Moths of Oklahoma's News

February 25, 2020

New banner image!

Hello fellow moth-ers!

I hope you're getting excited about the approach of the 2020 mothing season. The weather is starting to change and moths are showing up at porch lights on the warmer evenings. I have not updated our banner image in a while and figured it was time to do that.

This month's featured observation is a wonderful photo of a Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe) visiting a lily. It was observed and photographed by Lisa (@lmm3629) in the Tulsa metro area. Congratulations on the wonderful photo, Lisa!

Posted on February 25, 2020 14:44 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 19, 2019

New banner image!

I have updated the banner image on the Moths of Oklahoma project page with yet another caterpillar. This one is an Isabella Tiger Moth (Pyrrharctia isabella) observed by Bill Carrell (@arrowheadspiketail58) at Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa. Thanks for sharing this great observation, Bill!

We only have 3 iNat observations of this species within Oklahoma and all three are of caterpillars. Chances are good that this moth occurs throughout most of the state, although the available data suggests it is probably most common in the northeast part of the state. Looking at iNat's data, I see that there are two periods of time when caterpillars are seen: spring (April) and fall (August-November). There are fewer adult observations and mostly during the months of June and July. I wonder when and where someone will observe the first adult in Oklahoma.

Posted on November 19, 2019 21:12 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

November 05, 2019

Fall Moths

The more I observe moths, the more I learn about their seasonality. I have more or less stopped my nightly monitoring of moths in my backyard, but occasionally I'm coming home after dark (especially now that the time has changed) and check the porch light to see what's around. I've been pleasantly surprised with a few species on my porch that are not common for my yard. This makes me think maybe I should do more late season monitoring of moths. I may have to get my black light out again!

I wanted to highlight a few species that seem to be more common at this time of the year. I used the iNaturalist observation filtering tools and viewed the individual species seasonality graphs to generate this list. These seasonality graphs are probably only part of the story since they are made from all observations, not just Oklahoma observations. I know that location affects the seasonality as well, so keep that in mind.

Bent-line Dart
According to the seasonality chart, this species is on the wing from September to December, hitting a peak in October. I was particularly happy to find this one on my porch recently, since I had never seen it at my house before. I'm pretty sure that's just from my lack of observations at this time of year.

Bicolored Sallow
This species has pretty much the same seasonality as the Bent-line Dart, hitting it's peak in October as well.

White-tipped Black
I have not seen this species myself so I'm jealous and a little driven to go looking for them. So far we don't have any iNat sightings in central Oklahoma, but we do have them both east and west of us. Apparently this species is common year round in Texas and Florida and then shows up during September to November outside of that range. There was an irruption in 2007 in Oklahoma, which John Fisher documented here. Based on the photos, I believe this is a day-flying moth.

Green Cloverworm
Green Cloverworms are present year round and stand out to me as the most common moth at my house, especially late in the year. Their seasonality peak is in August, but continues at a high level throughout the fall.

Morning-glory Plume and Armyworm
These moths are also present throughout the year. The peak months are July and August but there is another bump in October. I have had several of each of these on my porch recently.

Cobbler Moth
This species has low counts throughout the year with a short peak in October.

Eight-spot Moth
This species hits its peak in October, with a smaller peak in July.

Isabella Tiger Moth
This species hits its peak seasonality in September and October. This is one of those species that seems to be seen more often as a caterpillar and less often as an adult moth. Why? Perhaps they are not attracted to lights... I haven't seen this species, so I need to be on the look out! We don't have any iNat observations of an adult of this species in Oklahoma.

Venerable and Pale-banded Darts
There are a number of darts that are more prevalent from late summer through fall. The Venerable Dart peaks in September and the Pale-banded peaks in October.

I'm sure I'm leaving out plenty of species, but these were the ones that jumped out at me when I was searching in iNaturalist. Certainly with more observing during these fall months we will get a better feel for which species to expect during this season.

I'm also curious about why certain species are more common this time of year. I assume it is mostly due to the larval food source, but I haven't spent much time looking into each species yet.

