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 18, 2012

A Moth Night at Wahkeena Nature Preserve

Hello, and welcome to Wahkeena. I was just wondering if empty jet black eyes staring back at you makes you nervous? We have a moth gathering at Wahkeena at the very least once a year. As always, Tom and Robyn were our hosts. Alex Webb and I were looking to collect, though I spent more time capturing with the camera than the jar. Jim McCormac, Roger Grossenbacher, and Steve & Lisa Sells all brought their cameras. It was a spectacular night. Look for Jim and Lisa to be posting results at their respective blogs.

Before we get into the moths, for those who haven't been there, let me introduce you to Wahkeena. It's a nature preserve that for years was managed by the Ohio Historical Society, but is now part of the Fairfield County Historical Parks. Staffing, programs, and workshops will stay the same, there is just no fee to walk the grounds now. Upon entering the area, you are greeted by a nice wetland that currently is full of Water Lilies and Swamp Rose Mallows.

Another plant along the wetland edge is Lizard's Tail, Saururus cernuus. Its raceme of white flowers curl downward at the ends. It's found throughout Ohio. I often tend to pass it up since I used to see it on a daily basis for years in Florida.

Maidenhair Fern, Adiantum pedatum. This is one of over 30 species of ferns found at Wahkeena. If you're a fern lover, this is one place you have to visit.

Orchids also abound at Wahkeena. Maybe not as showy as the Purple Fringeless, but when it comes to Orchids, "it's all good!" This is the Green Wood Orchid, Platanthera clavellata. A small green and white species, these plants were only 8-10 inches tall. Notice the white spur tends to be kept tucked under the flower stalk. Like Lizard Tail, this is a plant I last saw many years ago in Florida.

I arrived before dark in hopes of seeing other things. The Butterfly Milkweed Asclepias tuberosa is coming into peak bloom, and were covered with shiny green Halictid Bees.

Arrowwood, Viburnum dentatum is in full fruit, and common throughout the wetland boardwalk.

Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea, serves as host to many butterflies, especially Skippers.

This is the Zabulon Skipper, Poanes zabulon. This is a male. Like many of the small look alike skippers, it flies rapidly from one flower to the next. You can identify this one by the large yellow patch on the back of the hindwing. The base and edge of the wing have rich brown patches, and the yellow area will be dotted with small brown spots.

A nice closeup of the tongue probing for nectar.

Robyn likes rearing moth caterpillars found on the area. They make for great interpretive programs with kids. The yellow and black stripes on the side, and blue-black horn tells us this is the Laurel Sphinx, Sphinx kalmiae. It's sometimes listed as the Fawn Sphinx, but I stick to the old name because it reflects the latin.

Here is the Cecropia Moth larva. Hyalophora cecropia is one of the largest moths in Ohio. The caterpillars will approach 5-6 inches in length. These guys were smaller, but about to molt into their last instar. The combination of red, yellow, blue, and green is hard to beat.

Up close you can see the tubercles that end in sharp spines for protection. The light blue ovals are the breathing spiracles.

Photography in the dark can be a challenge. We planned the moth gathering a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately, that was the night of the big storm. Power went out everywhere, including Wahkeena, so we sat around in the dark and told stories all night. At least Robyn had this nice caterpillar to shoot.

This is Acronicta funeralis, the Paddled Dagger Moth. I have collected the adult before, but had never seen the caterpillar. It feeds on a wide variety of plants, including this Blueberry/Huckleberry. Young larvae look like bird droppings. These mature caterpillars will swing those paddles around when disturbed. Studies have yet to be done on this species, but usually black and yellow markings like this advertise warning colorations to predators.

Since I'm mentioning Robyn, I thought I'd throw this in just for fun. On our Purple Fringeless Orchid excursion I posted recently, she came across this. I was down in a wetland shooting sedges, when she unmistakably yelled at the top of her lungs that I better hurry up and come see what she found. Based on the sharp edged thorax, I believe this is a female Prionus laticolis, a Broad-necked Root Borer. In biomass terms, it is one of the largest beetles in Ohio. Cool!

People often ask me how I set up for a night of moths. Everybody is different, but I use a 200 watt mercury vapor light. It emits a fair amount of UV rays. I put a sheet on the ground, and hang up another. Now one simply waits for UFO's of the insect kind.

Speaking of huge insects, we were lucky enough to have the Big Poplar Sphinx, Pachsphinx occidentalis (modesta) show up at the sheet. It's a common Aspen feeder, and as for the Sphinx or Hawkmoths in Ohio, it's one of the largest in the state.

One of the bigger families of moths are the Geometridae. Many can be recognized by the skinny bodies in comparison to the oversized broad wings. The margins of their wings are often uneven, pointed, or scalloped. This one is probably the Yellow Slant-line, Tetracis crocallata. The orange line is usually more pronounced, but I don't know of anything else it could be. Geometrid larvae are known as Inchworms.

Often mistaken for a Geometridae is the Arched Hooktip Moth, Drepana arcuata. Their wingtips are not only pointed, but curve around like a fish hook.

No night of mothing would be complete without having some of my Slug Moths show up. This is Lithacodes fasciola, recognized by the white lightning bolt in the wings.

Roger brought some of his bait for brushing on trees. Bait can consist of stale beer, rotten fruit, sugar/molasses, or a combination of all three. Noctuid moths will slurp up the stuff, and not even be bothered by your presence. Such was the case with this Horrid Zale, Zale horrida.

Hiding on tree trunks during the day are the well camouflaged Catocala or Underwing Moths. They too like sucking on rotten fruit bait. You need both the front and hindwings when determining which species you have. They are not easy to identify. This is the Oldwife Underwing, Catocala palaeogama. I'll stick to that name until an expert says otherwise.  Hope you enjoyed this trip down nocturnal lane. Everybody's cameras were busy clicking that night.


  1. Excellent stuff, Dennis, and thanks for letting me tag along! That was a great time with numerous intersting finds, and I look forward to another moth outing at Wahkeena!

  2. Great post as usual Dennis... except we're part of the Fairfield County Historical Parks, not the city. Got that Big 'ol beetle pinned the other day, can't wait to get some "oh my's!" from people!

  3. these are excellent photos and the blog, in general, is awesome.

    I paint and would love to use some images eventually. I'll keep you posted as I follow the blog. Check out mine if you want to see where your photos could end up (if you're interested, that is) (i always credit sources)

    keep up the awesome work!

  4. Wow! beautiful photos, Dennis! Sad I missed this, but I might try your set up at Clear Creek some night. I noticed it's moth week by the way... Have you seen this site? http://nationalmothweek.org/

  5. Wow stunning photos you have.. I also love to do like that kind something what we called macro photography.. I love butterflies..

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