Moths of Oklahoma's News

August 23, 2019

Project updates and new banner image!

We've had a very successful mothing season, with lots of new species seen in the state and several new members who are submitting observations on a regular basis!

iNaturalist has two different types of projects and I decided to convert this project from a "traditional" to a "collective" project. What this means for you is that you no longer have to add each of your observations to the Moths of Oklahoma project; they will automatically be collected if they are seen in Oklahoma and fall within the moth taxonomy. This also means that we're not missing any observations. It does make the project look a little different, if you're used to viewing it in a web browser.

I've also taken this opportunity to institute a new idea for the banner image of the project. Each month I will change out the banner image with a new moth photo from one of our observations over the last month. Due to the layout, I will look for photos that are wide, or that could be rotated to fit the space nicely. For consistency, I will keep the icon image for the project the same, but the banner image will get a makeover every month.

Our first new banner image is a Deep Yellow Euchlaena (Euchlaena amoenaria) photographed by Anna Bennett (@annainok). This is an excellent photo, capturing fine details of a really beautiful moth. This species is found in eastern Oklahoma and has been observed several times this year in the state. Anna's photo will be the banner image for the next month. In the last week of September we'll select a new image from recent observations.

Posted on August 23, 2019 14:29 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 19, 2019

Moths in the News: Ghost Orchid Pollination

There is an orchid that grows in the Everglades of south Florida that has captured the attention of many people. In fact, a wonderful non-fiction book was written about a person obsessed with this orchid, and later a movie was adapted from the book, appropriately titled "Adaptation." The orchid is nicknamed the Ghost Orchid because the plant itself lacks any leaves and the white blooms appear to float in the air. There are actually a number of leafless orchids, but this is the only one native to the United States.

Photo by Mac Stone

Apparently scientists have not been able to determine what creature pollinates these orchids. Locating the orchids can be difficult, and studying them is not easy due to their often high placement in the canopy of the large cypress trees that eke out their existence in Florida's swampy southern reaches. A team of photographers recently overcame these obstacles and captured some great images.

Photo by Mac Stone

My first love (plants) and my most recent obsession (moths) collide in this story. Enjoy!

Read the Audubon story on Ghost Orchid Pollination here.

Posted on August 19, 2019 14:38 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 08, 2019

National Moth Week re-cap

Two years ago I heard about the Oklahoma Virtual Spring BioBlitz, a project during the month of April with the goal of identifying as many species of life (be it plants, animals, insects, fungi, you have it) within the state of Oklahoma. It sounded right up my alley, so I started participating and quickly found myself obsessed by the lure of "finding more new living things." I became a super user of the iNaturalist app on my phone. Pretty quickly I had taken photos of every type of wild plant and bird I could find in my hometown, but I noticed I was still seeing lots of new insects every day. I started leaving my porch light on at night and, lo and behold, there were LOTS of moths. And they weren't all brown and they weren't all the same species. The end of the month of April (thus the end of BioBlitz) came, and I kept flipping on the porch light each evening. I was compelled to keep up the inventory of moths visiting my porch. I had become a moth addict.

A couple of weeks later I created the Moths of Oklahoma" project on iNaturalist. By the time "National Moth Week" arrived in late July, I reached out to another local iNaturalist user, @ehjalmarson (who incidentally had bested me in the Spring BioBlitz count), and invited her and her partner to do a "moth night" with me in east Norman. Since then I have been recruiting others who show the slightest interest in insects or nature to join me for these moth nights during the warm weather months of the year. I'm happy to report I am no longer alone in my pursuit of learning more about this diverse group of insects.

This year I planned an ambitious three events in different parts of Oklahoma for National Moth Week, hoping to take advantage of Oklahoma's wonderful biogeographical transition. Our first event was held in northeastern Oklahoma at Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa. The second event was held in central Oklahoma at Thunderbird Chapel east of Norman. Our third and final event was held at Quartz Mountain Nature Park north of Altus. In all we had more than 45 people attend the three events and there was a small core group (@leahn19 @rdparker) that attended all three events.

