Journal archives for June 2019

June 05, 2019

Moths in the News: Women's College World Series

I have a collection of interesting moth stories that I will occasionally share with you through this blog. The first is a recent article that appeared on ESPN, of all places. It's not too often (ever?) that moths are mentioned by sports writers, but here we are!

Apparently the moths have been numerous under the lights in Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series. Kudos to ESPN for actually writing about how this year's weather has affected moth numbers, interviewing a knowledgeable source at the OKC Zoo, mentioning a specific species (Cabbage Looper), and writing about their beneficial role as pollinators. This could have easily just been a "moths are problems and should be exterminated" article, but it wasn't.

There is a photo in the article of what appears to be a Teresa Sphinx on the outfield wall of the stadium. Should we add it as an observation in iNaturalist? ;)

Read the ESPN article here: "WCWS 2019: It's moth mayhem amid softball in Oklahoma City"

Posted on June 05, 2019 16:41 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 11, 2019

Moths in the News: Invasive Gypsy Moth

Lots of people have negative impressions of moths, knowing them as pests that eat their clothes or as caterpillars that defoliate their trees and other plants. Generally speaking, these are uncommon occurrences. Yes, some moths eat fabrics, and yes, most caterpillars eat plants. But usually the eating is kept in check by predators like birds. There are some exceptions, of course.

One of these exceptions is when a non-native species is introduced into a new area. In the northeast part of the United States the introduced Gypsy Moths that are wreaking havoc. There are actually several species from Asia and Europe. They are from the genus Lymantria.

The USDA has a website dedicated to these moths with instructions on how to make sure you don't transport them to a new area if you are moving from an area where they are known to be found.

I see there are a handful of iNaturalist observations in the central part of the United States. While I am always keen to see a new species, I'll hope they are not spreading into the Great Plains. Realistically I think they have probably reached the point that they are beyond control and it will probably just be a matter of when, rather than if, they arrive here.

The USDA has webpages on four other invasive moths that are being monitored:
European Grapevine Moth
False Codling Moth
Light Brown Apple Moth
Old World Bollworm

Posted on June 11, 2019 15:23 by zdufran zdufran | 0 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

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 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).

Oddities


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