Guest post: Early Spring Mothing In The NY Catskill Mountains

Guest blog by Eric C. Reuter

Last year in 2014, I was able to spend time in our summer cabin staring in March, which is much earlier than usual. I had never been there before early May in the past, as it is quite cold to be in an unheated and un-insulated summer cabin in winter. It turned out to be an amazing time for very early spring moths, although a very challenging place to live for a couple months.
This is what the view from in front of the cabin overlooking the lake was like when I arrived:

1Before the snow had even melted, and the ice cleared from the lake, I had the mothing sheets and lights out in hopes that I would see some species that I knew *should* be there, based on the abundance of host plants for them, and the region I am in.

I had always longed to get to see the Feralia species moths. Those green gems that feed on pines and Hemlocks and appear in early spring, with common names like “The Joker” and “Comstock’s Sallow”. It was a few of those species I would look at with great envy in The Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America almost every time I paged through it. But I had never seen a single one before. I had always been too late to arrive at the cabin.
By the end of March and into Early April, daytime temperatures were reaching the 50’s, with night time lows still often below freezing. But for the first few hours after sundown, and sometimes well into the night, I started to see moths showing up at the sheets, despite the frigid temperatures. Turns out these early fliers are even hardier than I had anticipated.

Each year for the last 7 years, I was at the cabin mothing the late spring and summer and early autumn and had seen an incredible diversity, but never before had I seen the coveted early spring moths, I kept wondering if they were really there, if I would ever see them.
In 2014, that all changed. In fact, it was over-the-top crazy with all that I was able to see. I was hoping to see a few of those species. I saw many hundreds.
I will never forget when I saw my first “Joker” – Feralia jocosa, this incredible striking green moth sitting on my sheet when it was 39 degrees outside. I could barely contain my excitement, as I called my fiancée Lisa to tell her, and to get her up there for a visit as soon as she could.

2

This was to be the first of many, many sightings. I compiled a huge assortment of photographs of Feralia jocosa, F. comstocki and a few of F. major over the next month, when they abruptly stopped showing up by early May….the time of year I would normally be arriving. I got to see many of the rarer brown form and intermediates as well.

This is just a fraction of the Feralia jocosa (Joker moth) varieties seen. Every shade of green, olive and brown (considered rare) were represented.

3

As luck would have it, a host of other early species showed up as well. Many of which I had also never seen before. With each new moth species and in the numbers I saw of them, I was truly amazed at how they flourish in conditions you wouldn’t expect to see moths in. Extremely cold nights, days not that much above freezing, I would check the sheets with a heavy coat and gloves on! The moths didn’t seem to mind.
Feralia comstocki (Comstock’s Sallow) was the second Feralia species to show up a few weeks later. They were noticeably larger than F. jocosa and have three striking black bars surrounding the reniform spot on the forewings. They too displayed some dazzling shades of green and great variety. Below: Feralia comstocki

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In addition to the stunning Feralia species moths, a number of other wonderful early spring moths graced my sheets. Large numbers of “Scribbler” moths Cladara atroliturata in both green and gray forms, along with the similar Cladara limitaria – Mottled Gray Carpet Moth appeared starting in April and into May:
5
Some of the other moths I got to see in early spring were equally wonderful, with some being uncommon species. Below the very similar (L) Kent’s Geometer (Selenia kentaria) and ( R), Northern Thorn (Selenia alciphearia). Both of these moderately large moths are seldom seen.

5_a

Also present were the large and very colorful Zale species moths, with their extremely variable patterns and colorations. These appeared in larger numbers during early May than at any other time during the year, and were a wonderful surprise for me. Below is a sample of what we saw:
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There were many other species that we saw during these early months, which would take far too much space to display here, but included: Xylena curvimacula, Phigalia strigataria, Phigalia titea, Lithophane grotei, Lithophane petulca, Lithophane baileyi, Pyreferra citrombra, Orthosia revicta, Orthosia rubescens, Cerastis tenebrifera, Anticlea vasiliata, Psaphida resumens, Copivaleria grotei, Achatia distincta and many others. Shown below is the unique looking Xylena curvimacula – Dot-and-Dash Swordgrass Moth

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One particular “rarity” and a highlight was this “lifer” moth for me: Cerastis salicarum – Willow Dart Moth, which showed up one evening with 4 others of its kind on one of my sheets nearest the cabin.

