which happens to be the predominant of the two. At least inana is univoltine, though its flight window overlaps with those of second generation flavivittana and robinsoniana. Another species found on Block Island, maculidorsana, resembles inana. All four of the aforementioned species are pictured in the collage below, and in a sensible arrangement, but I’ve left identifying the specimens as a challenge to the reader. For the answers and the full resolution version of the collage, click here.

Euxoa detersa (Noctuoidea: Noctuidae) — With 182 species currently recognized in North America north of Mexico, Euxoa is one of the most speciose genera on the continent. Euxoa is primarily a genus of arid and semiarid habitats of the northern hemisphere and is nearly absent from tropical and humid subtropical habitats. Nearly all New World Euxoa are found in the western US and Canada, where some species are among the most abundant medium-large moths. About 30 occur in eastern Canada, but most of them are species of boreal forests found across the continent. Only five species are found in eastern deciduous forests, and only three aridland species occur on the Atlantic Seaboard; the genus is entirely absent from most of the Southeast US. Despite being very well studied, Euxoa presents a daunting identification challenge in western North America. Many species are highly variable in pattern and color, and some closely related species covary in maculation across habitat gradients. Characters of wing maculation recur across and vary greatly within phylogenetic species groups, making subgeneric taxonomy of little use in narrowing down identification possibilities using only wing markings. Just a few Euxoa species occur on Block Island, and telling them apart is straightforward. However, the island’s population of Euxoa detersa, which flies in abundance in dune habitats throughout September, provides a striking example of the remarkable variability so many Euxoa species exhibit. The image shown here depicts 49 individuals of this species from Block Island and is cropped for size from a larger collage of 121 individuals. Click here for the uncropped version at full resolution.

Tebenna sp. (Choreutidae), Eoparargyractis plevie (Crambidae: Acentropinae), Chalcoela iphitalis (Crambidae: Glaphyriinae), and Eucosma annetteana (Tortricidae: Olethreutinae: Eucosmini) — These species are all mimics of jumping spiders (Salticidae). Jumping spiders are highly visual ambush hunters and among the top predation threats to small moths. Salticid mimicry has evolved a few dozen times in more than a dozen moth families globally, producing very strong convergence in wing maculation in many completely unrelated groups of moths. It has evolved in other insect orders as well, including numerous times in planthoppers (Hemiptera: Fulgoroidea). Salticid-mimicking moth lineages are easily mistaken for each other and often are very different from their closest relatives in superficial appearance. Salticid mimicry in Lepidoptera is little-studied, but the few species studied have been found to produce aggressive displays in jumping spiders, resulting in markedly lowered rates of predation success.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 11, 2023 • 8:15 am

Today’s reader introduces himself and his pictures below. Semyon’s words are indented, and you can click the photos to enlarge them. I believe this is the first Russian contributor we’ve had. Welcome!

My name is Semyon Morozov. I’m sending you my wildlife photos.

These photos were taken in August 2016 in my small homeland, Kurgan Oblast (Russia, the south of the West Siberian Plain). Photo hunting was successful at that time!

Here’s a female wasp spider (Argiope bruennichi). Look at these white things on her web: they are called stabilimenta. Their function is not completely clear. Scientists assumed that these structures stabilized the web, but then other explanations appeared, such as protection from predators or attracting prey.

Eurydema ventralis is a shield bug that feeds on crucifers and some other plants. The bug sits on a leaf of Parthenocissus that has been cut by a leafcutter bee (Megachile sp.).

The yellow-winged darter (Sympetrum flaveolum) is one of the most common dragonflies in this area.

This is an odd caterpillar of the grey dagger (Acronicta psi). It was ready to pupate, so I took it home for observation.

But instead, a fat larva of some parasitoid wasp crawled out of the caterpillar! Then the larva pupated, and after 16 days an imago appeared from the pupa.

And here’s the Roesel’s bush-cricket (Roeseliana roeselii). This individual has a saber-like ovipositor at the end of the abdomen, which indicates that it’s a female.

