Dateline: July 25, 2014*
The third annual National Moth Week is winding down. This year it started last Saturday July 19 and runs through this coming Sunday, July 27, 2014. The inaugural celebration was back in 2012 and I highlighted some of my favorite moths at the time in my weekly article.
Moths serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats in adult and larval stages. In addition, the caterpillars host many species of wasps. With their vast numbers (scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species), they are major players in the food chain.
The last week in July has been designated as National Moth week. In my 2013 article, in addition to adult forms, I included pictures of two of the more unique caterpillars. One was of the Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae). That caterpillar looks like a very thin Monarch Butterfly larva.
At that point in time I had never encountered an adult Crimson Moth. They apparently are nocturnal and I’m not up for the shining of lights on sheets in order to attract the swarms of moths that fly at night. I tend to attract more mosquitoes with that method and I can do without them. That isn’t to say that at some point I won’t be out there once I’ve photographed all the daytime members of the Lepidoptera order of Insects. If you see me dressed up in mosquito netting, you’ll know my night moth urge has arrived.
I spent all year trying to see if I could encounter the crimson moth, having seen countless caterpillars on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom (Oenothera simulans). I hoped to spot an adult laying eggs on this tall lanky wildflower that is native to the Southeast. Its range is from North Carolina south to Florida and west to Mississippi.
I was frustrated as all pictures showed me that this was one of the more beautiful moths and I so wanted to see one in the flesh. So, this year I decided to take matters into my own hands and I put one of the caterpillars in a rearing container.
For the most part I am against captive home raising of butterflies and moths in order to try to “save them”. My belief is that a better way to save our insects is to plant native plants in the garden and stop all pesticide use.
I do however, believe it is a good thing to raise specimens of Lepidoptera for educational purposes. Two reasons I can think of would be to determine what species a caterpillar will become or to show children the process of metamorphosis. If you only do it occasionally and release them when they emerge, you aren’t upsetting the natural life cycle and/or food chain.
So, I fed my captive caterpillar friend fresh flowers and leaves daily until it disappeared into the provided dirt and leaf litter in the bottom of the container. While some moths spin their cocoons and hang from branches, this is one of many that pupate on the ground.
I kept the screened container in a natural environment on the patio. I checked daily to be sure that the paper towel I placed in the container was damp. The afternoon rains pretty much splashed enough water onto the screen that my job of providing moisture for this stage of development was easy.
I was rewarded in about 10 days by the arrival of the most beautiful pink and white moth with enchanting big green eyes. The white and yellow headdress is pretty fancy too!
After a brief photo shoot, I released it onto some Bidens alba that is an excellent pollen source. After 15 minutes or so, I ushered it over onto the Beeblossom so it would feel at home.
I’m thrilled I got to see the adult and hopefully I’ll see another some evening when I am outside and the lights are on.
When setting up your beautiful wildlife garden, think beyond the “butterfly” garden and consider the many other pollinators. Determine which native plants will serve as hosts for moths, nectar for bees and flies and you might just get to see a moth that will give any butterfly a run for its money in the beauty department.
*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 25, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.