Tag Archives: moths

National Moth Week 2015: Central Florida

Dateline: July 24, 2015*

Well, another year has passed and we are in the midst of National Moth Week. It started back in 2012 and I have reported on moths I find at my place each year (2012, 2013, 2014). In keeping with that tradition, I am reporting this year on some different moths that have made an appearance at my place for 2014/2015. While the list is not all-inclusive it will give you some idea of what I find and, if I know, what plants attract them to my garden. There are a great many of repeat visitors from years past and several that I haven’t had time and/or success in identifying.

Clouded Crimson Moth on its larval host, Southern Beeblossom

In 2014 I reported on my first encounter with an adult Clouded Crimson Moth (Schinia gaurae). The larval host has had a recent scientific name change to Oenothera simulans from Gaura angustifolia from which the butterfly species appears to have been named. Southern Beeblossom is still the common name. I just wonder if the poor butterfly is going to need identity therapy. 😉

Palm Leaf Skeletonizer

Another new-to-me adult was the Palm Leaf Skeletonizer (Homaledra sabalella). Prior to this year I had only encountered the damage of the larvae to my Cabbage Palmetto (Sabal palmetto). Since I only have one of these trees I do clip off the severely affected fronds since it is a young tree and I don’t want it to meet its demise. I have been doing a little research on the moth and Chalcid Wasps are indicated as potential predators. I have seen adult Conura sp. wasps at my place and Horismenus ignotus is reported as “likely the primary parasite of the larva” (source: Proceedings of the Entomological Society of Washington pg. 76-7) and a Tachinid fly may be a parasite of the larva. I’m on the lookout now for these natural predators with my fingers crossed.

A second Palm Skelentonizer shows the antenna
Palm Leaf Skeletonizer can do extensive damage to the fronds of cabbage palms

This week I spotted a Red-waisted Florella Moth (Syngamia florella) shown at the start of this article. A brightly colored and diurnal (day flying) moth that is another personal favorite. According to HOSTS database, larval hosts are in the Rubiaceae family of plants, including Spermacoce brachysepala and S. tetraquetra. While I don’t have those specific species at my place, I do have two similar buttonweed species in that genus.

As with many moths, getting a photo of the Florella Moth was somewhat tricky. Many moth species are inclined to land on the underside of plant leaves and are quick to fly when the big bad photographer stoops down to get a shot. I lucked out that after a three minute chase, it landed on the leaf of some Bidens alba which was somewhat taller so I didn’t have to bend so far.

Mournful Sphinx on Bidens alba

Mournful Sphinx Moth (Enyo lugubris) larvae feed on plants in the grape family (Vitaceae) including Vitus, Ampelopsis, and Cissus species. Still haven’t found a caterpillar for this species, but I see where HOSTS database also includes Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) as a potential host, so I’ll have to start paying close attention since that native vine is also growing at my place.

Diaphania Moth

Diaphania Moth (Diaphania modialis) Host: Creeping Cucumber (Melothria pendula). This poor preyed-upon specimen is still the only one I have encountered.

Puss Moth Caterpillar DON’T TOUCH!

Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis) a.k.a. Puss or Asp caterpillar moth is polyphagous (eating many different species of plants) including oak, citrus, and at my place: wax myrtle or the redbud that is shown in the picture. The caterpillars of this species contain toxic spines so I remove them from the areas of the yard that the dogs have access to in order to prevent potential envenomation. I tried to raise one in a breeding container and it moved to cocoon stage, but never emerged and the cocoon began to disintegrate. Perhaps I’ll see an adult some time in the future.


Groundsel Plume Moth (Hellinsia balanotes) a.k.a. Baccharis Borer Plume Moth uses Groundsel Bush a.k.a. Saltbush (Baccharis halimifolia) as the host. I’ve plenty of larval hosts for these babies.

Samea sp. Nectaring on Bidens Alba

This Samea sp. may be a Salvinia Stem-borer (S. multiplicalis) or Assembly Moth (S. ecclesialis). Both are found in my locality and are difficult to distinguish.

common name of the caterpillars is grapeleaf roller

A Crambid Snout Moth (Desmia sp.) is another hard to identify to species. It may be D. funeralis or D. maculalis which use the same species of hosts as the above mentioned Mournful Sphinx. D. deploralis is another possibility since I have Wild Coffee (Psychotria nervosa), a Florida Native Plant which was documented as a host via a bugguide.net entry.

Coffee anyone?