All three events were unique from the setting to the participants to the moths that arrived at our lit sheets. Eastern Oklahoma has the highest species diversity for moths (and many other forms of life) due to the higher rainfall and resultant diversity of vegetation. Many moths are tightly linked to a specific host plant. Tulsa's Oxley Nature Center is located on the edge of a pond within a large green space that has been set aside for nature education. The evening began with a talk about moths in the nature center, led by naturalist Amy Morris. We observed more than 90 species of moths during our 4 hour watch. Our most interesting non-moth observation of the night was a pair of Eastern Dobsonflies. Both genders are large and dangerous looking in a prehistoric way, but the long mandibles of the male really steal the show. Our most interesting moths of the night were Crocus Geometer (Xanthotype sp.), Hag Moth (Phobetron pithecium), Obtuse Yellow (Azenia obtusa), Red-tailed Specter (Euerythra phasma), Kermes Scale Moth (Euclemensia bassettella), Anna Carpenterworm (Givira anna), Golden Looper (Argyrogramma verruca), Jalisco Petrophila (Petrophila jaliscalis), and Deep Yellow Euchlaena (Euchlaena amoenaria).

Our moth night in Norman is in a wooded area near Lake Thunderbird, thick with native oak trees, as well as plenty of Eastern Red Cedars and other plants typical for mixed grass prairie. At this event we observed right at 80 species of moths during another 4 hour watch. We saw literally hundreds of Grape Leaffolders (Desmia funeralis) and even found the folded leaves of the grapevines around on the property, the plants from which all of these moths had emerged when their larval and pupal stages were complete. Other highlights included Variable Tropic Moth (Hemeroplanis scopulepes), Speckled Lactura (Lactura subfervens), Juniper Geometer (Patalene olyzonaria), False Crowned Pearl (Anania plectilis), Catalpa Sphinx (Ceratomia catalpae), a beautiful green emerald (Dichorda rectaria), and several Sweetheart Underwings (Catocala amatrix).

Our moth night at Quartz Mountain was more remote so several of us who took the trip west ended up spending large parts of Saturday and Sunday outdoors at the state park, looking for moths and anything else we could find. My best non-moth sighting of the weekend was an American Porcupine walking along the road between the resort and the nature park. The vegetation around Quartz Mountain is not only less dense, but also consists of different species. On the hot and dry Saturday afternoon I hiked to the top of the mountain overlooking the resort and located a Rufous-crowned Sparrow and a Canyon Wren, two bird species that I had previously only seen in the Wichita Mountains. This was clearly a different environment from our other two locations for the week. Our final tally for the weekend at Quartz Mountain was 84 species of moths observed. The best part was that we observed about a dozen species whose range can be described as "western" in that most of their range is west of Oklahoma. At our other two moth nights the vast majority of species we observed are distributed from Oklahoma east towards the Atlantic coast, so it was great to see that our western Oklahoma event yielded species that may only be found in those farther west reaches of the state. These included Paler Graphic (Drasteria pallescens), Idaea gemmata, Twelve-lined Ofatulena (Ofatulena duodecemstriata), Calliprora sexstrigella, Friseria cockerelli, New Mexico Carpet (Archirhoe neomexicana), Speranza amboflava, Metalectra miserulata, Toripalpus trabalis, Gold-striped Prominent (Hyparpax aurostriata), and Mesquite Looper (Rindgea cyda). Other highlights were Harlequin Webworm (Diathrausta harlequinalis), Alluring Schinia (Schinia siren), and 4 species of sphinx moths: Virginia Creeper (Darapsa myron), Elm (Ceratomia amyntor), Waved (Ceratomia undulosa), and Achemon (Eumorpha achemon).

All told there were more than 11,000 people around the world who submitted moth observations to iNaturalist during National Moth Week. Due to the great efforts of our three events this year, Oklahoma was put on the map in the global National Moth Week project. Oklahoma finished as the state with the 4th highest species count (394 species) behind Alabama, Texas, and Vermont. We also finished with three observers in the top 15 in the world, with 249, 225, and 188 species seen during the week, respectively. And, oh yeah, our Moths of Oklahoma project now has surpassed the 1000 species mark! I'm proud of our effort and already looking forward to next year. Until then I'll be trying to catch up on sleep.


Posted on August 08, 2019 18:21 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 09, 2019

Moths in the News: A moth fools its predators!

This is another article from more than 5 years ago, but it's a really interesting one. Apparently there is at least one species of moth that is capable of confusing the bats that hunt them by emitting very fast clicking noises. The bats use echolocation to find their prey and the clicking basically obscures their echolocation. I like bats, but I gotta love the fact that this species of moth has evolved to evade capture. That is a cool adaptation indeed!

To top it all off, this is a really attractive tiger moth from the Erebidae family, Bertholdia trigona. See the profile for this species on Moth Photographer's Group, iNaturalist, and Bugguide. Maybe we need to take a field trip to New Mexico to find one of these little beauties!