Have you been noticing any other species this time of year that is maybe less common during the summer?

Posted on November 05, 2019 16:28 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 29, 2019

Annual Report

This project has been blossoming, so I thought it would be fun to do a little observation data filtering to see how the project has grown. It is great that iNaturalist makes this so easy. It probably took me 5-10 minutes to gather this information. The calendar year is not complete yet and there will be some more additions, but I don't expect the species number to change much between now and December 31. Without further ado, here are the numbers:

year observations observers species running species count new species for the year
pre-2017 1,222 141 357 357 -
2017 1,606 141 456 585 228
2018 3,875 357 629 816 231
2019 10,194 561 949 1149 333

Clearly we had a big swell in observations this year! It paid off with more new species added to the project this year than any past year. I suspect that even if we have more observers and more observations next year, we'll start to slow down on the species added as we asymptotically approach the true species count for the state. We honestly don't know what the number is, but I would venture to guess that we're around 3/4 of the way there.

Another contributor to our large number of observations this year is that we had TWELVE moth nights scheduled this year, ranging from early April through mid October. Most of these were at the same location in east Norman, but we also had the National Moth Week events in southwest and northeast Oklahoma and a moth night at the Oklahoma BioBlitz in eastern Oklahoma.

Some things I am excited about in the years to come are getting more people involved in the project and filling in the gaps around our state. There are certainly moths in every county, and yet the records in many counties are pretty sparse, both on iNaturalist and in the official state records. Let's fill 'em in!

Posted on October 29, 2019 13:10 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 17, 2019

Population Bias (aka "The Tulsa Phenomenon")

Earlier this summer I wrote a blog post about the ranges of moths in Oklahoma. I finished that post by mentioning the "Tulsa range phenomenon." This relates to my recent post on observation biases.

When I was flipping through my field guide looking specifically at the range maps I noticed a trend - there were a lot of maps that showed the species occurring in the Tulsa area, but not in the rest of the state. Is there something special about Tulsa that results in a huge biodiversity that is not seen elsewhere in the state? I don't think so. True, Tulsa is in the wetter eastern part of the state where there is a higher species diversity among plants and that results in more species of insects, but the number of species in other eastern parts of Oklahoma should be comparable to Tulsa.

Here is a single example of a range map that displays the "Tulsa phenomenon." This is Lespedeza Webworm (Pococera scortealis), which is shown as only occurring in the northeast part of Oklahoma (Tulsa). However, we have spotted this species at two of our moth nights in Norman.

I believe what we're seeing with this range maps is simply a bias of where observations are being made. Not only is Tulsa the second most populous city in the state, but there have also been a few dedicated individuals making regular observations of Lepidoptera in the Tulsa metro area. In fact, the state keeper of Lepidoptera records lives in the Tulsa area and has been making observations there for many years. So when we see a bulls-eye of species biodiversity in the Tulsa area I think what we're seeing is a reflection of the number of days spent observing.

I was first exposed to this concept of observation bias when I was studying meteorology at the University of Oklahoma. We were looking at a United States map that showed the track of every known tornado observation and you could see there were more observations near populated areas. Why? Historically the reason is because there were people there to see them. Nowadays it is rare for a single tornado to go unnoticed in the United States because of the storm chaser/spotter community and the lead time provided for severe weather by weather models and forecasters. Tornado vortex signatures are detected by radar and there are hundreds of storm chasers roaming the country, scouting out every storm with the potential to rotate. Therefore, the data set is becoming much less biased towards population centers.

Do you think we could ever come to a day when moths, or at least certain moths, could be so well observed? Probably not, but one can dream...

Posted on October 17, 2019 21:08 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

New banner image!

Our new banner image is a Pandorus Sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus) caterpillar observed by @lmm3629 in Jenks! It is a beautiful caterpillar that is not often seen in Oklahoma. Click the image to see the observation.

Congrats @lmm3629 and keep up those observations!

We'll select a new banner image in mid-November.

