Category Archives: Lepidoptera

Porch Light Bug Viewing – Who’s Watching Whom?

Some of you might cringe at the idea of standing below a porch light while an eclipse of moths (yep, that’s what a group of moths are called) are whirling and gyrating around your head. I find it fascinating, even as they hit at my face or hair, before bouncing back towards the light or disappearing off in the dark night.

Camera in hand, I wait for them to settle on the wood siding beneath the glow. Stealthily, I focus my lens to capture the delicate shimmer of scales and patterns, or eyes and antennae of my subject. Last night, I actually felt I was the one being observed.

This particular moth is in the genus Hypena. The species is Hypena decorata. It is a medium sized (15-18mm), somewhat drab moth. This species is sexually dimorphic – meaning the males look differently than the females. Males are slightly larger than females, with sooty brown forewings marked with two white spots near the apex or bottom edge of the wing.

Male Hypena decorata moth

Females of this species are more mottled in coloration, some with a purply hue. They also have a small patch of raised dark scales in the median area. More about distinguishing male and female specimens can be accessed here http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/browse/family-erebidae/subfamily-hypeninae/hypena/hypena-decorata/

On occasion, there can be an odd form, like this one I found in August of 2019 https://buggingyoufromsanjuanisland.com/2019/08/22/hypena-decorata/

Food/host plants for Hypena decorata are nettles  (Urtica spp.) in the Urticaceae. These moths range from BC to Southern California. There appears to be two broods per year (April and August). Adults come to lights and can be found flying from April to September.

While this may appear to be merely another drab, ordinary moth, I want to show you the photos I took of the male and the nearby female last night. I missed it when I first went through my photos, but the second time around, it definitely appeared that the male moth was turning his head to watch me. Sort of like how Drago, my dragon lizard will do the same thing.

It’s a mysterious world, and much more rich when we recognize we aren’t the only ones that are aware. Some humans (I’m ashamed of researchers for this) do horrible things like cut off moths antennae to try and figure out how they fly (or can’t fly after being mutilated in this way). If we could only recognize they have a desire to live, find mates, food, and shelter – just like humans, maybe we would care more.

References and Further Reading

Bradley H. Dickerson, Zane N. Aldworth, Thomas L. Daniel; Control of moth flight posture is mediated by wing mechanosensory feedback. J Exp Biol 1 July 2014; 217 (13): 2301–2308. doi: https://doi.org/10.1242/jeb.103770

Bugguide https://bugguide.net/node/view/511337

Bugging You From San Juan Island (Hypena decorata) https://buggingyoufromsanjuanisland.com/2019/08/22/hypena-decorata/

Pacific Northwest Moths (Hypena decorata) http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/browse/family-erebidae/subfamily-hypeninae/hypena/hypena-decorata/

Thompson, A. 2007. Mystery of Moth Flight Uncovered. LiveScience https://www.livescience.com/4338-mystery-moth-flight-uncovered.html

Author’s note – When it comes to experimenting on living beings, the aim of science shouldn’t always be to prove a hypothesis. Sometimes we need only to experience the extraordinary wonder of meeting the spirit within some of earth’s most unassuming characters. Be kind to those around you. Even the ones with scales and chitin.

Strawberry Muppets

Orthosia transparens – the Transparent Quaker Moth

I’d really love it if I could rename this moth. Strawberry muppet heart moth is what I’d call it. Check out the little heart-shaped markings on it’s wings.

Orthosia transparens – with heart mark on wing

Orthosia transparens is a medium sized (15-17mm) , brownish red Noctuid moth that flies in our region in early spring. The common name for the species is Transparent Quaker Moth.   Caterpillar food plants include salal (Gaultheria shallon), madrone (Arbutus menziesii), and rhododendron (Rhododendron macrophyllum). This species is native to the PNW region and not considered pests of economic significance. A map of the geographic distribution can be accessed here – http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=10479

Noctuidae is the family with the awful common name, “cutworm,” which leads folks to deem them evil little garden gremlins that should be stomped on or tossed out on the ground for birds to scavenge. Not all cutworms are bad, and certainly many more of us would embrace them if we knew they were going to turn out to be so cute.

I’m fine with a bit of herbivory on our salal, madrone, and rhododendrons. These little Strawberry Muppets are welcome to fly to my porch light any spring night.