8

During these early months I relied on using a couple of locations on the property for lighting and sheets. First was large professional sheet where I set up a Mercury Vapor Lamp along with a 25W UV lamp (hanging on the sheet itself). This was placed deep in the woods that surround the cabin, so that it would draw in moths from a larger area. Additionally, we put smaller sheets with UV and CFL (Compact florescent, the “twisty” bulbs) lamps on the house and inside a small alcove near the door. This provided a more sheltered (and somewhat warmer) location to attract moths and to be more suitable during inclement weather when the primary sheet could not be used.
This time of year in the mountains of NY is challenging and much different than the lush and warm summer months with regard to mothing techniques. Most of these moths fly early at night and just for a short period, so in order to maximize the period of time available, all lights were on at least an hour before sunset. The dense woods is already very shaded and quite dark by that time of day in winter and early spring, so getting a “head start” seemed to work better. Having multiple locations also produced some interesting results. More of some of the species were drawn to the house sheets than to the large sheet deeper in the woods, and some were only seen there (and vice-versa). I am not sure what that resulted from, but it did provide some great results. Perhaps it was that they sensed the heat coming from the cabin (which bleeds warmth due to it being uninsulated), or that it was calmer with respect to wind. It will be interesting to take a closer look at that this year and in future years when we can spend more time there in the earlier months.
The most incredible thing I discovered was the amazing number and variety of moths that could be seen this early, with the climate and temperatures being so much cooler and the dense forest devoid of most underbrush and other plant growth. I recommend to anyone who is interested, and who lives in the colder climates to start their mothing season perhaps a good bit earlier than they may have otherwise thought would be productive. The hardiness and persistence shown by the species I saw and photographed was pretty astonishing. I took a chance on trying to see what was “out there” when I expected hardly anything, and was rewarded with an incredible mothing experience I won’t ever forget. If you give it a shot, you may be very pleasantly surprised as I was.

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National Moth Week 2015, July 18-26, Invites Citizen Scientists to Celebrate Moths

logo horizontalThis year’s event to spotlight hawk moths, sphinx moths in Sphingidae family

Registration is in full swing for the fourth annual National Moth Week 2015 (NMW) July 18-26, a global citizen-science project that celebrates the beauty, diversity and ecological importance of moths. This year, National Moth Week will spotlight the Sphingidae family of moths found throughout the world, commonly called hawk moths, sphinx moths and hornworms.

Anyone can participate in National Moth Week. “Moth-ers” of all ages and abilities are encouraged to learn about, observe and document moths in their backyards, parks, and neighborhoods.

There is no fee to register a U.S. or international event. Registration is open to individuals, groups and organizations. Participating organizations have included National Parks and Monuments, state and local parks, museums, libraries, camps and nature clubs. Anyone can register a public or private event or find one to attend in their area by checking nationalmothweek.org for public events.

National Moth Week (NMW) shines a much-needed spotlight on moths and their ecological importance as well as their incredible biodiversity. This nine-day global event encourages children and adults to become “citizen scientists” and contribute photos and data to online databases. Last year, more than 400 events were held in all 50 states and 42 countries.

A moth-ing event can simply involve turning on a porch light at night and watching what happens, or going outside in daylight to find caterpillars and diurnal moths. Participants can use ordinary light bulbs, UV lights, or mercury vapor lights to attract moths, or brush sweet moth bait on tree barks.

Why study moths?
• Moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.
• Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to more than 500,000 moth species.
• Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult’s hand.
• Most moths are nocturnal, but some fly during the day.
• Moths can give us clues about the health of their environment. Decreasing numbers in some locations can indicate problems in the ecosystem.
The Sphingidae family includes many widely found species, such as day-flying moths like the “hummingbird moth,” (genus Hemaris) a “hawkmoth” also known as clearwings, which mimics bumblebees and hummingbirds. Also among the estimated 1,450 Sphingidae species are the Pandorus sphinx, Elephant hawk moth, White-lined sphinx, Gaudy sphinx and One-eyed sphinx. It is believed they get their nickname of “hawk moth” from their rapid flight. They have been studied for their flying ability, being among some of the fastest flying insects.

“Hawk moths are important pollinators of native plants, especially in arid environments like the American Southwest,” said NMW team member Dr. Elena Tartaglia. “They visit plants to get nectar and in the process, their large furry bodies can carry a lot of pollen. Like most moths, they are an important component of food webs as food for birds, small mammals, lizards and predatory insects.”

Sphinx moths get their nicknames from the sphinx-like pose they often have while resting on plants as caterpillars. Hornworms are so named for the “horns” on the posterior end of the caterpillar.

Through partnerships with major online biological data depositories such as BAMONA, Project Noah, Encyclopedia of Life, Discover Life, and iNaturalist, National Moth Week encourages participants to record moth distribution and to provide information on other aspects of their life cycles and habitats.

Last year, moth-watching and educational events were held throughout Europe, Asia, Africa, South, Central, and North America. Events included “moth nights,” museum exhibitions, a “moth ball,” educational programs at parks and camps, urban mothing parties, and tours of the insect collection at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

National Moth Week is a project of the Friends of the East Brunswick (NJ) Environmental Commission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to environmental education and conservation. The event grew out of local summer “Moth Nights” organized by David Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty of the Friends since 2005. The events typically attract 30 to 50 persons, some with scientific backgrounds, but mostly local residents and their children who want to experience a unique nighttime nature activity.

In March, a bill to name the Io moth the official state moth was introduced by N.J. Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin in the New Jersey State Legislature. If passed and signed by the governor, New Jersey would become the first state to designate a state moth.

“National Moth Week raises awareness about the amazing world of nighttime nature that many people have never observed,” said Moskowitz, an environmental consultant and Ph.D. candidate in entomology at Rutgers University. “Thousands of photos taken by citizen scientists at mothing events have been uploaded to data depositories by participants.”

“Moths can be observed anywhere, anytime,” said NMW co-founder Liti Haramaty. “It’s easy and fun – just turn on a light and wait for the moths to find it. Anyone with a digital camera can contribute to our knowledge about moths’ diversity and distribution, and help us to better understand the impact of human activities on the ecology of our planet.”

“National Moth Week is a fun and educational way to introduce kids to science through the world of moths,” said Jacob Gorneau, 17, a junior at Greenville (N.Y.) High School and the youngest member of the NMW team. “With about 12,000 species in North America, and many more to be described, the beginner can expect something new at the light almost every time,”.

Media Contact:  Sandra Lanman
908-217-2312
sandra@lanmanpr.com

Click here for a PDF of the news release

Click here to register an event

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Bill Introduced to Name the Io as Official State Moth of New Jersey

Automeris io

The Io moth (Automeris io). East Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.

 

Working with New Jersey Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin, (D-18th District), The
Friends of the East Brunswick (NJ) Environmental Commission, which started
and coordinates National Moth Week, has launched an effort to name the Io
moth as the official New Jersey State Moth.

On March 26, Pinkin introduced the bill calling for the Io (*Automeris io*)
to be named New Jersey’s state moth.  If approved, it would make New Jersey
the first state in the U.S. to name a state moth.

The effort also has the support of third graders from Lawrence Brook School
in East Brunswick, who are learning about moths as part of their science
curriculum and writing about them in their writing program.

The Io is a member of the Saturniidae family of silk moths. Its wingspan
can be up to 3.5 inches. Males are yellow with distinctive eyespots on the
wings; females are rusty brown.  They are found throughout North America
and are very plentiful in New Jersey.

Dave Moskowitz and Liti Haramaty, who co-founded National Moth Week in
2012, said that having a state moth will call attention to the importance
and beauty of moths.

“The Io moth is one of the most beautiful moths in New Jersey and an
excellent spotlight on our incredibly rich, but very much under-appreciated
moth biodiversity. It also is the symbol of National Moth Week, a global
citizen science project that originated in New Jersey and is focused on the
appreciation and study of moths,” said Moskowitz, who is president of the
nonprofit Friends of the East Brunswick Environmental Commission.

“By naming a state moth, New Jersey would show the rest of the country that
it values the role moths play in the ecosystem and recognizes their beauty,
biodiversity and importance to the environment,” said Haramaty, secretary
of the Friends of EBEC.

National Moth Week is a project of the Friends of the East Brunswick
Environmental Commission, an all-volunteer organization. It grew out of
local “moth nights” in the township, and quickly went global. Events now
take place in all 50 states and more than 40 countries.

This year, National Moth Week will be observed July 18-26. Registration on
the National Moth Week website is free for individuals and organizations
who want to register their moth-watching or educational events.

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Dr. Kawahara: Bat-Moth Presentations in Philadelphia

For insect enthusiasts near the Philadelphia area, Dr. Akito Y. Kawahara, a  renowned entomologist, will be presenting in two locations on Wednesday, February 25, and Thursday, February 26. Both events are open to the public.

 

American Entomological Society Meeting:

When: Wednesday, February 25, 7:00 PM

Where: Ewell Sale Stewart Library, Second Floor, The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, Philadelphia, PA

Subject: “Moth Ultrasound and Bat Sonar Jamming: Collaborative Nocturnal Fieldwork in the Jungles of the Amazon, Borneo, and Africa.”

Additional Information: http://darwin.ansp.org/hosted/aes/mtgSched.htm

 

B.E.E.S. Seminar:

When: Thursday, February 26, 3:30—5:00 PM

Where: Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building, Room 104, 3245 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104

Subject: “Phylogenomics and Behavior Uncover the Evolution of Bat-Moth Interactions.”

Additional Information: http://drexel.edu/bees/news/calendar/details/?eid=6529&iid=19972

 

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National Moth Week 2015: The Year of the Sphinx Moth

Happy New Year from the National Moth Week team!

While National Moth Week celebrates the diversity of all moths, we like to shine a light—literally and figuratively—on a certain family of moths. Last year, we celebrated the year of the Silk moth (Saturniidae).

This year, we are celebrating the family Sphingidae. Robust fliers with distinctive wing shapes, the sphinx moths consist of about 1,463 species world wide, with about 124 species in North America alone.

Recent research has found that Sphinx moths emit high-frequency clicking noises form their genitals in response to bat echolocation. It is thought these noises inhibit a bat’s ultrasonic senses. One of the moths used in the study was the Green-striped Hawkmoth (Cechenena lineosa). You can read more about this study here. This defense behavior has also been recorded in the tymbal organs of tiger moths (subfamily Arctiinae). lenny

Death’s Head Hawk Moth (Acherontia lachesis lachesis). Spotted by Lenny Worthington on Project Noah.

Edgar Allan Poe takes some artistic license, describing an encounter with a Death’s Head Hawk Moth (Acherontia sp.; normally found in Europe and Asia) in New York.

“‘Four membranous wings covered with little colored scales of metallic appearance; mouth forming a rolled proboscis, produced by an elongation of the jaws, upon the sides of which are found the rudiments of mandibles and downy palpi; the inferior wings retained to the superior by a stiff hair; antennae in the form of an elongated club, prismatic; abdomen pointed, The Death’s—headed Sphinx has occasioned much terror among the vulgar, at times, by the melancholy kind of cry which it utters, and the insignia of death which it wears upon its corslet.'”

Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe), found by David Moskowitz of Bug Addiction – Confessions of a Bug Addict.

Sphinx moths are some of the most powerful fliers in the insect world, reaching speeds upwards of 53.6 kilometers per hour (over 30 miles per hour)!

Share your sightings of sphinx moths and other moths with National Moth Week’s partners!  The fourth annual National Moth Week will be held on July 18-26, 2015. Registration forms will also be published soon.

Bibliography

 

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“Marvelous Moths”, Jim des Rivieres photos at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum

New exhibit of Moth photos by Moth’er, photographer and National Moth Week’s sponsor Jim des Rivieres. 

White-Dotted Prominent (Nadata gibbosa)

White-Dotted Prominent (Nadata gibbosa) (© Jim des Rivières)

The Hudson Highlands Nature Museum‘s new exhibit, “Marvelous Moths,” will open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 at the museum’s Wildlife Education Center, 25 Boulevard, Cornwall-on-Hudson (NY, USA).

 Visitors can view gorgeous moth photos from Jim des Rivieres and learn about the moth life cycle, anatomy and how moths differ from butterflies.

Luna moth scan (© Jim des Rivières)

Luna moth scan (© Jim des Rivières)

“Moths are as interesting as butterflies,” said Pam Golben, director of the Wildlife Education Center. “Some moths are masters of camouflage while others are decked out in dazzling patterns and colors.”

Opening weekend specials include crafts, refreshments for kids and “Meet the Animals” program at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m.

This event is for all ages. Admission is $3; free for museum members. A ribbon cutting is scheduled for 12:15 p.m. Jan. 31.  For more information: go to hhnm.org or call 534-5506, ext. 204.    

 

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Color Moth Pictures for the National Moth Week Website – Kids activity

MothColoringBook

Kids activity for ages 3-12.

arctiidEVERYONE CAN PARTICIPATE!

Here’s how:

  • Print and color any moth you like from the book which you can find at this link.
  • Cecropia coloringYou can use a moth guide book (Click here for suggested books) to color the moth whose name is shown or make up your own name with your own colors.
  •  Be sure to write your own name (first name is OK), your age, your town and country.
  • Scan or take a photo of your picture
  • Email your picture to us as an attachment in jpg format at info @ nationalmothweek.org
  • catocalaYou can send up to two colored pictures per child

Children’s colored moth pictures on will be included in a special photo gallery on nationalmothweek.org

You can print the instruction here.

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Did you submit your Moth Week observation?

National Moth Week is working with several organizations to collect moth observation data. We encourage data collection and high quality photographic documentation of moths during National Moth Week for anyone interested in this important endeavorYou do not have to id the species in order to submit photos. It’s never too late to submit your moth data and winter, when it’s too cold for mothing, is a great time to go over your photographs and submit them.

If you participated in NMW 2014 and submitted moth observations, let us know which organization you submitted to.  Please complete the poll that is on the right side menu of the website.   Thank you!

DATA PARTNERS

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Project Noah Moth of the Month: Tau Emperor (Aglia tau)

The Project Noah Moth of the Month for October is the Tau Emperor (Aglia tau), spotted by Project Noah member Daniele Pralong in Switzerland!

A male Tau Emperor (Aglia tau) spotted by Daniele Pralong.

A male Tau Emperor (Aglia tau) spotted by Daniele Pralong.

The Tau Emperor (Aglia tau) has a very interesting adult behavior. The males, with larger feathery antennae as pictured above, fly diurnally, while the females only fly at night. Although this may seem counterintuitive for the purposes of mating, mating actually occurs in the late morning. Females hide during the day, and the males “smell” the pheromone-releasing females with the chemoreceptors located in their antennae. This is ironically very efficient, keeping the females concealed from predators while ensuring the successful males are the most physically fit, chemically receptive individuals of the species.

Bibliography

  • Aglia tau.” http://tpittaway.tripod.com/silk/a_tau.htm
  • Pronin, Georg. “The Mating Time of Lepidoptera.” Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society. 1964. Volume 18. Number 1. http://images.peabody.yale.edu/lepsoc/jls/1960s/1964/1964-18(1)35-Pronin.pdf
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Eric Metzler recieved NPS Award

Eric MetzlerCongratulations to Eric Metzler on receiving a National Park Service award for his moth study and survey in two National Parks. Eric is NMW Science Advisory Board member and coordinator of NMW events in the two National Parks.

Read about Eric and the NPS Intermountain Regional Director’s Award:

On Sept. 26 , National Park Service volunteer researcher Eric Metzler received the National Park Service’s (NPS) Intermountain Regional Director’s Award for Natural Resource Research. This esteemed honor is in recognition of Mr. Metzler’s significant moth research at White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park. In 2007, Eric undertook a study to survey and identify species of moths at these two national park units. Eric’s work exemplifies excellence in advancing and publishing scientific research that furthers the goals of science and natural resource management in the National Park Service.
Metzler received the award because of key accomplishments in the field of research: 1) discovering more than 600 species of moths, 36 of which are new to science, and nearly all of the new species are endemic in the dunes of White Sands; 2) developing a baseline database for moth richness and diversity that helps NPS accomplish the all-taxa inventory goals; 3) providing interpretive materials, seminars and other formal presentations for both local and regional NPS staff; 4) publishing nine scientific papers, and one paper for the general public emphasizing the remarkable endemism of moths at White Sands and 5) volunteering 1600+ hours annually at both parks.
“Eric’s scientific contributions inspire stewardship and collaboration in the spirit of protection, preservation, and improvement of the natural resources of White Sands National Monument and Carlsbad Caverns National Park,” said NPS Intermountain Regional Director, Sue Masica.

Metzler Award article 10_8_14ss

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