Posted on October 17, 2019 19:48 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 08, 2019

Oklahoma BioBlitz Moth Results

This year the Oklahoma BioBlitz was held at Sequoyah State Park on October 4-6. We had record attendance of 458 people, so the activities were packed with participants. It is a lot of fun to be surrounded by so many nature enthusiasts. Activities include bird, herp, plant, fossil, or general discovery walks, nature crafts, setting and checking mammal traps, mist netting and banding of birds and bats, and others. A lot of the activities are kid friendly, but there is something for everyone.

There are "taxa leaders" and "taxa experts" that help identify different living things that have been photographed or collected. This year I helped collect the Lepidoptera species list and turned that over to the terrestrial invertebrates leader to compile.

I set up lights on the night of Friday, October 4 to attract moths and other nocturnal insects. In addition to my two light setups, Ken Hobson, Associate Professor of Biology at the University of Oklahoma, also had a sheet setup with florescent blacklight bulbs.

I monitored the lights until about midnight, which is my usual schedule, and then went to bed. I got up around 3:45 and checked the lights again and found a few additional species. In all, it was kind of slow for moths and other insects, but during the 24 hour inventory period for the BioBlitz we did turn up more than 50 species of moths and 15-20 species of butterflies. Since then I've seen some additional species reported through iNaturalist that I wasn't aware of at the time we collected the species tally.

At the conclusion of the species tally there were 879 species of life observed in Sequoyah State Park, which is pretty good. According to coordinator Priscilla Crawford, when BioBlitz was scheduled during the month of September they would regularly eclipse 1000 species, but this was a pretty good tally.

Next year's BioBlitz will be held on October 2-4, 2020 at Roman Nose State Park. See you there!
Details should be added here as we get closer to the date.

Posted on October 08, 2019 17:08 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 01, 2019

Large Moth Bias

iNaturalist is a wonderful platform and I use it on a daily basis. I'm honestly driven by my own enjoyment, but I also take pride in knowing I am conducting Citizen Science - the idea that the observations I post can be a valuable tool for biologists. As with any data set, iNaturalist observations must be used with care, and my own choices impact the data set. Biases exist and scientists must take care to identify the biases so that they can minimize their impact.

One of these biases I would like to highlight in this post is what I'll call the "Large Moth Bias." On a daily basis the average adult living in Oklahoma probably passes in close proximity to at least a few moths. How many of those moths do you think the average Oklahoman is going to stop, photograph, and upload to iNaturalist? That's right, the number is so low it might as well be 0%. On the other hand, if the average Oklahoman walks by a large moth, say a Luna or a Polyphemus, how many of those people are going to stop and take notice? Yep, definitely more than 0. This isn't just true of moths, of course. Most anything unusual or more conspicuous is likely to be noticed more than the small, common, or inconspicuous.

Why does this matter with iNaturalist observations, you ask? Well, if you look at the Moths of Oklahoma project landing page you'll see that the most observed species in the state is the Luna Moth (153 observations). Three other moths in the top observed list are also moths that I would put in the "large and conspicuous" category - White-lined Sphinx (115 observations), Polyphemus Moth (98 observations), and Io Moth (94 observations).

If you were to have an accurate count of every single moth in the state of Oklahoma over the course of a year I don't think any of these three species would be in the top 10. I believe the Luna, Polyphemus, and Io have so many iNat observations because when people see them they take notice and feel compelled to share the photo and find out what it is. In general, people are less likely to care what species a moth is when it's small and brown and fits their informal definition of what a moth should look like. While looking at observation numbers I was struck by the low count for Oklahoma's other large moth, the Cecropia. There are only 33 observations of this species in the state. I think that tells us that the Cecropia is quite rare, given that it is actually the largest moth and very showy and has so few observations. That seems significant to me. Another explanation is that the Cecropia only has one brood per year so the amount of time that Cecropias are out flying around is much less than the 2-3 broods of the other large silk moths (Io, Polyphemus, and Luna).

In my opinion, the White-lined Sphinx is more common than the species listed above, but I think it too has been elevated by observation bias because it is often seen during daylight (or dusk) hours and is sort of large.

