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.

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