Check out the gallery below for more photos and if you’re interested in reading more about this moth, check out my friend, Dan’s nice write up on his blog here – http://10000thingsofthepnw.com/2022/02/03/orthosia-transparens-transparent-quaker-moth/

Thanks for reading!

Mystery Eggs Hatch

They hatched!

Well, I was wrong in my theory about these possibly being Nepytia phantasmaria or Phantom Hemlock Looper eggs, so my next steps will be to review all my moth photos from early September to try and thread out any other possibilities. That may take some time. Initial observation (date eggs laid) was Sept. 12, 2021. Today is Oct. 7, 2021. They are indeed pretty tiny and if you look closely, you can see the caterpillar body rolled up in the eggs that haven’t hatched. The tree is a Caucasian Fir (Abies nordmanniana).

eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
eggs on Caucasian Fir, San Juan Island, WA 09.12.2021
Eggs darkening – September 18, 2021 San Juan Island
They hatched! Oct. 7, 2021

Mystery moth eggs hatch – October 7, 2021

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for further updates. I’ll do my best to figure out an ID for these. 🙂

Facebook Fail

The social media giant we all have become overly dependent on in recent years, had a big, giant F-A-I-L today. The entire site was down. I couldn’t share bug photos or look to see what crazy or amazing things my friends had been up to. I also couldn’t watch the fabulous video of the frog and bearded dragon that I’ve been replaying over, and over, and over because it’s so DARN cute! You can find it on Tik Tok if you can’t find it on Facebook.

In the void, I resorted to the fail safe backup. It’s called E-mail. I really feel old because I actually remember how we communicated before the advent of cyberspace – handwriting letters that you put a stamp on and eventually were delivered by USPS.

So, in my email, I actually had received two nice bug pictures I want to share with you. Victoria Compton (who is running for Friday Harbor Port Commissioner btw) sent these to me. The first, a caterpillar, is going to turn into my favorite moth, Lophocampa roseata or the Rosy Amelia Moth. The 2nd, is a ground beetle in the family Carabidae (Scaphinotus marginatus) – also sometimes called the Margined Snail-eating Carabid Beetle.

Happy Bug Viewing! Thanks for checking these out and thanks for sending the photos Victoria! You have my vote. 😉

Lophocampa roseata moth caterpillar

Scaphinotus marginatus Carabid beetle

Links to read more about these two bugs

Lophocampa roseatahttps://buggingyoufromsanjuanisland.com/2018/10/02/lophocampa-roseata-rosy-aemilia/

Lophocampa roseata https://bugguide.net/node/view/247272

Scaphinotus marginatus https://bugguide.net/node/view/327898

Flight of The Phantoms (Phantom Hemlock Loopers – Nepytia phantasmaria)

Yesterday, August 29, 2021, I received an email from C. Croll requesting ID of a moth photographed by T. Ormenyi. Their query read,

“I live on Orcas and kayak quite a bit. Today I was paddling from Patos Island back home, and there were thousands of moths in the air. They were heading from south to north. We first saw them on Patos but then all the way home. Some had fallen onto the water on the crossing. ”

And,

“I had not witnessed so many moths all traveling together before. Seemed like a migration of some sort? When they first arrived I thought there were cottonwood seeds floating on the breeze, took a second to realize that it was moths. The air was full of them for almost an hour. “

Phantom Hemlock Looper (Nepytia phantasmaria ) – photo by Tessa Ormenyi
Phantom Hemlock Looper (Nepytia phantasmaria ) – photo by Tessa Ormenyi

These moths sighted by Calvin and Tessa are the Phantom Hemlock Loopers, (Nepytia phantasmaria). They are in the family Geometridae. This species ranges from southern BC to California. There is one generation produced per year and larvae feed on conifers, including Western Hemlock, Douglas-fir, Grand Fir, Amabilis Fir, Sitka Spruce, and Western Red cedar (Bugguide.net).

Adults typically emerge in fall (September and October), so seeing them now is a bit earlier than when I’ve typically collected specimens at my porch light on San Juan Island. Last year, I photographed my first specimen of the season on Sept. 7, 2020. As these moths are nocturnally active, Calvin and Tessa’s report of of them traveling en-masse like this during daylight was intriguing. I was curious to know more.