Another impact on these counts is that iNaturalist is configured to log individual observations of a single organism, whereas some other platforms (like eBird) are built around the idea of logging multiple individuals of the same species, and there are ways to see the quantity and frequency of different species. On eBird you can enter a checklist with each species of bird you saw and how many you saw of each species. For instance, 2 Northern Cardinals, 5 Blue Jays, 100 European Starlings, and 1 Bald Eagle. With iNaturalist you are unlikely to log 100 individual Bluegrass Webworm moths when you see them. In fact, you might not log any of them because you see them so often and have already logged one this week. In that way, even those of us who contribute many observations to iNaturalist are contributing to this bias.

In a future blog post I will highlight how population biases the geographic distribution of species so stay tuned. In the meantime, what are some biases you can think might impact observations in iNaturalist?

Posted on October 01, 2019 13:48 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 17, 2019

Moths in Hiding

Many creatures on this planet have evolved camouflage, and moths have some of the most impressive hiding techniques out there.


Let's face it, there's a lot of brown moths. Most of these are brown because they spend the daylight hours lying still on dead leaves or on tree bark. The Underwing moths (Genus Catocala) are especially good at hiding on bark, which is important since they can be quite large and would be a nice catch for many birds. The Underwings pull off their camouflage with base colors of gray and brown overlaid with darker ruptive markings that mimic patches of bark. Here are a few outstanding examples:

Widow Underwing (Catocala vidua) and Ilia Underwing (Catocala ilia) observed by @lmm3629. Catocala sp. observed by @arrowheadspiketail58.

Sad Underwing (Catocala maestosa) observed by @kboeg; Ilia Underwing (Catocala ilia) observed by @vicfazio3.

It may be clear that these are moths perched on bark when you're looking at a cropped photo, but standing back just a foot or two it is easy to lose sight of these moths altogether and have trouble finding them again.

Sad Underwing (Catocala maestosa) observed by @lmm3629; Sad Underwing (Catocala maestosa) observed by @israels_walks.

Ilia Underwing (Catocala ilia) observed by @heytheremacie; Tearful Underwing (Catocala lacrymosa) observed by @i268021.

Of course, Underwings derive their name from their very flashy lower set of wings. I believe this flash of color is meant to startle a potential predator when the moth takes flight, helping them evade capture.

Bird droppings

This next group of moths doesn't try to blend in. Instead, these moths hide during the day by resting on leaves and pretending they're something else that happens to be seen on leaves - bird droppings. There are a surprising number of moths that use this ruse and derive their names from their form of disguise. Here are a few examples:

Small Bird-dropping Moth (Ponometia erastrioides) observed by Buddy (

Olive-shaded Bird-dropping Moth (Ponometia candefacta) also observed by Buddy

Notice that these first two species are from the same genus (Ponometia) in the Noctuidae family, which means they are closely related and it should be no surprise that they both evolved this clever disguise. The next species shown below is from an entirely different family of moths (Depressariidae), which shows that this trait evolved separately. This is a classic example of convergent evolution.

Schlaeger's Fruitworm Moth (Antaeotricha schlaegeri) observed by Matt (

Exposed Bird Dropping Moth (Tarache aprica) observed by Victor W. Fazio III (

While I want to focus on Oklahoma moths, I have to point out that there is even a moth in Malaysia that has patterns that look like flies overlaid on white (bird droppings). After having seen a pair of flies mating on bird droppings, this seems like a pretty good disguise.

Macrocilix maia
observed by @paraggiri


Many moths blend in well on either living or dead leaves. In fact, the Herminiinae subfamily of moths are known as "Litter Moths" because many of the caterpillars feed on dead leaves, what is known as "leaf litter." These moths are mostly triangle shaped and various shades of brown to blend in with dead leaves lying on the ground.

As yet unidentified Litter Moth observed by @strix_v and Renia sp. observed by Bill Carrell (@arrowheadspiketail58)/

Bleptina sangamonia observed by @strix_v and Speckled Renia (Renia adspergillus) observed by Emily Hjalmarson (@ehjalmarson).

Bent-winged Owlest (Bleptina caradrinalis) observed by Emily Hjalmarson and @david1415.

These next three are not from the "litter moths" subfamily, but they also evolved to mimic a dead leaf. Again, convergent evolution at play.

Red-lined Panopoda (Panopoda rufimargo) observed by Bill Carrell.

Obtuse Euchlaena Moth (Euchlaena obtusaria) observed by @strix_v.

White-dotted Prominent (Nadata gibbosa) I observed.

Looking at all of these dead leaf mimics makes me wonder if the moths are cognitively aware of their safest perching spots due to their coloration or if they are simply evolved to blend into their favorite perching spots.

Rick spotted this Green Cloverworm (Hypena scabra) blending in quite well on a dead leaf still hanging from the tree.

The beautiful Luna Moth likes to rest up in the trees among the leaves and does a great job of appearing like a leaf, even trembling in the breeze just like a leaf would. That being said, I had trouble finding an Oklahoma observation of this species clinging to a branch with leaves. Most of the observations are on the side of buildings or other structures where the moth is very conspicuous. I have two thoughts about this:
1. It sucks for the Luna that humans have introduced so many perching spots that aid predators in seeing them.
2. This is where people are seeing Luna Moths, but maybe there are lots more successfully hiding in the trees.

Luna Moths (Actias luna) observed by

Luna Moth observed among Poison Ivy by Rick

There are also a number of day-flying moths with pink and yellow colors on their wings. I assume this is mostly to blend in on flowers they may be visiting, but they also blend in rather nicely on the fallen leaves of peach trees, don't you think? I intentionally posed these two moths on these leaves from my yard to see how well the effect works.

Chickweed Geometer Moth (Haematopis grataria) posed on peach tree leaves

Southern Purple Mint Moth (Pyrausta laticlavia) posed on peach tree leaves


Here are a few other miscellaneous disguises we've seen in Oklahoma, including moths perched on twigs and cinder blocks.

Green Cloverworm Moth (Hypena scabra) found on the twigs of a shrub

Brown-shaded Gray (Iridopsis defectaria) perched on a cinder block

As I pointed out in the last blog post, you can apply Observation Fields to your observations to make them even more useful. One relevant Observation Field for this discussion is "Camouflage." When you select this field you will be provided with a drop down box to select how good (in your opinion) the camouflage is. I have been filling in this field on my observations of camouflaged critters.

Posted on September 17, 2019 15:33 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 11, 2019

Species Profile: Ailanthus Webworm Moth

One of our most common moths in Oklahoma is the Ailanthus Webworm Moth (Atteva aurea). In fact, this moth is found throughout much of the United States. But it hasn't always been so...

The original host plants of this species, Paradise Tree (Simarouba amara) and the closely related Simarouba glauca, are native to south Florida and Cuba. This was the original native range of the Ailanthus Webworm Moth. However, a closely related tree from China named the Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) has been widely introduced in North America and this moth has found it to be a perfectly good host plant as well. Therefore, the moth has spread geographically with the introduction of the Tree of Heaven. It is so closely tied to its adopted host plant that it derives its common name from that tree rather than its original host plants. If you live in Oklahoma, chances are that birds have deposited a seed of the Tree of Heaven somewhere in your neighborhood.

Paradise Tree (Simarouba amara), one of the original host plants of this moth, observed by Joshua Sands (@jcs13) in the Florida keys.

Simarouba glauca, the second original host plant of this moth, observed by Jacob Malcom (@jacobogre) in the Florida keys.

Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) observed by me in Oklahoma.

This colorful little moth catches many people's eye when they see it resting on a leaf or underneath their porch light. At first glance, most people wouldn't identify it as a moth at all. Maybe it's a gateway moth, enticing some people who would otherwise never think of themselves as interested in moths. They see the Ailanthus and just have to know what it is. Once they find out it's a moth, maybe some of those people will be interested to find out more about moths. Anyway, one could hope!

Posted on September 11, 2019 15:21 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment