National Moth Week, As Seen From My Backyard

Well, this is far out of date now, but I’m going to go ahead and post it anyway! I’ve made it an annual tradition to blacklight in my backyard every night of National Moth Week. I set up a blacklight in my yard, point it toward the white siding of my house, turn it on at dusk, and then head out to my yard to see what comes to the lights a few times each night, photographing every species that I find. This year, it was very warm and humid and it rained one night, so I got a pretty great diversity! Some of the species are the very common species I find every time I blacklight in my yard, such as this elegant grass veneer:

Elegant grass veneer moth

Elegant grass veneer

My yard is mostly grass with a few non-native trees and shrubs, so it’s not surprising to find a species that depends on grass for its survival.  I also see a lot of these Suzuki’s promalactis moths:

Suzuki's promalactis moth

Suzuki’s promalactis

This is a species that’s non-native in the US, but we don’t know much about it still.  It’s a very pretty moth though, if you can get a close enough look at its very small body!

Other common moths included the common tan wave (these have to fly in from some other location as I have none of its many host plants in my yard):

Common tan wave moth

the clemens grass tubeworm (larvae feed on red clover, which is abundant in my “lawn”):

Clemens grass tubeworm moth

and the green cutworm (feeds on grasses, among other things, as caterpillars):

Green cutworm moth

Green cutworm

None of these are particularly showy moths, but they are readily abundant in my yard and among the most common species I see.  You’ll notice that most of the common species I see feed on grasses as caterpillars.  Given the amount of grass in my yard, it probably explains why I see so very many of these species at my lights.

This year, I saw some things that I’ve added to my backyard moth list during past National Moth Weeks, but may have only seen once or twice altogether.  I love skiff moths:

Skiff moth

Skiff moth

They feed on a variety of trees and shrubs, though I’ve never seen one of their awesome, tank-like green caterpillars in my yard.  They could be coming in from somewhere else. This is the smoky tetanolita:

Smoky tetanolita moth

Smoky tetanolita

Their caterpillars feed on dead leaves.  And this is the variable reddish pyrausta:

Variable reddish pyrausta moth

Variable reddish pyrausta

I can’t find much information about this species, but it’s awfully pretty.  Some close relatives of this group of moths make up the majority of the aquatic moth species, so I wonder if these might not be taking advantage of plants in the soggy part of my yard.

I got to add several new moths to my list this year! I loved this crowned slug moth:

Crowned slug moth

Crowned slug moth

No idea why it was posed that way, but it did fly away at some point and was not in fact dead.  This species could be feeding on my maple trees and it has an awesome caterpillar that is covered in stinging hairs.  It’s fun that a nasty caterpillar turns into such a plush, cuddly moth!

Given that I live in North Carolina and there are still a relatively large number of tobacco farmers around, it’s not surprising to see a tobacco budworm moth:

Tobacco budworm moth

Tobacco budworm moth

No idea where this might have come from, but perhaps a neighbor’s garden where it can feed on a variety of crop plants (including tomatoes and squash) and ornamental flowers.  I loved the elegant, subtle patterns on its wings!

This species I haven’t IDed beyond wainscot moth in the genus Leucania:

Leucania sp. moth

Leucania sp.

There are 33 species in this genus in the US and almost all of them can be found in the eastern part of the US.   I was able to ID another similarly drab moth as a white speck moth:

White speck moth

White speck

These are also called armyworms, apparently based on their habit of eating plants down to the ground and then marching to another area to continue feeding.  They’re generalist feeders and can be pesty.

This was my favorite of the new additions this year:

Brown shaded gray moth

Brown shaded gray

It was bigger than it looks in the photo, and I loved the striped pattern on the wings.  No bright colors or anything, but still very pretty.

My best find, however, didn’t sit still long enough for me to get more than a glance at it before it flew off.  It was a five spotted hawkmoth, a giant, powerful beast of a moth.  I was taking a photo of something else when it slammed into the back of my head.  Scared me badly enough that I shrieked loudly (so embarrassing!) and then it fluttered around outside of the light for a good five minutes before it landed just long enough for me to see what it was.  I lifted my camera, but it flew right into my face, smacked my cheek with its wings a few times, and then flew away.  Wow, such a gorgeous moth! And so scary when you don’t expect to have something the size of a small bat silently fly into your head at a high speed in the middle of the night!

Of course, you don’t see only moths when you blacklight!  My next post will feature the “bycatch” from National Moth Week, the non-target insects that also came to my lights.  I got a bunch of the same old things I always get, but this year I also got a few exciting new things that I can’t wait to share!

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

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