Tag Archives: Hypena decorata

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.

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