Saturday, October 17, 2009

A Salt Marsh, a Tussock, and a Black-bordered Lemon

Late August and early September proved to be a productive period for me to find interesting moths. I think this has less to do with seasonal abundance than with my observation skills. With small creatures that appear for only part of the year, I find that I have to retrain my eyes and ears to their movements and sounds. This is as true of small birds like warblers and sparrows as of insects. I had not looked at moths very closely prior to this summer, so it took time to recognize them in the field. The following are a few more moths that I photographed towards the end of the summer.

The first is a caterpillar of the Salt Marsh Moth (Estigmene acrea). According to the account at BugGuide, these caterpillars are highly variable, from dark like this one to much lighter colors. (The photo in the Kaufman guide is of one of the lighter varieties.) Despite their name, Salt Marsh Moths will live in a variety of open habitats, like grasslands, waste areas, and marshes. I found this one in a salt marsh near Tuckerton, home also to a small flock of Saltmarsh Sparrows and large swarms of greenheads and mosquitos.

Salt Marsh Moth caterpillars can be identified by their distinctive hair tufts, but the most remarkable hair tufts belong to another group of moths, the tussock moths. The caterpillar above is a White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma), which apparently is named for white spots on adult males rather than the caterpillar's tufts. Adult females of this species are flightless. Hair tufts are common on other tussock moth caterpillars, such as the Sycamore Tussock Moth and Milkweed Tussock Moth previously featured here. The hair tufts may cause allergic reactions, so use caution if handling one.

Unlike the others, the last moth is in its adult form. I found this Black-bordered Lemon (Thioptera nigrofimbria) in one of the fields at Higbee Beach WMA. It was early in the morning so the grass was still covered with dew. This one was flitting around in the tall grass; its larvae feed on morning glory and crabgrass. Adults have four black spots on their wings and take their name from the black borders of their wings. On this individual, much of that black border has been worn down, especially on its right forewing.

Reflections on the Catawba has posted the seventh edition of The Moth and Me, a blog carnival devoted to moths. One of my posts, on a Chickweed Geometer, was included in the batch. The next edition will be hosted by Wanderin' Weeta; contact Seabrooke for future hosting opportunities.