I've gotta think there are probably more moths out there with this capability, or other interesting capabilities to avoid predation. They just need more study.

Read the Smithsonian Magazine article here.

Posted on July 09, 2019 15:34 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 08, 2019

Save the date: July 27 at Quartz Mountain!

National Moth Week is set for July 20-28 this year with events scheduled all over the world. Here in Oklahoma I have scheduled three different nights of moth viewing, at three different locations in the state. I already shared the announcement for the events in eastern and central Oklahoma.

The third and final event will be in western Oklahoma on Saturday, July 27 at Quartz Mountain State Park. Since this is a somewhat remote location, attendees will want to consider accommodations. Some of us will be tent or RV camping. There is also the option of reserving a room in the lodge.

We plan to set up our lights at the Nature Center, which you can see on the map here. The event will last from dusk until about midnight. Public restrooms are available nearby. Please bring your own bug spray and a camera if you would like to take pictures.

I've already heard that Leah and Rick are coming! Who else wants to join us!?!

If you have any questions, let me know!

Posted on July 08, 2019 16:34 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 02, 2019

Save the date: July 24 in Norman!

National Moth Week is set for July 20-28 this year with events scheduled all over the world. Here in Oklahoma I have scheduled three different nights of moth viewing, at three different locations in the state. I already shared the announcement for the event in eastern Oklahoma (Tulsa).

The second event will be in central Oklahoma on Wednesday, July 24 at Thunderbird Chapel, just east of Norman. We will have lights set up by dusk and will stick around until about midnight. A restroom is available on site. Please bring your own bug spray and a camera if you would like to take pictures.

If you have any questions, let me know!

Stay tuned for the announcement of the third event.

Posted on July 02, 2019 18:45 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Save the date: July 20 in Tulsa!

National Moth Week is set for July 20-28 this year with events scheduled all over the world. Here in Oklahoma I am working on three different nights of moth viewing, at three different locations in the state.

First up is Saturday, July 20 at the Oxley Nature Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is going to be a great event, kicking off with a presentation on moths at 7:30, followed by viewing of moths on lit sheets around the nature center until midnight. Come and learn about this fascinating and diverse group of winged creatures and stick around to see how many species we can find!

The Oxley Nature Center will be open throughout the evening, so we will have access to air conditioning, a water fountain, and restrooms. Please bring your own bug spray and a camera if you would like to take pictures.

I've already heard that Leah and Rick are coming! Who else wants to join us!?!

If you have any questions, let me know!

Posted on July 02, 2019 15:13 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 30, 2019

Ranges of Oklahoma moths

I find it really interesting to look at the range of each new moth that I observe. While iNaturalist has a lot of observations, the records are nowhere near complete, so it is not unusual to find a moth in Oklahoma that hasn't been observed here before. And about 95% of the time the other observations of that species are all to the east of us.

This is true of other living organisms, too. Due to the geographical location of Oklahoma and rainfall patterns, there is a lot of ecological transition from west to east in the state. Since many moths are closely associated with certain host plants, those moths will only be found where those plants are growing.

On a related note, many of the birds you find in Oklahoma are considered "eastern species." There are a few western species that you can find in the western half of the state, and not surprisingly, as you get farther west into the panhandle the species diversity decreases and you start to see only western species.

In the rest of this post I will give examples of some moths found in Oklahoma that don't have the typical eastern distribution.

Western Species

There are probably loads of western species that exist in Oklahoma but simply haven't been observed because there are relatively few observations west of I-35. Most of the observations we do have are by a couple of observers, Bill Carrell (@arrowheadspiketail58) and @calinsdad.

Western Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma californica) found by @calinsdad. There are related tent caterpillars that occupy other regions of North America, Forest and Eastern Tent Caterpillars are very common.

Slave Dart (Euxoa servitus) found by Bill Carrell (@arrowheadspiketail58). This appears to be a mountain species that ranges north and south along the Rockies.

Paler Graphic (Drasteria pallescens) found by @calinsdad.

The mighty Glover's Silk Moth (Hyalophora columbia ssp. gloveri) has been spotted by @allef7 and J. D. Willson (@jdwillson) in Black Mesa State Park. This species is closely related to the Cecropia Moth (Hyalophora cecropia), which occupies the eastern half of the country.

Packard's Prominent (Elasmia packardii) found by Leah (@leahn19).

Green Broomweed Looper (Fernaldella fimetaria) found by Rick Parker (@rdparker).

Volupial Mint (Pyrausta volupialis) found by Rick Parker (@rdparker).

