Journal archives for August 2019

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

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 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 29, 2019

Moths in the News: Moths helping to stem the flu!

Everyone hates being sick and the flu is an annual drag on society. We hate it. And we all know someone - or some years many someones - who get caught by the bug.

The larval form of Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda)

Well, believe it or not, one of the three flu vaccines that is available is produced with the help of a "bug," a Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) to be more precise. This particular vaccine is the most recent development, using an insect virus with recombitant DNA technology to produce the vaccine more rapidly than the previous techniques. Thanks Armyworms!

You can read more about it in this article from The Vaccine Reaction.

The adult form of Fall Armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda)

Fall Armyworms are a common moth found in the eastern half of the country, wrapping around into Texas. They are within the same genus Spodoptera as the even more common Yellow-striped Armyworm (Spodoptera ornithogalli). Armyworms are one of many moths that are given their common name from their caterpillar stage. They are known to wipe out crops as though an army descended upon them. The Latin specific epithet frugiperda means "lost fruit" because they eat fruit so quickly.

Apparently this species is thought to be undergoing sympatric evolution (evolving into two species while occupying the same geographical area), so in the future there will likely be a new species described that was previously considered a Fall Armyworm.

As with common names of plants and other forms of life, the name "Armyworm" is not a really good taxonomical descriptor. It is applied to several Spodoptera species, as well as to one moth in a different genus. The "True Armyworm" (also called "Common Armyworm" or "White-Speck") is Mythimna unipuncta. This moth derives its name of armyworm for the same reason. I prefer the name "White-Speck" for this species, though, since that name is unique and also a good visual descriptor for the drab brown moth with a white speck on each wing.

Armyworm a.k.a. White Speck (Mythimna unipuncta)

I'd like to remind everyone that we are approaching flu season and flu shots are already available. Don't forget to get yours before the flu gets you!

Posted on August 29, 2019 18:10 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment