Monday, July 27, 2015

Like a moth to a flame...

Disclaimer:  There were no actual flames used in the writing of this post. Moths were attracted using lights, not flames.

Last week was National Moth Week

On Saturday night (25 JUL) a group of eleven members of the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club gathered at Mission Creek Woodland Park for a moth hunt. 

For many people the word "hunt" implies active pursuit - visions of specially trained dogs, and small bore shotguns; the smell of waxed canvas, gun oil, and leather; hours of walking and then seconds of pulse-pounding excitement as the moths are flushed from cover by the dogs! 

This "hunt" is nothing like that.

For those that have never hunted moths, this actually more of a moth "wait".  We set up a series of lights and sheets and stand around waiting for moths and other insects to appear out of the darkness.

Waiting for moths

This is the second time that we have attempted this activity.  When we did it at the end of June in 2014, we mostly attracted a bunch of nondescript small brown moths that were very hard to identify.  We had a lot of that again this year, but we also had several distinctive species that we were able to identify based on their characteristics.

One of the first moths to show up at the lights was the Painted Lichen Moth (Hypoprepia fucosa).  Several of these moths showed up over the course of the evening.

Painted Lichen Moth

The most distinctive moth of the evening was the Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene). This moth was easily identified by the cross-shaped pattern on its wings.  Although it can't be seen in this photograph, this moth has bright yellow underwings.

Clymene Moth (Haploa clymene)

Another moth that we identified in the field was the Cherry Scallop Shell (Rheumaptera prunivorata).

Cherry Scallop Shell moth

The next moth is one that I photographed, but did not identify in the field.  A quick internet search reveals this to be a Lesser Maple Spanworm (Speranza pustularia).  The small brown spots on the leading edge of the wings are the identifying characteristic of this species.

Lesser Maple Spanworm moth - note distinctive brown spots on edge of forewing

We were able to identify several other species, but unfortunately I did not get photographs of all of them: Grapevine Looper (Eulithis sp.), Grapeleaf Roller (Desmia sp.), Emeralds (various genera).

Moths were not the only animals attracted by the lights.  We had a single female dobsonfly or fishfly that showed up.

One of the kids at the moth hunt found a green-phase Grey Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor).  These frogs are able to change color based on habitat.  This one just happened to be green when it was found.

A green Grey Tree Frog (Hyla versicolor)

My favorite photograph of the night was of a daddy long-legs or harvestman silhouetted against the sheet.  Although these arachnids resemble spiders and are often confused with them, they are actually in a separate Order (Opiliones).

Daddy Long-legs at night - not a spider.

If you missed out on this moth hunt, you have another chance.  This Friday (31 July 2015) I will be leading another moth expedition.  This time it will be at the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy's Sylvan Solace Preserve.  This hunt is being done to commemorate a "blue moon".  The moon will not actually turn blue.  the term is used to describe a month with a second full moon.  For more information and to register for this event please visit the CWC website.  The event is free, but a donation to the CWC is encouraged.

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