All these arthropods were dwellers of the garden. Now let’s go beyond it. What are these cupcake-like things on the rotten stump? These are the fruiting bodies (aethalia) of the slime mold (Fuligo septica, I guess). These are not fungi but organisms, the life cycle of which includes both a single-celled amoeba-like stage and a macroscopic one.

In the meadow, I found a wasp spider again. This female caught another predator, a dragonfly (it’s most likely the yellow-winged darter).

There was a pond nearby, next to which I met a caterpillar of the drinker moth (Euthrix potatoria). It’s said that the insect was so named because of the caterpillars’ passion for dew.

I found another caterpillar on the pond shore. It was a larva of the reed dagger (Symira albovenosa = Acronicta albovenosa), a moth that likes reed beds.

And finally, here are exuviae of some dragonfly. These are the remains of an exoskeleton that a larva left after molting.

Readers’ wildlife photos

January 9, 2023 • 8:30 am

Today sees the return of Athayde Tonhasca Júnior with another biology-related photo story. His narrative is indented, and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them:

Blood, toil, tears and sweat

The Paraguayan War (1864-1870), waged by Paraguay against Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, has a special place in mankind’s history of cruelty, carnage and devastation. Among the many horrors witnessed by combatants and observers, the episode described by Lieutenant Alfredo d’Escragnolle Taunay is particularly odd and gruesome:

“Another plague persecuted them [horses, mules and asses] relentlessly, and this singular one had disastrous effects. It came from some extremely beautiful butterflies, the so-called 88, as they appear to have that number written on the outside of their brindled wings with whimsical black-and-white drawings. However, one cannot imagine the actions of those gentle Lepidoptera, in appearance quite innocent, but in fact extremely pernicious, in all that part of Paraguay. They would huddle together in the corners of the eyes and in the nostrils of the animals, seeking any bodily moisture and soon causing such irritation at the spots where they stubbornly landed, and it did not take long to produce abundant discharge, at first of mucous and soon after copious pus! A horror! What despair from our unfortunate mounts struggling to defend themselves from the immense, flagellating legions of tiny enemies, ever more numerous and ferocious! What continuous and tiresome weaving! Unable to graze, they grew thin under our eyes and soon were completely blinded! Once on the ground, surrounded by thousands of assailants, each eye socket became a hideous and disgusting source of purulent rivers, which attracted even more the terrible butterflies. We would have surely lost all our beasts of burden and mounts, if adequate measures had not been taken, by providing them with a headband of maize straw cut into fine threads, which served as a shield to the eyes without obstructing their view.” (Taunay, 1874. Recordações de guerra e de viagem).

Caught in the maelstrom: during the Paraguayan war, horses would succumb to wounds, hunger, exhaustion, cold, and butterflies. Art by Pedro Américo (1843-1905), Wikimedia Commons:

This butterfly worthy of a Stephen King novel is the Cramer’s eighty-eight (Diaethria candrena), which ranges from eastern Paraguay to southwestern Brazil, northern Argentina, and Uruguay. Adults are often seen in orchards as they feed on rotting fruit. They also concentrate at the edge of ponds and puddles, on spots covered by ash after fires, and in bare soil soaked with livestock urine. This gathering behaviour was known by Tupi-Guarani speakers as panapaná, ‘a gang of butterflies’. For Anglophones, these butterflies are ‘mud-puddling’.

A Cramer’s eighty-eight: ventral and dorsal view © Fernanda Hisi and Geoff Gallice, respectively. Wikimedia Commons:

Butterflies mud-puddle supposedly – data are scarce – to collect salts, especially sodium. This chemical element is one of the most abundant in the Earth’s crust but occurs in minute quantities in plants because they don’t need much of it. That’s a problem for plant feeders, who require sodium in concentrations 100 to 1,000 higher than what they get in their food. Herbivores rely on their metabolism to accumulate sodium, and also on any alternative sources such as mineral licks, which are natural deposits of salts and other minerals: they are found in places such as exposed, muddy areas high in clay and organic matter. Faeces and dead bodies will do as well.

A herd of Indian bison (“gaur”: Bos gaurus) in a salt lick, and butterflies mud-puddling © Amog, and Vinayaraj, respectively. Wikimedia Commons:

Most mud-puddling butterflies are males, so researchers have suggested – again, data are lacking – that nuptial gifts are behind this behaviour. The sodium gathered by males would be passed to females during copulation and then onto the offspring, helping them cope with a sodium-poor diet. But as females of some species mud-puddle as well, there must be more to the story.

Butterflies and other insects visit mineral licks to get their sodium fix, but these deposits may not be enough for their needs. The bodily secretion of some animals – sweat – is an attractive alternative for a bold insect willing to risk being squashed by an angry host in exchange for a lick of salt. Several species in the second largest family of bees, the Halictidae, are known as sweat bees because they use perspiring people as their salt licks. These bees are harmless, but can be quite annoying with their persistent hovering and tickling.

Besides sweat, tears are an excellent source of salts, a fact enthusiastically exploited by the Cramer’s eighty-eight in Paraguay—to the chagrin of poor horses and their minders. And a surprisingly large number of butterflies, bees, flies and other insects drink tears. In addition to horses, these insects take their salty beverage from cattle, sheep, pigs, water buffaloes, antelopes and elephants; birds, crocodiles and turtles are also suitable. In Burma, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand (and probably other countries too), human beings are also involuntary tear donors to at least six species of moths. Besides the ick factor, tear-seeking insects are to be avoided because of the risk of transmission of eye diseases such as the trachoma virus and ‘pink-eye’ (conjunctivitis) in human beings (Bänziger & Büttiker, 1969).

A Lobocraspis griseifusa moth sucking tears © Bänziger & Büttiker, 1969:

As lachryphagy – from the Latin lacrima (tear) and the Greek phagos (eating, feeding) – is fairly common, Bänziger et al., 1992 proposed that there’s more to it than just sodium taking. Insects may be after amino acids and proteins, which occur in tears in fairly high concentrations. The researchers noted that tear-dinking bees rarely visit flowers or carry pollen, which suggest they may be getting all or most protein they need to raise their young from tears.

Alas, sweat and tears may not satisfy the mineral/protein needs of some insects.

Many moths and butterflies feed on extra-floral nectar, sap, or decaying fruit as does the Cramer’s eighty-eight. But some moths in the subfamily Calpinae (family Erebidae) don’t have to sit around waiting for a fruit to break open: they use their stout proboscis, which is armed with hooks and barbs, to pierce the skin of a fruit to feed on its flesh and juices. Some species in the genus Calyptra in Southeast Asia found another use for their tough proboscis: to feed on the fluids exuded by cuts, sores, scratches, scabs, and other open wounds of animals.

Distal region of the proboscis of Gonodonta bidens, a fruit-piercing moth. Lgl are legulae (rasping spines), and th are tearing hooks © Zenker et al., 2010. Journal of Insect Science 11:42 insectscience.org.

It takes a small step to go from exploring a host’s skin for an open wound to piercing it to get access to the richest bodily fluid of all – blood. Some Calyptra species have developed the ability to puncture the skin of cattle, pigs, mules, deer, antelopes, water buffaloes, elephants and rhinoceros. If these moths can pierce rhinoceros skin, they would have no difficulties with a hairless, thin-skinned primate: at least five Calyptra moths are known to feed on humans. Predictably, they are known as vampire moths.

If you want to place blood-sipping moths in the list of bizarre creatures from faraway tropical countries, think again. The vampire moth Calyptra thalictri, originally from Asia and Eastern Russia, has slowly expanded its range to northern Europe, being observed in Finland and Sweden. Watch C. thalictri having a vampirism moment, but nobody should lose sleep over it: human blood feeding by moths is harmless and extremely rare. The diet of Calyptra species comprises mostly soft-skin fruits (raspberry is a favourite), which they puncture to reach the sugar-rich juices.

