Category Archives: Lepidoptera

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

Enchoria lacteata

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Enchoria lacteata

Enchoria lacteata (Packard) is a relatively small moth with forewings measuring only 0.9-1.1 cm in length.    Adults have a remarkable zig-zag pattern on forewings made up of various shades of brown and buff.  They are diurnal (daytime) fliers and emerge from late February to May.  Sightings are often in grassy areas or edges of moist woodlands.  Larval host plants are various species of miner’s lettuce, Claytonia (Portulacaceae).  Check out the following link for more information on miner’s lettuce.  It’s edible! https://www.ediblewildfood.com/miners-lettuce.aspx

Enchoria lacteata

Enchoria lacteata crawling onto my pruning tool.

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Enchoria lacteata between my work glove and pruning tool

 

References:

POWELL, JERRY A., and PAUL A. OPLER. Moths of Western North America. 1st ed., University of California Press, 2009.

https://bugguide.net/node/view/46115

http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=7403

 

Lophocampa roseata (Rosy aemilia)

I spent a good part of the day combing through my insect photos from the past 9 years. There are thousands. Finally, I found the ones I was searching for. I credit Victoria Compton on San Juan Island, WA  for helping me out on this one. She sent a photo the other day to my email with a caterpillar and had suggested an ID. Not only was she correct, but in ID’ing the caterpillar, it enabled me to match up one of my adult moth photos that had been sitting around nameless since 2016. The photos I found today were of the same caterpillar that had been a mystery to me since 2013. It’s a nice “aha” moment when you connect the dots! Below are the pics for you to see.

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Lophocampa roseata Photographed July 10, 2016 San Juan Island, WA


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Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 San Juan Island, WA

This is a Tiger moth in the family Erebidae, subfamily Arctiinae. The scientific name is Lophocampa roseata (also known as the Rosy aemilia). It was first described by Francis Walker in 1868.  They are found in Western Oregon and Washington as well as in Southwestern B.C. and are associated with habitats of conifer forests and maple trees. The sources I checked list them as somewhat rare and Natureserve lists them as “critically imperiled.” So, I guess we have another beautiful Lepidoptera on San Juan Island to care for along with the Marble Butterfly!

***Critically imperiled Tiger Moth. Please post/email photos if you live in San Juan County, WA and come across one in the adult or larval stage.  Thanks! 

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Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed October 6, 2013 by Cynthia Brast San Juan Island, WA


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Lophocampa roseata larva Photographed September 26, 2018by Victoria Compton San Juan Island, WA 

Helpful links:

http://explorer.natureserve.org/servlet/NatureServe?searchName=Lophocampa+roseata

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/224121-Lophocampa-roseata

https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Lophocampa-roseata

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

Lophocampa roseata larva
October 27, 2019
Three Corner Lake Road
Lophocampa roseata pupal case
Pupated 10-29-19

Lophocampa roseata larva
Found wandering in search of pupation site – October 27, 2019
San Juan Island, WA

Pale Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) on Walkers Low Catmint (Nepeta racemosa)

I love my catmint!  The deer don’t like it, but pollinators absolutely DO!  Every year, I wait in anticipation to see what visits the tiny purple-indigo flowers.  I’ve had everything from hummingbirds to bumblebees, moths, and butterflies.  Today, I took two short clips of the Pale Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio eurymedon) visiting the blooms.  There have been as many as seven or eight fluttering about at a time.


I keep hoping to see my very favorite of the pollinators visiting the catmint, but have to make a point of going around dusk.  It’s been a few years, but the catmint is also a favorite of the elusive hummingbird moth (Hemaris diffinis).  Here is one I photographed in June of 2016.   Also known as the Snowberry Clearwing moth, these fuzzy, large-bodied but nimble fliers are also called Bumblebee or Hawk moths.

Hemaris diffinis on Catmint

Hemaris diffinis on Catmint photo by Cynthia Brast June 1, 2016. San Juan Island, WA

Hemaris diffinis on Catmint

Hummingbird moth (Hemaris diffinis) on Catmint

Biston betularia cognataria (Pepper and Salt Moth)

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Last September, I found this little caterpillar on a fruitless cherry tree outside our home.   I may have spent a few hours watching it munch on leaves as I searched through literature and images in order to identify it.  The twig-like larva is in the Geometridae moth family.  Sometimes coming to a conclusion about a species takes a bit longer…and having an adult specimen can help, so I kept my caterpillar fed with an assortment of cherry, willow, maple, and alder leaves, watched it as it grew, then pupated…and waited over the winter months to see what would emerge.

Biston betalaria larva

Bilobed head of Biston betularia larva

I noticed last night when I went to brush my teeth that there was a little moth against the window of my insect habitat, watching me…and probably wanting out.  It’s good to check the critter-keeper (that’s what I call my bug house) daily because otherwise you might leave the poor soul stuck inside and that never ends very well.  In this moth’s case, I took a few pictures and then released him outside to fly away into the night.

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Biston betularia (newly-emerged adult)

Biston betalaria cognataria

Newly-emerged adult (male) Biston betularia cognataria

This is a quick post, since I am always short on time, but please enjoy my photos.  I do love the ones of the caterpillar most.  The little cat ears are quite distinct!

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Little “cat” ears

I’ve enlarged one to show you the spiracles, the little breathing holes that are along the sides of the caterpillar body.

Biston betularia larva

Biston betularia cognataria

 

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Showing spiracles near bi-lobed head

 

Many insecticides work by clogging up these holes with oils or soaps that are sprayed on the tree.  Although the caterpillars do eat leaves, the aren’t really an economic pest at all.  In fact, this species is quite remarkable in that it represents the fascinating study of natural selection and industrial melanism.  Widely distributed across the world, Biston betularia or Pepper and Salt Moths became recognized for their adaptation of darkening pigment, allowing them to become more cryptic on trees in woodlands in Britain polluted by soot around the turn of the century.  Check out my references for more information!

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Newly-emerged adult with pupal case (on left)

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Enlarged view of newly-emerged adult Biston betularia cognataria and pupal case

 

 

For further reading: 

Asami, T. and Grant, B. 1995. Melanism has not evolved in Japanese Biston betularia (Geometridae). Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society, 49: 88-91. https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/41142188#page/94/mode/1up
Furniss, R.L. and Carolin, V.M. 1977. U.S.D.A. Forest Service Misc. Publ. 1339, 1977. 
GRANT, B. and HOWLETT, R. J. (1988), Background selection by the peppered  moth (Biston betularia Linn.): individual differences. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 33: 217-232. doi:10.1111/j.1095-8312.1988.tb00809.x

 

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Sheep Moth Larvae (Hemileuca eglanterina)

These were on the trail at American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park. One had unfortunately been stepped on. I recommend looking down at the trail when you’re on a hike as lots of insects seem to travel along it too! These are larvae of the Sheep Moth (Hemileuca eglanterina). Check out this link if you’d like to see what they’ll be as adults! http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/…/hemil…/hemileuca-eglanterina/Photos taken 08-VII-2017.

Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature

Sheep Moth larva (Hemileuca eglanterina)

Sheep Moth Larva (Hemileuca eglanterina)

Sheep moth larva (Hemileuca eglanterina), American Camp, San Juan Island National Historical Park. This one had unfortunately been stepped on. I recommend looking down at the trail when you’re on a hike as lots of insects seem to travel along it too! Check out this link if you’d like to see what they’ll be as adults! http://pnwmoths.biol.wwu.edu/…/hemil…/hemileuca-eglanterina/ Photos taken 08-VII-2017. Image may contain: plant, outdoor and nature