William H. Hendrix III’s thesis titled Migration and behavioral studies of two adult noctuid (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) species plus feeding observations of some moths common to Iowa (1990), cites (Johnson, 1969), stating these migration events are part of the “oogenesis flight syndrome” stage where the newly emerged adult insects move en-masse before reproduction and egg laying takes place. Hendrix (1990) also provides some theories as to WHY these moths migrate in the first place. Several theories have attempted to explain this, but he concludes, “Migration, consequently, occurs primarily in young adults and its chief function is to allow escape from unfavorable habitats and allow colonization of a broad range of environments” (Hendrix, 1990).

After reading about this particular species, I believe the migration witnessed yesterday could be attributed to either 1) the sudden weather change we experienced overnight in the islands, or 2) the lack of suitable habitat for reproduction because of the drought we are experiencing. I’m guessing the drought may have more to do with this and we will see more evidence as other species struggle to survive the coming environmental shifts associated with global warming.

Thanks to Calvin and Tessa for sending in their observations!

References and Further Reading

https://bugguide.net/node/view/88329

http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=6907

Edwards, D.. (2011). Activity rhythms of Lepidopterous defoliators. II. Halisidota argentata Pack. (Arctiidae) and Nepytia phantasmaria Strkr. (Geometridae). Canadian Journal of Zoology. 42. 939-958. 10.1139/z64-093.

Hendrix, William Hurston III, “Migration and behavioral studies of two adult noctuid (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) species plus feeding observations of some moths common to Iowa ” (1990). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. 9373. https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/rtd/9373 https://lib.dr.iastate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=10372&context=rtd

Johnson, C. G. 1969. Lepidoptera: Long-distance displacement. In MigrationandDispersalofInsectsbyFlight. Methuen&Co.,Ltd., London. 763 pp.

It’s all connected! Know your Ecosystem – Butterflies and Moths Love Ocean Spray (Holodiscus discolor)

We all love butterflies and moths, right?

Did you know Ocean spray is one of our native plants? Lots of folks don’t even know this and label it as “invasive,” or a “fire hazard,” then rip it out of the ground to replace it with non-native ornamentals or worse, leaving the formerly healthy, forested understory devoid of vegetation.

Image from – http://nativeplantspnw.com/ocean-spray-holodiscus-discolor/

Did you know?

Here’s a bit of historical trivia – Ocean spray is sometimes called Indian arrowwood because Native Americans made use of its straight hardwood branches for arrow shafts. They also used oceanspray for treating viral and skin diseases. Other names for this plant are Holodiscus discolor, ironwood or creambush. There is actually a novel phenolic component in the plant called Stilbene a Xyloside that has been associated with varied biological and medicinal activities.

Some reasons I’d like you to appreciate Ocean Spray….

  1. It is a larval host plant to some of our native butterflies and moths. These include the beautiful Pale Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon), Spring Azure (Celastrina sp.), Lorquin’s Admiral (Limenitis lorquini), and Gray Hairstreaks (Strymon melinus). One particularly notable one here on our island is the delicate Fairy Moth (Adela septentrionella). Calscape (California Native Plant Society) lists 14 confirmed species of Lepidoptera associated with Ocean Spray (and 23 as likely) for a total of 37 species native to the state of CA. I could not find published studies for this in WA state, but link the Calscape page here https://calscape.org/plantleps.php?hostsloc=california&species=Holodiscus+discolor
  2. Ocean spray provides cover and forage for wildlife. Birds, small amphibians, and deer rely on native plant species like Ocean Spray that make up part of the forest understory and are a component of a healthy ecosystem. Fire-scaping may be on your mind, but one way around this is to look at installing adequate water cachement around your home to help keep vegetation from drying out and dying in late summer and fall. We want to live in the forest, but if we remove the native understory, we risk altering the landscape even more and losing these beautiful creatures!
  3. Ocean Spray flowers provide pollen and nectar for native bees! 🐝
Fairy Moth – https://bugguide.net/node/view/26749

Read more about Ocean Spray here:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/222005193_A_stilbene_xyloside_from_Holodiscus_discolor_bark

http://nativeplantspnw.com/ocean-spray-holodiscus-discolor/

https://blogs.oregonstate.edu/treetopics/2016/07/14/shrubs-wildlife-oceanspray/

Thanks for reading!

Caterpillar Rescue – Dagger in Distress!

Saturday, September 19, 2020. San Juan Island, WA – Caterpillar rescue!

Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020


I found one of these several years ago (September 20, 2017 to be exact), so I recognized it immediately when I saw it squirming in the spider webbing along the house this morning. My husband said I should just leave it alone. “Nature is ugly sometimes and you can’t interfere.” Well, when it was still there four hours later, suspended mid air, and still squirming, my tendency to SAVE things kicked in. The spider living above that web was actually dead. I’m not feeling very guilty about stealing food from a dead spider.

Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020
Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020


I got a cup and gently pulled at the web and began the process of freeing this caterpillar. It took finding my reading glasses and getting some fine-pointed tools to gently ply away the sticky bonds and clean the strands off the caterpillar hairs.

Acronita impleta – Yellow-haired Dagger Moth caterpillar. San Juan Island, WA 09.19.2020
Yellow-haired Dagger Moth (Acronita impleta)


I think it looks pretty good! I even picked it some dinner and we’ll see if I can keep it healthy through pupation and adulthood.

Yellow-haired Dagger Moth (Acronita impleta)

More about Yellow-haired Dagger Moths here:

Brownlined Looper (Neoalcis californica)

I found this specimen ready to hitch a ride on the car window when I was leaving a dinner on Sunday evening, August 25, 2019. Time of sighting was 7:32 pm. It managed to stay on the window glass as we pulled out of the driveway, but blew off as we began our drive home.

This is a Brownlined Looper moth, Neoalcis californica in the family Geometridae and is the single species in its genus in North America. Its distribution ranges from Southern California to British Columbia. Adults can be found flying between March and October in the Pacific Northwest, but has been documented flying as late as December in California. Larvae of this species feed mostly on conifers, including Douglas-Fir, Western Hemlock, Western Red Cedar, Grand Fir, Lodgepole Pine (Canadian Forest Service) as well as many broadleaf trees and shrubs (USGS).

First described by American Entomologist, Alphaeus Spring Packard in 1871, this rather nondescript moth was initially named Boarmia californiaria. A description by Packard is found in the Proceedings of the Boston Society of Natural History. Volume 13 https://archive.org/details/proceedingsbost07histgoog/page/n39 or view description attached below.

Neoalcis californica
August 25, 2019, 7:32 pm
San Juan Island, WA
Neoalcis californica
August 25, 2019, 7:32 pm
San Juan Island, WA
Packard’s description of Boarmia californiaria
renamed Neoalcis californica
part 1
Packard’s description of Boarmia californiaria
renamed Neoalcis californica
part 2

References

Bugguide.net. https://bugguide.net/node/view/9696

North American Moth Photographers Group. Mississippi State University Digital Guide to Moth Identification http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=6435

Powell, J. A., and P. A. Opler 2009. Moths of Western North America. pl. 28.14; p. 208.

Hypena decorata

Family: Eribidae Hypena decorata August 20, 2019 San Juan Island, WA

I found this on the kitchen floor the other morning (August 20, 2019). It looked like a piece of tree bark had been tracked in. When I reached down to pick it up, I realized it was some sort of moth and one I’d not seen before.

Hypena decorata August 20, 2019

After taking photos of it (it was expired when I found it), I thumbed through my reference books, trying to see if I could identify it. After about an hour of skimming literature and photos, I finally grew frustrated and emailed Merrill Peterson at Western WA University to see if he’d seen it before.

That afternoon, I did indeed hear back from Merrill. He’s fantastic about responding and said he had to reach out to someone he knew, but finally got an answer for me.

Here’s what Merrill said, “It’s a strange Hypena decorata, like this one. I had to get some help to figure it out!” I was glad Merrill helped solve the mystery and now I can share what I found out about this moth.

Hypena decorata is in the family Eribidae, within the superfamily  Noctuoidea, the (Owlet Moths and kin). Hypena is Greek for “beard.” When you look at the fuzzy, long labial palms that project to form the moth’s snout, it does indeed look a bit like a beard.

According to the Bugguide reference, Lafontaine & Schmidt (2010) list 29 species of the genus Hypena in America north of Mexico. The moth is relatively rare to uncommon West of the Cascades, but found in southwestern British Columbia and western Oregon and Washington. Distribution records also show the species ranges to Southern California. Larvae are food plant specialists, feeding on nettles  (Urtica spp.).

Hypena decorata August 20, 2019

References:

http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/browse/family-erebidae/subfamily-hypeninae/hypena/hypena-decorata/

https://bugguide.net/node/view/511337

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