Fractured Western Snout (Diastictis fracturalis) that I found.

Whip-marked Snout (Microtheoris vibicalis) found by Buddy (@bothrops07).

Pale-lined Angle (Digrammia irrorata) that I found.

Orange Beggar (Eubaphe unicolor) that I found.

Some species known to occur in western Oklahoma that have not yet been observed on iNat include: :
Veined Ctenucha Moth (Ctenucha venosa)
Mesquite Looper (Rindgea cyda
Broad-lined Angle (Digrammia atrofasciata) - This species looks very similar to a common Oklahoma moth, Curve-lined Angle (Digrammia continuata). So much so, that I looked over the Oklahoma observations of this species to see if any might be misidentified. There are a couple I am hoping an expert on this genus will consider.
Signate Looper (Rindgea s-signata)
Incense Cedar Sphinx (Sphinx libocedrus)
Fulvous-edged Pyrausta (Pyrausta nexalis)
Eight-barred Lygropia (Lygropia octonalis)

Southern Species

Another range that comes into play in Oklahoma are those species south of us that reach as far north as Oklahoma but no farther. Usually these species have lots of Texas observations, but no other observations in the United States. Here are some examples:

Drasteria ingeniculata, found by Leah Nelson (@leahn19). This is an uncommon moth and a great find! There are very few iNat observations of this species, so it is hard to say much about the range, but only one observation is north of Oklahoma.

Painted Schinia (Schinia volupia), found by @lizardqueen [top] and by Tracy Pickering (@tracypickering) [bottom] There are some iNat observations of this species a little farther north and west of Oklahoma, but most of the observations are south of us.

White-tipped Black (Melanchroia chephise) found by Victor Fazio III (@vicfazio3)

Speckled Lamplighter (Lychnosea intermicata) found by Bill Carrell (@arrowheadspiketail58). There are iNat observations of this species right up to the OK-KS border, but no farther north.

Gold-striped Prominent (Hyparpax aurostriata) found by Buddy (@bothrops07). The northernmost observation of this species on iNat is about halfway between Tulsa and OKC.

There are quite a few observations of the Fawn Ruddy (Episemasia cervinaria) in the state. In fact, my neighbor Noah (@digitalnorm) has hundreds of the caterpillars devouring his hedge of yaupon holly bushes. Caterpillar photo above is Noah's; adult photo is Leah's (@leahn19). The farthest north observation on iNat is in Edmond.

Gracile Palpita (Palpita atrisquamalis) I found in Norman. This is one of the farthest north observations of the species on iNat, besides one in Utah.

Southeast Species

There are plenty of moths with a southeastern United States distribution and some of those ranges just barely clip the southeast corner of Oklahoma.

A great example is the Spanish Moth (Xanthopastis regnatrix) which was found by Troy Hibbitts (@troyhibbitts) northeast of Broken Bow. The caterpillar photo is from Troy's observation, while the adult moth is Laura Gaudetta's (@gaudettelaura) observation from Florida.

My field guide lists the Plebian Sphinx a.k.a. Trumpet Vine Sphinx (Paratrea plebeja) as being just touching the southeast corner of Oklahoma, but @claytonj_motc has observed one in central Oklahoma! Update the field guides! Eric Eaton (@bug_eric) also found one in southeast Oklahoma.

Some species known to occur in southeast Oklahoma that have not yet been observed on iNat include:
Pecan Carpenterworm (Cossula magnifica)
Black-lined Carpenterworm (Inguromorpha basalis)
Holly Borer (Synanthedon kathyae)

Northern Species

And then there are some more northern species for which Oklahoma is along the southern extent of their range. I did some searching, both looking at the range maps in the field guides, and also poking around the records in the project and this is the best example I could find.

Wild Cherry Sphinx Moth (Sphinx drupiferarum) found by Laura Murdoch (@lauramurdoch).


Finally, I'll close out this post with some moths whose distributions are less understood.

Here is a beautiful and large Owl Moth (Thysania zenobia) found by Kayla Kamolz (@kaylakamolz) in Woodward. The range of this moth doesn't clearly fit in any of the categories above. While it has been seen over much of the United States the observations are very spotty. I just had to include it here since it is such a rarity and was found in western Oklahoma.

Here is another oddity. There are only two observations on iNaturalist of the Proud Sphinx (Proserpinus gaurae), both of which were found by Victor Fazio III in Oklahoma.

