Tag Archives: Moth

Just in Time for National Moth Week 2014

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.

Positioning the rearing container next to a nectar source for release

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 pretty Clouded Crimson Moth climbs aboard

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.
Caterpillar on Southern Beeblossom

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.

seems more interested in the petals than the nectar part
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.

preparing for release
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.

Doesn’t mind sharing with the other pollinators

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!

Just look at those BIG green eyes

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.
This is a stem of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host. The coloring matches so will be a great hiding place

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.
hanging out a new growth of Southern Beeblossom, the larval host

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.
Another view on the new growth of its larval host

*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.

National Moth Week

Dateline: July 27, 2012*

Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) is quite beautiful

It’s about time. This week we celebrate the First National Moth Week (July 23-29, 2012). Butterflies always get the Lepidoptera glory with their flashy colorful dazzle, but there are many more moth species than butterflies. A good many are nocturnal, there also are the diurnal, and some of them can give your basic butterfly a run for their money in terms of being colorful.

Many different angles of a looper moth. You can see how feathery the antenna of moths can be

Moths have feathery antenna, which is one of the ways they can be distinguished from the butterfly, which have clubbed antenna.

Coffee- Loving Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) works on pollination duties

Moths help with pollination, serve as food for reptiles, birds and bats so they certainly have their place in a biodiverse food chain and are deserving of their own special week to bring their importance in a wildlife garden to the forefront.

Ornate markings make some moths special

Take some time and turn on an outdoor light and explore our nighttime flying creatures. Or walk around the garden with an eye to the shrubs and ground and you might find some of the more beautiful day moths. They are cagey though. Moths tend to land upside down, under the leaves, making for a challenging photo op. Given the shear numbers of species, it can often be quite a challenge to identify them as well.

Turn on a light and you might attract some pretty beautiful noctural moths such as this IO Moth

Raising a silk moth can be quite an educational experience, as our own Ellen Sousa has documented. Our own Ursula Vernon has been privy to being in the presence of Imperial royalty. These are two of the more beautiful species.

Some moths oddly, don’t look like moths, such as this Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis)

So, pick a moth, any moth, and determine what its host plant might be. Just like butterflies, moths are generally quite specific about what the caterpillars will eat. Then provide the host plant and sit back and enjoy another of our wonderful winged creatures.  You’ll see the light!

Small Frosted Wave Moth (Scopula lautaria)

*This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 27, 2012 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

Tasty Morsels and their Native Plants

This is an update to a tale originally published by Loret T. Setters on September 13, 2011 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments and find working links to other stories.

You need to think beyond Milkweed and the Monarch caterpillars to for a more beneficially rounded biodiverse native plant garden
You need to think beyond Milkweed and the Monarch caterpillars  for a more beneficially rounded biodiverse native plant garden

Do you have native plants as larval hosts? What you say? Of course…Look, there is my Partridge Pea (Chamaecrista fasciculata) ready for the Sulphur Butterflies and over there…Purple Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata) just waiting for the Gulf Fritillaries to lay their eggs. Then there is the Water Cowbane (Tiedemannia filiformis) standing tall so the Black Swallowtail butterflies can find them and, of course, plenty of Milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) to save the Monarch. I could go on, but you get the idea.

This pretty little Cypress Looper Moth (Iridopsis pergracilis) relies on Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) as a larval host
This pretty little Cypress Looper Moth (Iridopsis pergracilis) relies on Bald Cypress (Taxodium distichum) as a larval host

This will be more of a pictorial about the unsung heroes of the garden. Moth Caterpillars! Butterflies are lovely dotting the landscape with color as they flutter about, but they aren’t the only ones who start out as caterpillars. Moth caterpillars play a big part in feeding birds and reptiles. Some of the caterpillars tend to be quite showy. Many are generalists using several different larval host plants. I’m lucky because this crew mostly chooses shrubs or wildflowers which don’t show the damage where they feed. Too often moth caterpillars are removed or sprayed with pesticides because they don’t turn into gorgeous winged beauties (although the Polyphemus Moth would give any butterfly a run for the money). Since I let them be, I now have a healthy contingent of the upper level members of the food chain to keep them in check. Although this list is hardly exhaustive, here are some of the plants on my property and the moth caterpillars they support:

Banded Sphinx Moth Caterpillar – Eumorpha fasciatus uses Winged Primrosewillow (Ludwigia alata):
sphinxmothcaterpillarAug2013A

Prominent caterpillar – Schizura unicornis shown on Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera):
schizura102009B

IO Moth stinging caterpillars – Automeris io munching Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis) Note that the majority were gone the next day and a fat anole was lounging on the truck of the tree.
IOmothcaterpillarsAug2014

Emerald Moth – Synchlora spp. decorates itself as it dines on Spanish Needles (Bidens Alba) :
emeraldmothcaterpillarAug2013

Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) also feeds the Polyphemus Moth – Antheraea polyphemus
polyphemuscat110810

Dog Fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium) or Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) provides this Salt Marsh caterpillar –Estigmene acrea with plenty of sustenance:
saltmarshcatApril2011

Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) popular with the Southern flannel moth caterpillar – Megalopyge opercularis:
aspcat101209

Shyleaf (Aeschynomene americana), and other members of the pea, spurge and grass families provides food for the Pale-edged Selenisa Moth Caterpillar (Selenisa sueroides):SelenisaCaterpillarShyleafOct2013

Southern Beeblossom (Gaura angustifolia) feeds the Clouded Crimson Moth Caterpillar (Schinia gaurae)
crimsonmothcaterpillarGauraMay2013A

Owlet Moth (Noctuidae) caterpillar (species unknown) rests on Spanish Needles (Bidens Alba) 
owletcaterpillar081011A

Rabbitbells (Crotalaria rotundifolia) seed pods feed the Bella Moth – Utetheisa ornatrix
bellamothcaterpillarJan2014POD

BALD-CYPRESS TREE (Taxodium distichum) hosts the chunky and colorful Baldcypress Sphinx Moth Caterpillar (Isoparce cupressi) :baldcypresssphinxCaterpillarOct2013A

And the ever popular Wax Myrtle (Myrica cerifera) also feeds this Slug Caterpillar (species unknown):
slugcat122209A

So, if you want to feed the birds and encourage frogs, toads and lizards, add some of these lovely Florida Native Plants to your garden (provided they are native and appropriate to your location). They’ll attract the insects that feed the next in line critters.