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.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Silk Moths, Neuroptera, and other Night Time Insects

While I post a lot of wildflower pictures, insects are my thing. So it's about time you got to know the 'real me'. In the next couple of weeks I will be posting on my special interest, MOTHS. First I want to mention I have a lot to learn about taking photos at night. When competing with a 200 watt mercury vapor light, depth of field becomes a real nightmare! I took 600 pictures this past weekend, most of which did not come out in focus.

You can see what I mean by looking at this Grapevine Looper, Eulithis diversilineata. Not all of the insect remained in perfect focus, but I've stated before, I'm not here to impress people with my technique, it still leaves something to be desired as they say. My purpose is to educate and interpret the natural world, so enjoy without being too critical.

One of the problems photographing on a dirty white sheet is the light reflection, the flash often doesn't know what to do. Another way to say that is I don't know what to do :)

This is a Fishfly, Chauliodes pectinicornis. They are members of the order Neuroptera, or nerve-wing insects. Aquatic entomologists put these in their own order, the Megaloptera, but us terrestrial folks keep them in Neuroptera. The other genus of fishflies is Neohermes, but they have beaded antennae, not thin and feathery like these. Fishflies are often called Dobsonflies by mistake, but they are closely related.

For those who are curious, the real Dobsonfly (Corydalus) is larger and more robust. The males have these unmistakeable huge jaws. The pinchers do not meet, but overlap, so they can not inflict a bite with those.

Another family is the Ascalaphidae, the Owlflies. They are recognized by the clubbed antennae. This is the 4-spotted Owlfly.

Owlflies get their name from the big bulging eyes they have.

Another common member of our woodlands are the Green Lacewings, Chrysopidae. There are many species in Ohio, and to me they all look alike.

An interesting behavior of Lacewings is how the immatures cover themselves with camouflage and hunt up and down leaves and tree trunks.

Braconid Wasp, Macrocentrus sp. female

Ichneumon Wasp, Netelia sp.

Acrotaphus wiltii.

Setting up a light and sheet brings in plenty of insects. Wherever there is an insect gathering, you can bet the parasitic wasps will be there. There are many families of parasitics, but the two largest are the Braconids and Ichneumons. These two families comprise at least 5,000 species in North America, so getting them to species level is not easy.
Both families attack other insects by piercing the body and laying eggs inside their host. When Ichneumons are ready to hatch into adults, the larvae bore out right through the body, like a scene from the movie Alien. Many Braconids on the other hand tend to spin cocoons on the outside, like these on a Hornworm caterpillar.

No these are not oversized feet, but another example of a parasitized caterpillar.

Unlike the Dobsonfly above, you don't want to get your fingers stuck in the jaws of a Stag Beetle, ouch!

Kids always find the big beetles cool when they fly in. This is a Prionus Beetle, Orthosoma brunneum. They are members of the Long-horned Beetle family.

Obviously night time photography is enhanced when you can get critters like this Scudderia Katydid to move away from the white sheet.

Crawling in the grass was this very unusual Hemiptera. The body is inflated like that of a balloon. That is because it is a pregnant female Assassin Bug that doesn't have wings. It's called Stenopoda spinulosa. The adult males look nothing like this, which is why I needed help getting a name on this.

Here's an order of insects often missed by people. Microcoryphia, or Jumping Bristletails. Once lumped with Silverfish, they are now in their own order. The three caudal cerci are usually of equal length in Silverfish, but the center one in Bristletails is longer, and they can jump from one place to another. They usually have a large thorax or hump on their back that makes them different also. Look for them on rocky outcrops and decaying wood.

Now for a few silk moths. One of the most common is the Polyphemus. Named after the one eyed giant of Greek mythology, they can be either be a dark chocolate brown or a bright orange-pink. They are the second or third largest of all the moths in Ohio.

In the Silk Moths, the male has a very wide feathery antennae. This is used to pick up the pheromone scent of the female.

Here's the caterpillar feeding on Oak, just one of the many food plants of Polyphemus.

What's he doing, sleeping? Caterpillars have pro-legs that allow them to attach to twigs, but like all insects, you can see they have six true legs up front.

Automeris io, the IO Moth. The common name is just two letters IO, it also comes from Greek mythology stories. Very common, the all yellow is the male, and the brown winged one is a female.

The caterpillar is green and spiny, with a red and white stripe on the side. They can inflict quite a sting.

The Imperial Moth, Eacles imperialis. A very showy species, the females are larger than males, and almost approach the Cecropia in size. The pattern is generally the same on this species, but rarely will you ever find any two moths that are exactly marked the same.

As with many species in this family, the larvae are robust. Imperial caterpillars can be recognized by the hairy body and four short horns on the back.

Smaller in size are the Oakworms. This is Anisota virginiensis, the Pink-striped Oakworm. There are five species of these in Ohio. Fairly easy to separate, especially with females like this, but the males appear totally different in markings and look similar.

I thought mullets went out with the bath water. One of the 'cutest' of the silk moths is the small but colorful Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda. All the silk moths mentioned above are found throughout Ohio. They do not feed as adults. They hatch, mate, and die within a week.

Not all Rosy Maple Moths have pink and yellow wings. In the "alba" form, they are usually just plain white or yellow. Touch this moth and they will often curl their body and fall to the ground playing dead.


  1. Excellent post. Can you recommend a field guide for moths?

  2. I just saw a caterpillar this week that had also been parasitized. It appeared to still be alive but it could've been the larvae moving it. I had no idea that parasite was the cause. Cool!

  3. Vick, try Charles Covell, Moths of Eastern North America. It was once part of the Peterson series, but was discontinued. Rights were given to republish it through the Virginia Museum of Natural History. Be aware it's not complete, especially for micros, but still the best out there.

  4. Great Post, another nighttime bug shooter, although I do most of my stalking in the dark. There will be a new Peterson Moth book coming out next year, Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle
    and Seabrooke Leckie

  5. Seriously Scott??!! Perhaps Houghton-Mifflin realized the mistake they made letting Charlie's book go. I can't imagine how it will be much different, but another moth book is a plus. I look forward to it.

  6. Yes, I follow Seabrooke Leckie's blog and she is doing the illustrations. Looks like they are going to have more illustrations than the previous guide. Looking at your pictures it looks like you have a light setup to use at night. Can you post some details or a picture ?

  7. I saw a very large white moth, it had to be abouth 5" long, it was so beautiful, red on its head; long antenias; the wings were white & green, as though it was lighly painted, 2 yellow circles on thr wings. Very long legs, I cannot
    find it on the computer, & would like to know more about this insect, it has not returned.

  8. Very interesting. You almost describe what could be an albino luna moth. Of course I would have to see it to be sure.

  9. I found a grey and red moth and I don't know what type it is can u tell me and its about 5 inches wide and 2 and a halve.