Last but not least, the ONE AND ONLY observation of White Flower Moth (Schinia bimatris) on iNaturalist was found by Paul Dennehy (@paul_dennehy) in western Oklahoma.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post regarding the "Tulsa range phenomenon."

Posted on June 30, 2019 14:14 by zdufran zdufran | 6 comments | Leave a comment

June 25, 2019

Moths in the News: Moths respond to pollution

This is an old news article that comes from the other side of the pond. I actually remember hearing this story in 2009, long before I took any particular interest in moths. It was really interesting to me because I am interested in evolution through natural selection and the time periods over which it can be observed. This story is a case where an environmental factor (industrial air pollution) favored darker coloration for a particular species of moth, and then over time that trend reversed as the air became cleaner.

The moth in question is apparently a relatively common moth in the United Kingdom known as Peppered Moth (Biston betularia). It is from the Geometridae family, which generally have wide wings and lay relatively flat. See the iNaturalist species page here.

Read the Telegraph article here.

Posted on June 25, 2019 16:05 by zdufran zdufran | 1 comments | Leave a comment

June 18, 2019

Sexual Dimorphism in Moths

Sometimes I'll observe two distinct forms of moth that turn out to be the same species. Initially this was puzzling to me, but I have learned a bit about sexual dimorphism (each gender looking different) in moths, so now when this happens I usually suspect this is what's going on.

Sexual dimorphism is not rare in the animal kingdom. Many people are familiar with sexual dimorphism in birds. Generally males are more colorful, and females are drabber so they are better camouflaged while sitting still on a nest. The Northern Cardinal is a great example of a bird everyone in Oklahoma is familiar with - a bright red male and a tan female. And if you've been lucky enough to see a male Painted Bunting you'll know the male looks like a rainbow. Meanwhile the female is light green all over.

Some birds have size differences between male and female. This is most common with the raptors, where the females are larger than the males. There is an article describing the theories for this size difference here.

This is also common in insects like ants and bees. Most people are familiar with the Queen Bee and how she can usually be spotted in a hive due to her much larger size.

Just like with birds and many insects, if there is a size difference between male and female moths, the female is usually larger. Here is an example:

Larger and lighter female Waterlily Leafcutter Moth (Elophila obliteralis)

Smaller and darker male Waterlily Leafcutter Moth (Elophila obliteralis)

Curiously the theories for larger female birds doesn't have any relevance with moths. There must be a different reason. Biologists believe the females are larger to allow them to lay more eggs. There was a study done about a decade ago at the University of Arizona to determine how the females become larger. They determined they become larger by eating longer as larva before pupating. So now (we think) we know the how and the why.

I don't think there is a general rule on color differences between the sexes. For instance, the Promethea moth (Callosamia promethea) has a very dark male and a lighter and more colorful female, while the Wedgling Moth (Galgula partita) has a light brown male and a darker brown/maroon female.

Male and female Promethea moths
Dark male (above) and colorful female (below) Promethea silkmoth (Callosamia promethea)

male Wedgling Moth (Galgula partita)

female Wedgling Moth (Galgula partita)

Here is a mating pair of Fall Webworm Moths (Hyphantria cunea). The one with darker and larger spots is the male. I know because a little bit later the lighter one started laying eggs. The bugguide page for this species does not mention sexual dimorphism. Instead it says that the difference in extent of spots is regional. I'm not so sure after having seen this mating pair...

male (left) and female (right) Fall Webworm Moths (Hyphantria cunea)

Other common differences are antenna size. Many males have large, bushy antenna that allow them to smell the pheromones released by females of their species. For example, check out the size of the antenna on the male and female Chickweed Geometers (Haematopis grataria) below:

male Chickweed Geometer (Haematopis grataria)

female Chickweed Geometer (Haematopis grataria)

Now, all this being said, variation in coloration and size and other factors is not always attributed to gender. As mentioned earlier, sometimes these variations are due to location, others are a mystery. A great example is the One-spotted Variant (Hypagyrtis unipunctata), which as the name suggests, is quite variable. Bugguide says that the female is usually larger with a more scalloped hindwing, but there is a lot of variation in coloration based on geography and seasonality, as well. Here are three I have observed which look quite different.

Probably a male One-spotted Variant (Hypagyrtis unipunctata)

Probably a male One-spotted Variant (Hypagyrtis unipunctata)

female One-spotted Variant (Hypagyrtis unipunctata)

So what have we learned? Size, shape, color, and antenna can all be indicators of the gender of moths - but not always!

Posted on June 18, 2019 15:30 by zdufran zdufran | 2 comments | Leave a comment