Since I mentioned Wild Coffee, always happy to share a photo of the tiny and beautiful Coffee-loving Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta tyralis) moth that also feeds on it. Here it is nectaring on Tickseed (Coreopsis sp.), the state wildflower of Florida.

This Puss Moth caterpillar cocoon never produced an emerged adult.

There are thousands of beautiful moths, so check out what native plants fuel their needs and if you have the appropriate habitat, begin adding them to your beautiful wildlife garden to encourage these important beneficials who then fuel those higher up in the food chain.

Not yet identified. Do you recognize me?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 24, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

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Meet the Moths: It’s National Moth Week 2013

Dateline:  July 19, 2013*

National Moth Week is a global celebration of moths and biodiversity, being held the last week of July.

New this week: Spurge Spanworm Moth – (Oxydia vesulia) landed on the recycle bin

For 2013, that is July 20-28, 2013.  As you know, I love my bugs and reported on last years’ inaugural celebration of these important players in a garden.  Recently I have identified a few of my unknown moths and a couple of old standbys showed up for a photoshoot.

A favorite colorful, diurnal moth is Syngamia florella, the Red-waisted Florella Moth visits Bidens alba

I’ve talked diurnal moths in the past. Those fly during the day.  Often they are pretty enough to rival the beauty of butterflies.

Black-dotted Spragueia Moth (Spragueia onagrus) colors could rival most butterflies

I’ve talked about the importance of the caterpillars to the survival of other arthropods.  Judy Burris also highlighted some pretty interesting caterpillars recently.

Pale-edged Selenisa Moth (Selenisa sueroides) caterpillar is a favorite food for nesting wasps
But some survive to turn into interesting medium size moths (Pale-edged Selenisa) adult

There are tiny moths.

Stained Lophosis Moth (Lophosis labeculata)

There are HUGE moths, many of which produce silk as reported by Ellen Sousa.

Large Maple Spanworm (Prochoerodes lineola), tattered but still flying (note: not a silk moth)

And there are shiny moths:

Snowy Urola Moth (Urola nivalis)

I’ve tried to alleviate fears of some caterpillars decimating your trees with hints on how to control them in an environmentally sound way.

Bagworm Moth caterpillars cover themselves with debris to try and fit in with the landscape colors. Easily hand-picked and disposed of

How some dress up to disguise themselves from predators.

Some moth caterpillars emulate butterfly cats, such as this Clouded Crimson Flower Moth Caterpillar (Schinia gaurae) who looks like anorexic monarch larvae

There are moths that have unusual shapes:

Diamondback Moth (Plutella xylostella)

And some that have interesting markings:

Plume Moth

Some are in love:

Mating Plume Moths

Moth caterpillars feed birds, host wasps, and perform many important duties in the natural scheme of things. Adult moths serve as a food source for not only birds but for spiders and others as well.

Yellow Mocis Moth (Mocis disseverans)

Plant a few oaks, some wax myrtles and look up what other native plants in your location will serve as a larval plant for the deserving and beneficial moth.  And put on your party hat to join the festivities.

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 19, 2013 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

We Don’t All Eat Leaves, You Know

Dateline: January 24, 2014*

Bella Moth Caterpillar

This week I was thrilled to find the caterpillar of a Bella Moth (Utetheisa ornatrix). While this larvae does eat some plant material in early stages, the diet as it grows, changes over to the seeds, so they bore their way into the seed pods. That’s why these caterpillars may be hard to find. Usually they are inside and not readily visible.  The seeds contain chemical alkaloids, which they consume to become poisonous or at least repellant to predators. Much like Milkweed provides this ability to the Monarch and Queen Butterflies.

Rabbitbells seed pod

I first saw a ripening pod and looked closely to reveal the telltale hole. I removed the pod and split it open to find the tiniest of tiny caterpillars.  If you look closely, you can see the seeds that it began munching away on.

Caterpillar is as tiny as the seeds, but you can see where it was munching on them

I shared a photo via social media and a fellow entomology enthusiast posted a photo of a much larger caterpillar and in his picture the larvae was creating the hole. Armed with this vision in my mind, I headed out to the Rabbitbells a.k.a., Rattlebox (Crotalaria rotundifolia), one of the larval hosts for Bella Moth. Eventually I was rewarded.  There, posed on the pod, was a near mirror image of what was posted.

Now, Theres one thats substantial heading in for additional food

This caterpillar was MUCH larger…as much as 5 times the size of my hidden friend from days before.

This brings up the point that not every caterpillar can be found on, or exclusively eating, green leaves.