Calyptra thalictri © Ilia Ustyantsev, Wikimedia Commons:

Approximately 14,000 insect species are hematophagous, that is, they feed on animal blood. Most of them are obligatorily hematophagous: they need blood as a source of nutrients and cannot survive on any other food. Some butterflies and moths, on the other hand, are facultative hematophages: blood is not vital for them, but increases their chances of survival. In the case of vampire moths, only males feed on blood. So just like for mud-puddling butterflies, male moths apparently are after sodium as a nuptial gift, which they would pass to females during mating.

An obligatory hematophagous specimen. From Archive of Dracula (1931), Wikimedia Commons:

The sodium-gathering hypothesis suggests that mud-puddling, sweat-licking, tear-drinking and blood-sucking are related behaviours. It is also notable that one morphological adaptation, i.e., a sturdy and barbed proboscis, allowed some moths to evolve from nectar-sipping to fruit- and skin-stabbing. Calpinae moths offer another example of insects’ spectacular capacity to adapt and make use of whatever nature has to offer.

Incidentally, in case you are pondering whether lieutenant Taunay – later a Viscount – exaggerated or made up his butterfly story (porkies are not unheard of in war memoirs), a similar albeit less dramatic episode was witnessed about half a century later in the vicinity of Iguazu Falls, not too far from the Paraguayan killing fields. ‘Volunteer’ horses had their eyes mobbed at night by no less than eleven species of moths (Shannon, 1928. Science 68: 461-462).

So, are equines at risk from Lepidoptera attacks in central South America? They are not. All the countries involved have changed beyond recognition since the war: much of their natural habitats have been converted to soybean fields, pasture and logging wasteland. Numbers of butterflies, moths and just about any other wild animal have plunged, some to the point of near extinction. In these inhospitable environments, the Cramer’s eighty-eight could never reach the Biblical numbers of the past, to the relief of local livestock. You may think of it as silver lining of sorts.

An eighty-eight butterfly, no longer pestering horses. In the background, the Iguazu Falls © Leoadec, Wikimedia Commons:

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 28, 2022 • 8:15 am

Ceiling Cat answered my prayers, prompting two readers to send in photos. But the Divine Moggy says “MOAR PHOTOS PLZ!”

Today’s batch comes from reader Aaron Hunt, who has considerable moth cred. His notes are indented below, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them:

So far, nearly all my observation of live moths has been in my survey of the moths of Block Island, RI, which is one of the most detailed and complete surveys of a local moth fauna anywhere in the world. I have published my data on a website, blockislandmoths.org, and I’ll gradually add to the site my findings and comments on the identification, systematics, and ecology of North American moths. Examples so far include a discussion of the systematics of Derrima, an explanation of sight identification of several similar white tiger moths, and a summary of the distributions of specialists of Baccharis in eastern North America. I curate moth photographs on BugGuide and am an editor at Moth Photographers Group, which hosts and updates the checklist of described moths in North America north of Mexico and is a valuable reference used by the region’s moth specialists. I’m currently writing my masters thesis on urban moth community composition using data I gathered trapping in the Boston area.

Spilosoma latipennis (Noctuoidea: Erebidae: Arctiinae) — This immaculate white species can easily be confused with the all-white forms of a couple close relatives until you get a look at the striking red to pinkish color on the femora of its forelegs, which are yellow in related species. As in a majority of moth species, males are commoner than females at lights. The males most often arrive at lights very late at night, soon before first light.

Campaea perlata (Geometridae) — This off-white moth is common and ubiquitous in the Northeast US, where two generations occur each year. The male pictured here had eclosed from its pupa around dusk, less than an hour earlier, and is hanging from a blade of grass with its wings fully expanded but not quite dry yet.

Apantesis nais (Noctuoidea: Erebidae: Arctiinae) — Like most tiger moths, this species sports aposematic coloration warning predators of its toxicity gained as a larva from sequestering pyrrolizidine alkaloids from food plants. I managed to get a shot of this individual with its wings spread as it fluttered across the ground.

Bucculatrix packardella (Bucculatricidae) — This species belongs to a diverse group of very small moths, most with wingspans of less than a centimeter. Larvae in this group are leaf-miners, which develop within leaves, hollowing out portions of them without consuming the upper and lower leaf epidermis layers. In general, leaf miners are host specialists; this species feeds on oaks.

Apamea inebriata (Noctuoidea: Noctuidae) — This species is restricted to coastal habitats in the Northeast and is extremely similar to the more widespread A. verbascoides. Like its congeners, it likely feeds on grasses as a caterpillar. I chilled this individual to try out some detail shots, and it helpfully exercised its proboscis as it warmed up.

Pyralis farinalis (Pyralidae: Pyralinae) — A cosmopolitan pest of stored grains. This individual managed to land on one or two strands of silk at the edge of a spider web and so looks as if it is floating in this odd photo.

Cenopis reticulatana (Tortricidae: Tortricinae: Sparganothini) — Especially common in the Northeast and Midwest, this species occurs throughout eastern North America. As in most species of Sparganothini, males and females differ in the proportions of their forewings.

Gnorimoschema salinaris (Gelechioidea: Gelechiidae) — The larva of this species forms a stem gall in certain species of goldenrod (Solidago). Adults are fairly common on Block Island in September in coastal habitats where seaside goldenrod occurs. This species is part of a complex of more than a dozen very similar species, all of which induce galls in asters.

Phalaenophana pyramusalis (Noctuoidea: Erebidae: Herminiinae) — Not all nocturnal moths readily come to lights; this species is only weakly drawn to them. Adults are most easily found with a flashlight to illuminate them as they fly a few feet above the ground at night.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 24, 2022 • 8:15 am

We have a few odds and ends today in the runup to the Big Holiday.  Click the pictures to enlarge them; readers’ captions are indented.

First, some ducks from Steve Barnes.

These are a handful of photos taken around Bellingham and Birch Bay, Washington, during my brief time with a Sony DSLR some years ago.  I presume these are mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), and similarly presume confirmation or correction will be near-reflexive on this site.

From Bill Robertson:

Eastern Gray Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) will go to great lengths to subvert squirrel-proof bird feeders. This individual jumped about 3 feet (≈ 1 m.) from another feeder with peppered seed mix to get to this one. It was snowing the first day, and then the next day was quite pleasant, and the noshing was apparently quite agreeable.

The next night I surprised a raccoon reconnoitering the possibilities, so now I bring this one in overnight.

The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is not particularly sharp–I fear it may not meet your accustomed standards–but he apparently feels the same way I do about the snow.

Bill also sent two photos of Turkey vultures: (Cathartes aura)

I use a Sony a7RIV, with a Sony 200-600mm zoom, and for these a 1.4x teleconverter as well.

. . . and from Reese Vaughan:

Gulf Fritillary, Agraulis vanilla, in the remains of my Passion flower vine.

Readers’ wildlife photos

December 8, 2022 • 8:15 am

Today we have some lovely moths (and one other insect) from Tony Eales of Queensland. Tony’s captions are indented, and you can enlarge his photos by clicking on them.

Moffs

I’ve had a few cool finds of the lepidopteran variety of late.

I found a strange pupation case hanging from a leaf. When I put it up on the internet,  a number of people spoke up, saying that they too had found these structures—and there’s been a lot of discussion about what they were.

The consensus was that they were like case moths but not exactly and everyone was hoping to get one to enclose and see the adult. Well, the other day one that I had collected did just that, solving the mystery. It’s a strange moth called Piestoceros conjunctella.

Although as some experts pointed out, there are probably undescribed species that are all currently being lumped under that name. Looking through older resources, there was some debate about whether it was a moth or a caddisfly but the presence of wing scales (which caddisflies do not have) solved that. It’s currently listed in most places as being in the case moth family Psychidae but has been awkwardly shuffled from family to family in the past. The latest research using genetics places it as kin to the genus Heliocosma, but in turn the family relationships of this genus are equally unclear. Anyway it was nice to get an answer to one mystery.
 
Another nice find was my first Lycid mimicking moth Snellenia lineata. I’m a little bit obsessed with the lycid mimicry complex, having photographed many other beetles that mimic these distasteful beasts. This is my first moth, and now I’m on the lookout for the lycid mimicking fly:

This is one of the beetle models that the moth is mimicking.

Another trick of moths that I like is camouflage like this Eucyclodes sp. caterpillar looking like a lichen-covered twig:

And this well camouflaged geometrid moth caterpillar from the family Ennominae:

The adult moths in this family are no less well camouflaged:

But some caterpillars eschew the camouflage for aposematic colouration like this Antithemerastis acrobela moth that feeds on the plant Trema tomentosa known as Poison Peach:

Another moth I really like to find is members of the genus Alucita. They are unusual in not having any membrane between the veins of their wings so they are more like a fan of feathers than usual insect wings.

This one is Alucita phricodes:

. . . and this tiny one is Alucita pygmaea:

Reveal: “Spot the critter”

December 4, 2022 • 12:00 pm

Did you spot the animal hiding on a tree in today’s earlier post? If not, here’s the reveal. It’s a moth, I believe, but I don’t know the species. (I don’t think it’s the evolutionarily famous Biston betularia). Readers who know should weigh in.

A closeup:

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 10, 2022 • 8:15 am

I’m telling you, folks, that we’re running out of photos.  It is you, the readers, who make this possible, so please step up if you can and send me GOOD wildlife pictures. Thank you.

We have two contributors today. The first is Keira McKenzie from Australia, who has a new kitten, Baba Yaga. All captions and IDs are indented, and click on the photos to enlarge them.

it’s a little early for wildflower hunting, and Baba Yaga, the pretty little kitty, is still camera (& many other things) shy, so I thought I’d send you some trees.

But – a warning: some trees I know, some I don’t. All are beautiful which is what guides my camera.

The first two are Banksia (the tree in front) & have included the black & white as it really brings out the delicacy. This was taken at Warwick Open Space, a small sliced of ‘curated’ urban bush in the northern suburbs of Perth.

These two photos 6 & 6a show a tree I don’t know (nor do I know who to ask – it’ll be a eucalypt of some description) & again I’ve included the black & white. I just love the shape and the lean of this tree.

And from Paul Doerder:

The only theme to these photos is that when I first saw the subject, it had an intriguing pattern. The first three are scans of slides, the fourth is digital.

This lichen “goat” haunted my campsite in the Uinta Mountains of Utah, 1990:

A “tyrannosaurus” walking up a hill in one of the side canyons (its name forgotten) of the Escalante River of Utah, 1996. The tree is probably a juniper and appeared to have been burned. I’ve wondered whether the tree was placed in that position by other hikers.

Distorted grooves of a melted vinyl record, Harris Wash, Escalante River valley, 2002. This photograph actually hows about 6 feet of a formation that was about twice as high. I presume this was once a (Jurassic?) sand dune.

A “kitten” pattern on a White Furcula moth, 2022. Also known as the White Kitten Moth (Furcula borealis), this calico cat is the clearest example I’ve seen since I started mothing.

Readers’ wildlife photos

September 5, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have a batch of lovely moth photos by reader Mary Rasmussen. Her notes and IDs are indented (photography specs at bottom), and you can enlarge the photos by clicking on them.

After seeing Paul Doerder’s great moth pictures, I was inspired to put together a group of images that I took at night at our cabin in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan during and around National Moth Week.  Our cabin is on the shore of Lake Michigan with a small lawn surrounded by cedar swamp. I used a 6 foot tall by 3 foot wide sheet of 1/4 inch plywood to which I taped a 6 foot length from a roll of soft white photo background paper. The plywood was propped against the front screen door and a porch light above the door and a 2-foot UV fluorescent light attached to the top of the plywood provided the light that attracted the moths.

Some nights the entire porch was covered in moths. I had to tuck my pants into my socks and wear long sleeves to keep moths from climbing up my arms and legs. I wanted to see what was flying around here at night. Moth photography showed me creatures more spectacular than I could imagine.

Haploa Moth:

Crocus Geometer Moth (Xanthotype spp.):

Wavy-lined Emerald Moth (Synchlora aerata albolineata):

Arched Hooktip Moth (Drepana arcuata)

Harris’s Three-spot Moth (Harrisimemna trisignata):

Zigzag Furcula Moth (Furcula scolopendrina):

Lettered Habrosyne Moth (Habrosyne scripta):

Once-married Underwing Moth (Catocala unijuga):

Yellow-necked Caterpillar Moth (Datana ministra):

Hologram Moth (Diachrysia balluca):

Side view of Hologram Moth, green and gold metallic colors change with your angle of view:

Camera Setup for Mothing:

I use a Nikon D500 camera with Nikon VR 105mm f/2.8G macro lens. For smaller subjects I add a Raynox DCR-150 snap-on macro lens. For greater depth of field, some images comprise multiple hand-held shots put together in Zerene Stacker software.  I’m currently using a folding flash diffuser from AK Diffuser (akdiffuser.com) which has many thoughtful features. It folds flat for storage, has a built-in LED modeling light for help focusing on subjects at night, and a holder for my Raynox snap-on lens. An internet search will show cheaper home made diffuser options—I used to use paper towels and a clear file folder, but the AK Diffuser is now my favorite for mothing.

Note: these were all live specimens that flew off after turning the lights off.

Shout-out to Alex Wild and the folks at Bugshot.net where I first learned insect photography.

Readers’ wildlife photos

August 26, 2022 • 8:00 am

Today we have a lovely batch of moth photos from reader Paul Doerder, whose notes and IDs are indented. Click on the photos to enlarge them.

From Paul:

In response to your request for more contributions, here are photos taken during National Moth Week at the end of July

After being introduced to it by a former student, mothing has become a favorite night-time activity. Our cabin is surrounded by woods, a weedy lawn (no chemicals) and many tangled banks, making it ideal for wildlife. 

Although numbers of individuals are small, at each mothing session I regularly see several dozen species, ranging from the tiny micromoths to the giant silkworms, from the drab to the colorful. Though I needed no incentive, for these photos I used the occasion of National Moth Week (July 23-31) to set up my white cotton mothing sheet, mercury vapor lamps and UV LEDs on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Both nights were calm, warm and moonless—perfect mothing conditions, and well over 50 species were sighted. A special treat was two species of royal silkworms and six species of sphinx moths. Three species were first sightings (the Regal Moth, the Ash Sphinx, and the Azalea Sphinx) and on both nights there were six individuals of the Imperial Moth.

The royals were also exciting because they are listed as “uncommon” in the field guide and because neither they nor their silkworm relatives were seen in mothing sessions earlier this year. Sightings of the royals were fun also because they are noisy, clumsy fliers. I could hear them approaching without my hearing aids, and they often flopped on the ground before making it to the sheet. So much for pristine specimens!

A note on photography. I take photos primarily for species identification (very useful for the small moths) and usually the moths are resting on the sheet, often for hours after landing. Sometimes, however, they are on the ground, a nearby tree, or the cabin wall. On some occasions, like this one, just before sunrise and before shaking moths from the sheet to make them less available for predators, I transfer them to the nearby Alaskan Cypress (Callitropsis nootkatensis) to have a more pleasing background. For sense of scale, the Imperial and Regal moths had wingspans of 4-5 inches, over twice the size of the sphinxes. 

Ash Sphinx, Manduca jasminearum (Guérin, 1831):

Azalea Sphinx, Darapsa choerilus (pholus) (Cramer, 1780):

Blinded Sphinx, Paonias excaecata (J.E. Smith, 1797):

Northern Pine Sphinx, Lapara bombycoides (Walker, 1856):

Small-eyed Sphinx, Paonias myops (J.E. Smith, 1797):

Virginia Creeper Sphinx, Darapsa myron (Cramer, 1780):

Imperial Moth, Eacles imperialis (Drury, 1773). Wingspan 4-5 inches:

Regal Moth aka Royal Walnut Moth, Citheronia regalis (Fabricius, 1793). Head to wingtip about 4 inches: