Saturday, April 28, 2012

Week 17: Zales

Moth of the Week: Zales

On Tuesday night the Zales made a flight; when I stepped out to check the porchlight I was bombarded by them.  By Wednesday morning I counted  more than 40 of these large moths hanging around our porchlight: on the walls, on the steps, even in the trashcans.  The Zales are a large and rather challenging group of moths due to the extreme variation of the colors and patterns. 

The Lunate Zale (Zale lunata) is the largest and most common Zale species in our area.  Z. lunata is generally dark overall with heavy barring across the back.
Forewing: 24mm

This specimen shows large clean patches on the forewing.  I believe the is Z. lunata but am not ruling out Colorful Zale (Zale minerea) due to my lack of experience with this species.  There are approximately 14 species of Zale possible in East Texas and there is a lot of overlap in pattern and coloring between them.
Forewing: 18mm
This individual stood out from the rest due to its smaller size overall and the extensive white in the wings.  I have tentatively labeled this specimen as Double-banded Zale (Zale calycanthata) but am waiting on confirmation.

Other Moths This Week:

Melsheimer's Sack-bearer Moth - Cicinnus melsheimeri (#7662)
Forewing: 20mm

White-lined Sphinx - Hyles lineata (#7894)
Forewing: 33mm
Also reported in Zones 1,2,3,4,5,6

Indomitable Melipotis - Melipotis indomita (#8600)
Forewing: 24mm
Also reported in Zones 1,3,4,5,6
This is the most common and wide spread Melipotis moth in the state.

Not a Moth (but still relevant)
One of my fellow teachers brought me the big hairy fly and asked if it was dangerous.  I haven't studied flies much (at all), but figured I'd give it a shot.  In a relatively short time I was able to narrow it down to Archytas sp. a family of flies common in fields and pastures across most of North America.  The larva of these flies are parasitoids of caterpillars.  They will lay eggs on the caterpillar and while the caterpillar is in the cocoon the fly larva will feed on the caterpillar and when the cocoon finally opens, surprise it's a fly.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Week 16: Tent Caterpillars

Moths of the Week

Eastern Tent Caterpillar - Malacosoma americanum (#7701)
Forewing: male 13mm

In early spring the silky white tents of the Eastern Tent Caterpillar are a common sight in trees across much of East Texas.  Along with those tents are limbs that have been stripped clean by the ravenous caterpillars.

As the spring progresses the caterpillars come down out of their trees and begin looking for a place to build a cocoon.  During this time it seems that these blue and green caterpillars can be found just about everywhere.

In early to mid-April the adults eclose.  Some mornings I have had a dozen sitting on the wall by the porch lights.  The males are smaller and more gray in color; the females are a brighter brown and considerably larger.

Forest Tent Caterpillar - Malacosoma disstria (#7698)
Forewing: 11mm
A close cousin to M. americanum, this moth is less common than its larger cousin in East Texas.  The Forest Tent Caterpillar is easily distinguished by its smaller size and dark AM and PM lines instead of pale.  They also showed up a little later I found my first Eastern Tent on April 10th while Forest tent did not show up until the 18th.

The Forest Tent Caterpillar does not actually build a "tent" but instead builds a silky mat where the caterpillars gather.

Other Moths This Week

Spiny Oak-Slug Moth - Euclea delphinii (#4697)
Forewing: 12mm
Also reported in Zones 3,6

Four-spotted Palpita - Palpita quadristigmalis (#5218)
Forewing: 16mm
Also reported in Zones 1,3,4,5,6

Clinton's Underwing - Catocala clintonii (#8872)
Forewing: 20mm
Also reported in Zone 5

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Week 15: Curve-lined Owlet

Moths for the Week

Curve-lined Owlet - Phyprosopus callitrichoides (#8525)
Forewing: 16mm
Also reported in Zone 3
While this uncommon moth may have a distinctively bulbous forehead, its caterpillar is truly other-worldly.  Check it out on

Boxwood Leaftier - Galasa nigrinodis (#5552)
Forewing: 8mm
Also reported in Zone 3, 6
These funny little moths are one of my favorites.  Like somthing out of Alice in Wonderland, they look like a tiny coffee table with eyes and a nose.

Sooty-winged Chalcoela - Chalcoela iphitalis (#4895)
Forewing: 10mm
Also recorded in Zones 3,4,5
I've gotten pretty good at identifying moths down to family by sight.  But even when I recognize a moth I find putting a name to it can be an arduous task.  Thank goodness for Browse By Family on MPG.

Scoop Net
So far I have focused my attention on nocturnal moths which are relatively easy to catch.  I simply wait at the porchlight or blacklight and when a moth stops for a moment I collect it in a specimen jar.  However, I hope to catch some day-flying moths, specifically I want a Snowberry Clearwing.  To this end I made myself a simple scoop net.   I formed a frame by twisting two coat hangers together.  Add a little duct tape around a branch, a large pillowcase, and a handful of binder clips; now I have a crude but effective scoop net.  Out of pocket expense:  27 cents for the pillowcase at the local Hospice shop.

It may not be the fanciest net, but I have already caught a few butterflies to photograph.

 American Snout
Question Mark

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Week 14: Ilia Underwing

A lesson in Raising caterpillars

Ilia Underwing - Catocala ilia (#8801)
Forewing: 40mm
Also reported in Zones 3,5,6

While I am very quickly becoming familiar with identifying adult  moths, caterpillars are still a mystery to me.  When this caterpillar showed up on our porch on a rainy March 9th, I didn't have a clue what it was.  It was quite large so I thought it might be a sphinx moth but couldn't be sure.  Moth caterpillars can be very specific feeders so if you want to raise one you need to be sure you are providing the right food; whether that is oak leaves, grass, or leaf litter.  However, I believe that, in general, once a caterpillar leaves its host plant it is very close to forming a cocoon.  So, I brought this one in and kept it in a jar with some clover.  By March 12th it had surrounded itself a web of clover and made a cocoon.
On April 4th it eclosed, and I had a nice but slightly rumpled Ilia Underwing.  If you are keeping a cocoon it is very important to provide a branch or some surface for it to climb on to dry its wings.  My Underwing unfortunately had a slight curve at the tip of its wings but was still able to fly. 

Eastern Grass-Veneer - Crambus laqueatellus (#5378)
Forewing: 12mm

The crambid moths are also known as Snout Moths.  This Grass-veneer could be straight out of a Spy vs. Spy comic.

Mournful Thyris -  Pseudothyris sepulchralis (#6077)
Forewing: 10mm
Also reported in Zones 2,3,5

Though I caught this Thyris at my porch light, the Mournful Thyris is also commonly seen taking nectar from flowers in the daytime.  Its striking black and white pattern is hard to miss.

Azalea SphinxDaraspa choerilus (#7886)
Forewing: 30mm 
Also reported in Zones 5,6