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.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hunting Mohican

Park ranger and fellow insect collector Alex Webb talked me into a night in the Mohican Forest area. Alex patrols several of the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy parks, including Pleasant Hill Lake. It's situated between Mohican State Park and Malabar Farm. I hadn't spent time in this region since the 1970's. This also gave me another chance at some night photography. There were a lot of critters out that night including this Spotted Grass Moth, Rivula propinqualis.

It's always a good idea to check out the vegetation in the area to see what forest type you have. Besides the fact I just like botanizing, plant communities can give you an idea of what insects may be found there. While it was mostly oak, there were some nice Blackgums around. Nyssa sylvatica produces blue fruit. They usually grow in pairs, and on long stalks. They can be made into jelly or jam. It's also called Sourgum because some people do not like the taste.

Blackgum leaves are mostly entire and have a glossy sheen. The buds are striped, and may appear green, orange, and purple. I teach people to look for the tri-colored bud. Blackgum species are called Tupelo in the south.

The Chickweed Moth, Haematopis grataria, is a common inchworm moth found wherever grasses are present. It may not be as brilliant as the Rosy Maple Moth, but pink and yellow mixes are still striking.

Even though we were concentrating on looking for adults, there was an abundance of caterpillars out that night. This is one of the Datana moths, probably Datana angusii. The adults all tend to look the same, but the caterpillars will have different colored stripes. This larva has raised its body in the front and back as a warning posture. It will then regurgitate plant juices as part of a defense mechanism.

In the same family as above, this oddly shaped larva with the red horn is called the Unicorn Caterpillar, Schizura unicornis. The bulging green thorax section is the key feature to look for.

This is one of the Hornworm caterpillars commonly known as Hawkmoths or Sphinx Moths. The light blue marks containing orange spiracles tells us this is the Hog Sphinx, Darapsa myron. It feeds on Virginia Creeper and Wild Grape.

Here is an adult Hawkmoth known as the Carolina Sphinx, Manduca sexta. The larvae are called Tobacco Hornworms. Don't be fooled, it also feeds on your tomato plants.

Here is another we almost stepped on. It's easy to miss when it blends in with this conglomerate rock. Notice the two black spots above the yellow ones. There is a similar species called the Tomato Hornworm, M. quinquemaculata. On that species the black spots will be followed by two white spots before the yellow starts. The hindwings are also slightly different.

This was a particular treat for me. That means I had never seen it before. It's called the Sycamore Tiger Moth, Halysidota harrisii. The orange hair tufts in front confirm it. You can compare this to all the others by going here. The adult looks identical to the Pale or Banded Tiger Moth, H. tessellaris. I know of no way to separate the two as moths, but the caterpillars are distinct.

Another species that has an identical match is the Grape Leaf-folder, Desmia funeralis. Obviously a feeder on grape, the adult has white spots on both the wings and body. It is said that D. maculata, the look alike, is different because it has a white dot on the head. I can tell you that is a completely useless character, as they both will show it.

Camptonotus carolinensis, the Carolina Leaf-roller, is the only member of the Raspy Cricket family in the U.S. They feed on aphids at night, and stay hidden in leaves during the day. The ovipositor is evident on this female. Those long antennae make them look similar to Cave and Camel Crickets, but they lack the humped thorax.

I continue to shoot spiders in hopes of finding names for them. I think this is the Furrow Orb Weaver, Larinioides cornutus. They are also nocturnal, and common around buildings.

Earwigs are in the order Dermaptera. Like the previous few creatures, they are most active at night. Those pincher like caudal cerci are used for protection. Some species may capture prey with them, but most are simple scavengers. They do not crawl into peoples ears and eat their brain. Old wives tales are amazing. Like Roaches, it's the non native species that tend to seek shelter in homes.

Anytime I mention Ear-Wig, I'm referring to insects, not this.


  1. I love that area I was able to do an internship adjacent to the park at a Camp called Nuhop. If you like ferns there a good spot that is protected over there I believe they have 12-13 species in one little area.

  2. Excellent data sir!
    I would like to share 3 pics with you for your ranger/insect collector friend. Is there a best way to get these to you?

  3. Pictures of moths more specifically - sorry.