Red-banded Hairstreak Butterfly (Calycopis cecrops). Youll find the larval in leaf debris

Some time back, I can remember searching and searching the sumacs and wax myrtles for the larvae of Red-banded Hairstreak Butterfly (Calycopis cecrops).  I never had any success as I turned over leaf after leaf hoping to add to my photo collection of Lepidoptera larvae.  C. cecrops readily flies in droves at my place.

Mind you, I’d be searching until the cows come home since this Hairstreak species is the only Florida butterfly to utilize detritus as larval food. I really need to scout around the leaf debris if I’m intent on finding a photo opportunity. Another excellent reason to not be so quick to do gardening cleanup…there is life in gardening debris!

Litter Moth (Idia americalis) shown here on wood debris, the larvae feed on lichens

Many moth species use leaf litter and other similar larval hosts. Lichen is another popular food. As a matter of fact, there is a whole tribe of lichen moths (Lithosiini).  Lichen is a fungus that grows together with a photosynthetic partner in a symbiotic relationship. That partner is often alga.

Some bagworms feed on lichen

Bagworms, those odd case creators, also have members of their species who eat lichens.

So, when it comes to gardening, you may not be missing a butterfly or moth caterpillar sighting because you don’t see them conspicuously munching on the host plant leaves or flowers. Some are nocturnal diners who only come out in the dead of night. Or, they may just be at the base of the plant eating castoff portions that they need to survive.  Then again, they may be seeking refuge inside the “Rattlebox” cafe.

Many of these caterpillars are thought of as “pest” species… leaf-rollers and leaf miners likely make you cringe. Heck, they are yummy bird food (no personal experience here) or turn into pollinators so consider alternate scenarios before passing judgment.

Grape Leafroller (Desmia spp.) doesnt seem so offensive when it is in moth stage.

What have you found caterpillars eating?

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on January 24, 2014 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

What’s in a day?

Dateline:  May 4, 2011*

Bella Moth nectaring on Bidens alba

Generally, if you are a moth, I suppose sleep! But there are some exceptions to that rule and some are mistaken for butterflies.One in particular is a favorite of mine. The bella moth, (Utetheisa ornatrix), is quite beautiful and I’m supposing that’s how it got its common name. Unlike most moths, which are nocturnal, the bella moth is diurnal and flies readily when disturbed. A regular visitor to my yard, it is always found fluttering around during the day, although mostly in the section of my garden shaded by pine trees.

Again on Bidens alba, one of it’s favorite nectar sources

This species is found from Connecticut westward to southeastern Nebraska, and southward to southern New Mexico and Florida. It is more common in southern part of its range.
Shown here on its larval host in Florida, Rabbitbells

Rabbitbells (Crotalaria rotundifolia) is the larval host for the bella moth. The caterpillars start off eating the foliage but bore their way into the seed containing pods. Because most of our common Crotalarias are introduced weedy species and toxic to cattle, the bella moth plays a beneficial role by eating their seeds and suppressing their reproduction. The toxic seeds of this plant, which is native to the southeastern United States, are laced with pyrrolizidine alkaloids that also offer the bella moth protection from predators.
After eating the foliage caterpillars bore into the pods of Rabbitbells

In flight and at first landing this moth displays it’s beautiful pink lower wings which I long to catch on the camera. Because they always “fold up” immediately upon landing, I can’t share that wonderful part of the encounter with these beautiful pollinators, but they do add beauty to my beautiful wildlife garden. What diurnal moths are at your place?
Another favorite landing spot is on the blades of grass

*This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on May 4, 2011 at the defunct beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com. Click the date to view reader comments.

 

The Worms Crawl In but Do They Swim?

This is an update of a tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on August 22, 2014 at the defunct national blog nativeplantwildlifegarden[dot]com beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com.

baldcypressmay2013This week I noticed that there was some webbing on a Baldcypress tree I planted a while back. At some point my property was likely home to many of these trees as is evident by decaying knees I see when the pond level gets low.  These majestic trees require wet conditions during part of the year so are often seen reflecting in the waters of swamps, ponds and rivers.  I’ve added a couple as a part of restoration efforts to return appropriate native plants to my property’s ecosystem.

Why are some caterpillars called worms?
Why are some caterpillars called worms?

I did a little research and found that these trees can be host to the Fall Webworm (Hyphantria cunea) which is a generalist that can use any of a multitude of trees as a food source.  Bugguide notes there are possibly 120 hardwood species as potential hosts.  The topmost photo shows a grouping on Elderberry.  Webworms aren’t worms at all, but moth caterpillars. The adults are pretty little things…white or white with black dots, rather like a Dalmatian of the Lepidoptera set.

My goodness something poops a lot
My goodness something poops a lot

I noticed a single web and initially didn’t see any caterpillars, just a ton of messy frass (caterpillar poop). It started on the tip of just one small branch, but over a period of a week, it had spread to several branches. With my Baldcypress being so young, I was a little concerned that it might be losing too much foliage to survive.  My tree is a mere 6-foot or so and has really just started upward growth in the past year with initial years dedicated to working on underground root systems.

As far as Fall Webworms, according to Florida County Extension Services (pdf):

“The damage caused by this species is considered aesthetic. Typically it is late in the season when the webbing is noticed and the bald cypress would be defoliating soon anyway, so spraying won’t protect the trees. Also, with bald cypress which typically grows along ponds and waterways, the drift from spraying with some insecticides could endanger aquatic life, that means dead fish and frogs, etc. So, it is better to let nature take its course and do nothing.”

When I finally spotted the actual caterpillars, there were so many that my concern got the best of me.  Rather than let nature take its course, I decided to handpick off a bunch of the caterpillars. Despite being a bugaholic, I don’t like touching the critters without something between them and my skin, so I covered my hand with a plastic bag.

My my there are a lot of these guys
My my there are a lot of these guys

Now, what to do with my handful of critters…I really didn’t want to just squish them, figuring something somewhere may want a fresh LIVE meal.  AHHHHH!!!!  FISH!  maybe the fish would like a free meal.

I headed over to the pond and dropped a few into the water.  There was immediate activity as the mosquito fish converged on the wigglers.  Unfortunately the arrivals were mostly fry and the caterpillars were 4-5 times their size so the fish quickly headed off to find something to eat that was not quite so beefy.

Finally! A fish large enough to eat one of these buggers
Finally! A fish large enough to eat one of these buggers

I was a little disappointed when suddenly, one of the largest mosquito fish came over and snapped up a caterpillar whole. Just the end of the cat was hanging from its mouth as it chomped away.

It was slow going, with many of the fish sniffing, but less than interested.  I thought perhaps I would see the larger Blue Gill fish and Largemouth Bass, but they were nowhere to be found.  Still, an occasional larger mosquito fish was partaking in the bounty, so I headed back to the tree to gather some more tidbits.

Webworms are pretty smart creatures.  They spin a web around the entire gang and peacefully dine within the nice comfy confines.  Predators are reluctant to get caught in the webs, so the caterpillars are free to munch away without being disturbed.  That is until the BRAVE human comes along with protection from sticky webs in the form of the Wal-Mart bag on her hand.

Well, well, well, someone saw an opening and took advantage
Well, well, well, someone saw an opening and took advantage

When I got back to the tree, I saw a Southern Yellowjacket wasp (Vespula squamosa) had taken advantage of a break in the web to grab a caterpillar. He seemed to be munching on the caterpillar and I learned that they feed their larva masticated (chewed) arthropods.

It seems that

“wasps perform a valuable service in destroying many insects that attack cultivated and ornamental plants”.

Yellowjackets are pretty aggressive often proving dangerous with their vast numbers at nests and ability to sting multiple times, so they are not my favorite creatures. But, they appear to be a step up the food chain from the Webworms, so I have a newfound respect for them.  Still, if Yellowjackets nest close to the house they will be toast. Stings can be dangerous as they don’t let up when defending their nest.  My little guy seemed less than interested in me as she played with her food, but then again she was only preparing the meal for the young, not putting the dinner plate out at the living quarters.

(Hyphantria cunea)
(Hyphantria cunea)

Other natural enemies used in biological control of Hyphantria cunea are certain chalcid wasps that are parasitoids in the Pteromalidae family. It says that these attack pupae so in my case, they would be too late to save the foliage, although it would impact next years’ population of the moths who do the egg laying.

Still, not wanting to see my tree leafless this early in the season, I stripped another grouping of the Webworms and tossed them into the pond.  This group was still attached to some greenery contained in some webbing so it looked like a little raft of refugees floating and desperately trying to return to land as they wriggled in unison.  And the “sharks” were circling.

A “raft” of webworms float on the waters
A “raft” of webworms float on the waters

So, while Webworms may not be a favorite, they do feed other wildlife and heck, all that frass must be full of great fertilizing nutrients which will return to the soil to help my Baldcycpress grow to be a majestic tree like others in the neighborhood. That will give the Webworms more meals and they’ll be grateful that I won’t be able to reach up and grab them any longer.