Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Giant Caterpillar of the Giant Leopard Moth

For the past two years, this has been the time of the fuzzy caterpillars. I’m used to seeing hundreds of furry little wormy guys hustling across the road at work and making their way through the grass.  This year, I’ve hardly seen any, but the best one was this impressive beast:

caterpillar

Giant leopard moth caterpillar, Hypercompe scribonia

That’s a giant leopard moth caterpillar, and they live up to the “giant” in their name!  That caterpillar was a good 3 inches long, and quite thick with all of those hairs circling its body.  Shortly after I took this shot, it curled up into a little ring in my hand, a defense mechanism they’re known for that tucks their soft underparts safely sway inside the stiff black hairs.  These caterpillars lack stinging hairs and don’t bite, so they rely on those hairs and the red bands between the hairs (warning coloration!) to deter predators.

Wish I’d seen more of these this year, but this has been a very strange year overall.  Here’s hoping things will be back to normal next year!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Cool Weather Moths (Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday)

It’s gotten really chilly in Raleigh over the past few weeks.  We’ve had some decent days mixed in too, so it doesn’t quite feel like winter yet, but the insects are obviously on their way out for the season and have become rather sparse.  It was therefore with great pleasure that I came home on a chilly night last weekend and found a half-dozen of these little beauties on the molding around my front door:

Unknown moth

I have no idea what they were, but I was impressed that these moths were still out on a genuinely cold night.  Always interesting to see insects active when the temps are just above freezing!

Anyone else seeing cool things out still?  I want to live vicariously through you if you are!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Moth Formerly Known as Woolly Bear Caterpillar

It’s woolly bear caterpillar time!  I haven’t seen as many this year as I have the past couple of falls, but there have a been a few out and about.  Ever wondered what they look like as adults?  This is it:

Isabella tiger moth

Isabella tiger moth

Gorgeous, aren’t they?  They’re pretty big too, so it’s always a treat to come across one at my porch light.

Anyone else seeing woolly bears/woolly worms around recently?

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: The Big One

I’ve been setting up my blacklight in my yard every night for three and a half weeks now and check on it periodically throughout the evening.  It’s been an interesting experience and I’ve learned a lot of new things about insect behaviors that I didn’t know before by watching the things that come to my light.  However, what I’ve really been hoping for is just one big moth.  My backyard is all grass except for a row of non-native privet hedges, so it’s not an ideal habitat for most big things.  Still, I finally got one big moth last night:

tulip tree silkmoth

Tulip tree silkmoth

A tulip tree silkmoth!  These are large, beautiful moths that come out a little earlier in the evening than a lot of the other large moths.  Indeed, this one showed up on the sheet about 10:30PM.  It was still on my sheet this morning, so I picked it up to move it to the bushes so it wouldn’t be quite so conspicuous to my dogs.  It eventually flew off.  What a lovely thing to see!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Nom Nom Nom

When the plant called rattlesnake master blooms, you can expect to find all sorts of insects coming to it to feed!  I don’t know exactly what it is about this plant that is so incredibly alluring to so many species of insects, but the strange little spiky flower balls can become absolutely covered with bees, ants, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, and other insects.  It recently bloomed in my area, so today I bring you a photo of a delta flower scarab and a little bee chowing down on nectar from a rattlesnake master flower cluster:

Delta flower scarab on rattlesnake master

Delta flower scarab on rattlesnake master

The flowers smell awful to me, so I guess you have to be a pollinator to fully appreciate them.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Friday 5: Staying Up WAY Too Late This Week

It’s National Moth Week!  Woo!  I’ve been up late every night this week watching moths and have been averaging about 5 hours of sleep nightly, so I’m a wee bit tired this late in the week.  It’s been quite the adventure too!  I started the week with my big, public moth viewing event for the museum where I work.  It didn’t rain this year for the first time, and we had over 100 people come out to the field station to watch moths.  A good half of them stayed past 10PM, none of which has happened before.  I did, however, inhale and swallow the very first moth that came to the sheet that night.  That was a little rough going down…  I also got some stinging insect stuck between my neck and my camera strap, and I’ve still got a good-sized welt on my neck from that encounter.  I came home with a tick happily sucking blood out of my armpit.  I’ve had bugs fly into my eyes and my ears and my mouth.  More moths than I can count have ended up down my shirt, which I don’t even understand given that I have about 4 square inches of skin exposed and look like I’m about to mount an Everest expedition in an attempt to avoid mosquito bites.  I’ve been wearing a SCARF for goodness sake!  I’m not sure why I even bother – I’ve gotten a good dozen mosquito bites anyway, THROUGH my long pants and my heavy wool socks.  (Seriously?!)  I’ve had all manner of problems with my light rigs too.  My first night at home, I set up my reliable little DC voltage blacklight bulb with my portable jump starter and things went well.  The next night, the jump starter died and I can’t get it working again.  I put a CFL blacklight bulb into my porch light in my backyard the next night, and the light fixture died.  Last night it rained so hard that it pulled my whole sheet rig down so I was out in my yard at 1AM trying to get it repositioned so it could actually dry out in time for tonight.  Tonight I’ve got a CFL bulb in a cheapo clip light clipped to a shepherd’s crook and a huge extension cord running into my house because the electrical outlet under the light fixture is ALSO out.

I’m not sure what else can go wrong at this point, but I’m still having a great time!  I go out with my camera several times every night, happily looking for the things coming to my sheets.  I have found dozens of species at my lights each night, though I’m still hoping a few of the big moths will show up.  I have a cruddy yard for insects, but there’s a big patch of forest about 100 feet away on the other side of the street.  Surely I’ll get at least one big moth, right?

These are my favorites moths and moments so far from National Moth Week 2014:

Day 1: Moths at Night Event at Prairie Ridge Ecostation

Beautiful wood nymph

Beautiful wood nymph

We were just getting packed up after our public moth viewing evening at work when I spotted this moth sitting on the ledge that runs along the inside of our outdoor classroom building.  A beautiful wood nymph!  It’s a gorgeous name for a pretty moth, though there’s no denying the fact that they look just like bird poop…

Day 2: Mothing at Home, Part I

Elegant grass-veneer

Elegant grass-veneer

When your yard is all grass, it’s not entirely surprising when you get mostly grass-loving moth species coming to your lights.  The elegant grass-veneer is about the only small moth I can actually recognize, but it’s quite lovely if you take a close look at it.  It’s all shimmery and has gold flecks and fringes and fluffy bits sticking off the front.  Not bad for something that crawls out of my grass to come to my lights!

Day 3: Mothing at Home, Part II

unknown moth

unknown moth

The moth-related highlight of day 3 was getting a photo from a dad who came to the moth night at Prairie Ridge.  He had brought his kid with him and they stayed for most of the 4 hours we were open for moth viewing.  He and his kid went out the very next morning and bought their own blacklights and had set them up in their backyard immediately.  They got a great photo of a tulip tree silk moth (oh how I wish I was getting anything that big!) and asked if I knew what it was because they were going to send their photos off to a citizen science project.  There is absolutely nothing more gratifying than knowing that at least two people took what you taught them and put it to use after you parted ways!  The dad has since told me that his kid gets up early and goes to check the lights every morning now.  That’s just awesome!  I also saw the absolutely gorgeous moth in the photo at my light on my second night mothing at home.  I have no idea what it is and I didn’t get it perfectly framed, but it’s quite beautiful!

Day 4: Mothing at Home, Part III

Hebrew

Hebrew

Day 4 was when my porch light went out.  I was happy to get anything, and this was easily the most impressive moth of the night.  That’s a Hebrew, a very lovely member of the dagger moth group.  The host plant for this species is black gum, so I have no idea where this moth came from (the forest across the street is mostly pine), but I was happy it showed up.

Day 5: Mothing at Home, Part IV

ailanthus webworm moth

Ailanthus webworm moth

Most of the moths I’ve seen this week have been what I call LBM’s, or little brown moths.  Then these show up every night around 11PM and are easily among the top three most colorful moths I see each night. Ailanthus webworm moths get their name from an invasive species (tree of heaven) that they feed on, though they are native to the US and switched to their namesake host after it was introduced into the US.

I’ve got three more nights of mothing left before National Moth Week comes to a close.  I keep going back out to look because I really want to see just one big moth.  Speaking of which, it’s time to get back out there again tonight…

Any of you been out looking for moths this week?  Any great finds?  I would love to live vicariously through you if you’ll share your moth stories from National Moth Week 2014 below!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Not a Moth

National Moth Week is here, and I’ve spent more time than I’d care to admit watching and thinking about moths over the past five days.  Trust me: you’ll be inundated with my moth mania here soon!  Found this little guy on my front door a few nights ago though, and I had to share:

Moth fly

Moth fly

That is NOT actually a moth, but a moth fly.  It’s hard to confirm without having one in hand, but there are only two little wings on these tiny insects which, in spite of fuzzy appearances, makes them flies and not moths.  The larvae of these are often called drain flies and live in some pretty nasty habitats, but the adults are positively adorable!  Who’s with me on this?! :)

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth