Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Various Macro & Micro Moth Families

Had enough of the moths? This should be it for awhile, besides, it's time to start experiencing prairie season. You know if it wasn't for the wings, those legs look an awful lot like a nursery-web spider. This is the Streaked Tussock Moth, Dasychira obliquata. Tussocks belong to the family Lymantriidae. This is the same family as the dreaded Gypsy Moth.

What the..??? Female Gypsy Moths have fully developed wings, but can not fly. This is just to show you that many species of female Tussocks don't fly. Their wings have been reduced to these rudimentary stubs.

Sitting among the caddisflies is this Lasiocampidae family member, the Lappet Moth, Phyllodsema americana. It's related to the Tent Caterpillars most of us have seen on cherry trees in the springtime. Interesting is how they fold their front wings but leave the scalloped edged hind wings stick out.

A small and lesser know family is the Thyatiridae. This is the Glorious Habrosyne, Habrosyne gloriosa. They are closely related to Noctuid moths, and are known for their raised hairs on the back of the thorax. So just how are family relationships determined for the moths? Wing venation. They may look covered by scales, but the undersides show distinct differences in veins. You can see this on top when they are wet, or by scraping off the scales.

Another species in the family is the Tufted Thyatirid, and with a latin name for all time, Pseudothyatira cymatophoroides. Say that three times real fast with a mouthful of saltines.

Similar in spelling, but totally unrelated are the Thyrididae, the Window-Winged Moths. This is the Spotted Thyris, Thyris maculata. Although called Window-winged, the white spots tend to be more translucent rather than transparent. This species is a common day flying moth. Look for it nectaring on a variety of plants.

Also having translucent white marks in their wings are the Apatelodid Moths. This is a small family, with only a couple species in our area. This is Apatelodes torrefacta, the Spotted Apatelodes or Wild Cherry Moth. They have uneven wings like many of the Inchworms, but their bodies are fat, and they often curl them upward.

This moth appears to have pieces missing from its wings, like it had been attacked by a bird or bat. This is the natural look of this family, the Epiplemidae. This pattern resembles a chewed up old leaf.  The front wings and hind wings are held away from each other. Because of the wing margins, they are often mistaken for inchworms. There are only two species in our area, the Gray Scoopwing, and this one, the Brown Scoopwing, Calledapteryx dryopterata.

An interesting family of T-shaped moths are the Pterophoridae. Plume Moths have front wings with a notch in the middle. The hind wings are held covered under the front wings. The hind wings are split several times. When the front and back wings are spread out together, they resemble a feathery plume.  The top species is Megalorrhipida defectalis sitting on the larval food plant in Florida. That name may have changed, and because the family is undergoing a complete revision, I won't even attempt to name the other.

Even stranger looking is our single member of the Alucitidae, the Six-Plume Moth, Alucita hexadactyla. The name comes from the fact that all the wing veins occur separately and are not joined  as in other butterflies and moths. Six veins in the hind wing and six in the front. Each vein is lined with its own scales.

There are many micro moth families, far too many to cover here. I'll just highlight a few more. This is a member of the Yponomeutidae family, the Ermine Moth Atteva punctella. Members of this family are small and tend to roll or fold their wings and appear tube-like. Its food plant is Tree-of-Heaven, and since it was planted so commonly, this moth has become widespread. The other common name is the Ailanthus Webworm. Caterpillars in this family tend to feed en masse rather than individually.

Euclemensia bassettella is a member of the Cosmopterigidae family. These moths have labial palps on the mouth that are large and look like tusks. You can click on the picture for a closer look at them. The hind wings are very narrow and outlined with a fine fringe of hairs, reminding one of a comb or feather.

Also having large upward curved palps are the Gelechiidae. Their hind wings differ than the above family in being broad and ending in a fine point, like a thorn. This is Dichomeris flavocostella. This is a large family, most of which can not be told apart without dissecting the genitalia. Many species are yet to be named. In fact it is said that for every animal named on the planet, there are twice as many sitting in museums waiting to be described. Most of those are moths and beetles.

There are a couple of micro families that sit with their wings down and their legs up, as if they were busy doing push-ups. Gracillarids, the leaf miners, point their antennae backward, and the end of the wings curve up. These guys have wings that end flat down, and keep their antennae pointed forward. This is how you recognize the family Coleophoridae.

Coleophorids common name is Casebearer Moths. The larvae spin a silken tube, and line it with their feces. They stay inside this and mine the surface of the leaf. While some have distinct markings, most look like the moth pictured above. The best way to identify them is by the shape of the case, some are curved and look like an old fashioned pistol. Others are separated by the food plant of the caterpillar. This is Coleophora elaeagnisella, named after the plant family it feeds on, in this case Buffalo-Berry.

Another large family are the Tortricidae, commonly referred to as the Leaf-roller Moths. They are split into two sub-families. Whenever I see what I call a true tortricid, they remind me of Batman or Superman. They're small, skinny bodied moths that look like they are wearing an oversized cape. This is Sparganothis xanthoides.

Like learning any group of plants or animals, the more you do it, the easier it gets. Once again, the broad cape-like wings are evident. This is a light form of Archips purpurana. Notice how the veins in the wings are nearly identical to the leaf veins. What an ideal place to hide.

Whoa there, I, I say whoa boy!  Sometimes when the sheet is full of moths, there's just nowhere else to land. This is most likely Epiblema gibsoni. I say most likely because I like getting these verified for sure. This is a member of the other subfamily, Olethreutinae. Most of them do not have as broad of wings as the other Tortricids.

The genus Olethreutes does have somewhat broad wings. The trouble is they all have this similar pattern. This is Olethreutes lacunana. Todd Gilligan, Don Wright, and Loran Gibson of the Ohio Lepidopterists did a phenomenal treatment of this subfamily. Even so, between you and me, they still all look the same :)

They are called leaf-rollers because they tie together leaves and feed on them from inside, hidden from predators.

Tortricids are not the only moths that roll leaves. I reared some of these, and they turned out to be Dogwood Leafminers.

Leafminers chew along the surface of the leaf, and some are so small, they live inside between the top and bottom layer, feeding on the softest tissues. Not all leaf miners are moths, many turn out to be Diptera, flies.

Since I am impatient when it comes to feeding caterpillars myself, I usually just open the leaf and look for a pupa or cocoon. Since all the work is done, I just wait for them to hatch out.

Other micro moths are known as leaf-tiers. They spin silk onto two portions of the leaf. As the silk hardens, it draws the leaf portions together, giving them a place to hide and feed.

One never knows what you'll see upon opening one of these. Here was (as yet) an unidentified zebra caterpillar. There are roughly 13,000 species of moths and butterflies in North America. When it comes to these micros, we still have no idea what many of the caterpillars look like, let alone what their food plant is. If you ever rear small larvae, take a photograph of them. Chances are we'll recognize the adult, but immature stages can provide information new to science.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Inchworms and Pyralid Moths

The Geometridae are better known as Inchworms. Inchworms lack a complete set of prolegs. They have them at the beginning and end of the abdomen, but not in the middle. So to avoid scraping their belly against the ground, they "loop" when they walk. I'm sure everyone has seen an inchworm move. Can you recognize the adults though? As a group, they generally have very narrow bodies, and broad wings like this Metanema inatomaria, the Pale Gray Metanema. Another character many have is this broken margin on the wing edges. This adds to their camouflage abilities.

Another example of irregular wing margins. This two toned moth is the Purple Plagodis, Plagodis kuetzingi. It's food plant is Ash. Considered in some areas to be uncommon, it may become even more so with the Emerald Ash Borer problem. In Canada, a large number of Inchworm species feed on Hemlock, Spruce, and Fir, and are considered serious pests to potential lumber trees.

One of the largest and perhaps most common of Inchworms in our area is Epimecis hortaria, the Tulip-tree Beauty. Besides Tulip it feeds on Sassafras and Pawpaw. It may not be colorful, but the black and white pattern is striking none the less.

Speaking of striking patterns, this inchworm resembles a sea shell, and is known as the Calico Scallop Moth, Hydria prunivorata.

Among the Inchworms is a group of green colored species, separated by the type of dots on the body and the lines in the wings. This is Nemoria bistriaria, one of the many Green Emeralds.

In the moth world, we tend to group the smaller more primitive moths into what we call Micro-Moths. One of those families is Pyralidae. The interesting thing about these two above is they belong to a sub-family called Nymphulinae. The larvae are aquatic. They live underwater, feed on Spatterdock, Pondweed,  and Pond Lily, and breath through gills.

This colorful spotted member is found in Florida. It commonly nectars at plants during the day, and is called the Red-waisted Florella, Syngamia florella.

This Zebra striped guy is commonly found in our area, and is known as Conchylodes ovulalis. When you get down to the micro moth families, many of them simply don't have a common name.

This is the Basswood Leafroller, Pantographa limata. In the light it shines an iridescent gold, silver, and purple. This family of moths, the third largest in North America, have long antennae and very long skinny bodies like inchworms, but the wings are usually narrow rather than broad. Up close, the Pyralids are also known for having large mouthparts called palps.

Named after its food plant preferences, this is the Melonworm Moth, Diaphania hylinata. Those structures at the end of the abdomen are called hair-pencils. Not all moths have them, but those that do use them in courtship. Males brush these around females, as they contain sex pheromones released from the body. In most moths the pheromones serve simply as an enticing aphrodisiac, but in some they will sprinkle the pheromones right onto the female antennae, making her literally overwhelmed, and receptive to mating.

Slug Moths of Ohio, and related families

That's a caterpillar? Welcome to what I find to be the most interesting moth family of all, the stinging Slug Moths, Limacodidae. Moth caterpillars have a set of prolegs under the body, these have none. Notice the smooth look to the bottom of this larva. Picture yourself with your hands tied behind your back, and you have to move across the floor on your belly. That's kind of how they get around. Because they are slow moving, these caterpillars are equipped with stinging spines. The Saddleback is one most people are familiar with. This one is Parasa chloris, the Small Green Parasa. If you would like to see a post on more of the caterpillars, click here

Here is the adult of the caterpillar above. It is one of the more colorful members of the family, and besides, there aren't a lot of green colored moths to begin with.

There are two green members of the family. The other is larger and has more green on the wings. Slug moths often sit with their wings folded down, and their butt sticking up.

The Large Parasa or Stinging Rose Caterpillar, Parasa indetemina. A slightly bigger species than the above, and with a broader green patch on the wing. The hind wings are lighter colored when compared to chloris. Diane Brooks photo.

Here is one of the VERY small species, Isa textula. The moth is light brown, and the wings have a darker rufus color.

In these photos you can see the other distinguishing marks. Rows of gray crinkly scales that stick up on the wing.

Here is a closeup of the stinging spines of Isa textula. The common name is the Crowned Slug, and you can see it appears to have a crown of thorns all around it.

D. Brooks photo

Lithacodes fasciola, the Yellow-shouldered Slug. Look for the white lightning bolt in the wings for identification.

Early Button Slug, Tortricidia testacea.  D. Brooks

One of the smallest species in Ohio is the Red-crossed Button Slug, Tortricidia pallida. Look for two thin lines that converge at the top of the wing. Are you starting to see the trend of wings down, butt up?

Looking like a different species, this is actually a dark form of pallida. The thin lines turn into dark blotches. At one time these were split into two species, the other being T. flexuosa. They are virtually identical, and can not even be separated by genitalia, so they are currently combined as pallida.

Jeweled SlugPackardia geminata.

D. Brooks photos. As I mentioned with the previous species, the brown moth was once separated as a different species P. albipunctata, but is now simply considered a dark form of geminata.

The most common species in Ohio is the Spiny Oak Slug, Euclea delphinii. The amount of green and orange varies from specimen to specimen. Sometimes they'll have huge green patches covering the wing.

Here is a picture of the Spiny Oak Slug caterpillar. Don't sit on this guy whatever you do! It's a real whoopee-cushion. There are 18 species of Slug Moths in Ohio. This was on a Cottonwood, but it was not feeding. They feed on as many as 50 different trees and shrubs. The one plant most of them seek out is Oak. Considering we were in an oak-hickory forest, it's no surprise most of these species were found at the same time. The following are just more examples of their diversity.

Isochaetes beutenmuelleri, the Spun Glass Slug
D. Brooks

Apoda biguttata, the Shagreened Slug

Natada nasoni, Nason's Slug

Yellow-collared Slug, Apoda y-inversum. D. Brooks

Prolimacodes badia, the Skiff Moth

Adoneta bicaudata, Crested Slug

D. Brooks

Purple-crested Slug, Adoneta spinuloides. This has the same black and white markings as the Crested Slug above, but the wing is straw colored on that species. The Purple-crested is a chocolate brown, and more commonly encountered. D. Brooks photo

The Saddleback, Acharia stimulea

This is perhaps the worst photo I took all night. I was in an extreme hurry to get this before it flew away. I was very surprised to see it. It's Packardia elegans, the Elegant Tailed Slug. It's known in Ohio from only seven specimens, all but one in northern Ohio. This is only the second time it's been recorded in the southern part of the state. Again, the photo is terrible, but a county record is a county record, and that's what's important.

Here's a much better updated pic from Diane.

Hag Moth, Phobetron pithecium. D. Brooks photos

The Slug Moths are part of the superfamily Zygaenoidea, which includes the Planthopper Parasite Moth, the Smoky Moths, and these guys, Flannel Moths. This is the Yellow Flannel Moth, Megalopyge crispata. Other common names include the Crinkled Flannel or Black-waved Flannel.

Flannel Moths get their name from the rows of raised crinkly scales on the wing that reminded someone of wool. Here's a female above and male below. The markings vary somewhat between sexes, but the antennae are distinctly different.

Here is a picture of the caterpillar. It's sometimes also called the Puss Caterpillar because the soft fur resembles that of a cat.

Make no mistake though, up close you can see under those soft hairs are a series of nasty stinging spines.

White Flannel Moth, Norape ovina.

Orange-patched Smoky Moth, Pyromorpha dimidiata. This is one of three Smoky Moths in Ohio, all of which can be found flying during the day. The wings on this species are half black and half yellow-orange.

Grapeleaf Skeletonizer. Harrisina americana. Similar to the Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis), this species has a brighter orange collar, a black body, and large tufts of hair at the end of the abdomen. They often hold their wings open like this when at rest. Larvae feed in groups, eating the soft tissue of grape, and leaving the main veins behind.

Our smallest species could be mistaken for a Net-winged Beetle. It's Clemens' Smoky Moth, Acoloithus falsarius. It lacks the hair tufts on the abdomen tip. The orange collar does not completely cover the neck. It is broken in the middle by black. This species keeps its wings folded roof like over the back.

Planthopper Parasite Moth, Fulgoraecia exigua. This is the sole member in Ohio of a family whose larvae feed externally on the body fluids of Homopteran plant-hoppers. Most of the specimens will show a small pale circle in the wing. This helps to separate them from the similar looking black Bagworm moths.

I'm not one to get up on a soapbox and boast, not my style. But I would be remiss if I didn't mention that anyone really interested in this group can find my book on the Slug Moths that I wrote with a LOT of help from Eric Metzler and Steven Passoa. It's available from the Ohio Lepidopterists or the Ohio Biological Survey.