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.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Sphinx Moths & Prominent Moths

Closely related to the Noctuid Moths are the Prominents or Notodontidae. Most members are dull and not very colorful. Their patterns are interesting though, and they are masters of camouflage. Prominent moths have tufts of hair and scales throughout the body or wings that break up their pattern, like this Elegant Prominent, Odontosia elegans.

Moths in the genus Oligocentria and Schizura tend to roll their wings around the body and appear like twigs on a tree branch. This is Oligocentria lignicolor, the White-streaked Prominent.

Another example of how the pattern is broken up around the head area.   This is the White-headed Prominent, Symmerista albifrons. There are several look alike species with this pattern. You have to brush away the scales from the genitalia to be sure which you have. Enough said about that.

The resting position of moths in the genus Datana look like broken twigs or dead leaves. It appears the head has been cut off, but it's there, simply tucked down below.

The Sphingidae family, known as Sphinx Moths, Hawk Moths, or Clearwing Moths, are much more recognizable than the Prominents. At rest their shape is triangular. They have long torpedo like bodies, and narrow boomerang shaped wings. Some say the shape is like a jet fighter plane. Hawkmoths are also some of the fastest fliers. The caterpillars in this family are known as Hornworms. The above species is a Pawpaw Sphinx, Dolba hyloeus.

Another example of the triangular shape. The more you see these, the easier they are to recognize as a group. Not all of them have bright colors. This is the Waved Sphinx, Ceratomia undulosa, and is probably the second most common one in our area.

So what is our most common? By far the Hog Sphinx, Darapsa myron. It feeds on Virginia Creeper, of which there is plenty around. I mentioned in my last post the problem of taking photos at night. You can see the difference as the first one is with the sheet light only, and the second with camera flash.

There is a group of Sphinx Moths with eye spots on the hind wings. Five of them in particular. They are easily separated, even if you can't see the spots. This is the Blind-eyed Sphinx, Paonias excaecatus.

Here is the prize Alex and I were searching for this past weekend at Waterloo Wildlife Area, the Hydrangea Sphinx, Darapsa veriscolor. I have found this moth only twice in my life, both times at Waterloo. It feeds on Wild Hydrangea, a very common plant, yet this moth is not very common anywhere in Ohio, so I am told.

Other than photographs, the vast majority of geographical distribution data on insects has been gathered by examining museum and personal collections. I should also mention collecting on state wildlife areas requires permission. As a member of the Ohio Lepidopterists, we use a blanket collecting permit for all wildlife areas.

Perhaps best known to flower gardeners are the Clearwing members of the family. This is Hemaris thysbe, the Hummingbird Moth. It's commonly found nectaring on flowers during the day or at dusk. They are called Clearwings because portions of the wings contain no colorful scales, and yes, they are often mistaken for hummingbirds.

Similar in appearance is another species sometimes called the Snowberry Clearwing, Hemaris diffinis.  I prefer the common name Bumblebee Sphinx. It doesn't have the red markings of the previous species, but is primarily black and yellow.

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