Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hurricane to Disrupt Oil Spill Cleanup Efforts

The first hurricane of this summer's hurricane season is heading into the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane Alex is expected to make landfall near the U.S.-Mexico border, so it will not run directly through the area covered by the oil slick, but it is putting a temporary stop to some mitigation operations.
Inclement weather did not affect operations at the site of the well head, about 41 miles off the Louisiana coast, where large ships are capturing oil from the ruptured pipe, and drilling relief wells that offer the best chance to seal the undersea gusher.

But smaller ships, or so-called vessels of opportunity — contracted by BP to skim oily water, lay boom and transport personnel — were called in for the day, said Bryan Ferguson, a BP representative manning the Unified Command station in New Orleans.

"When seas get above two to three feet, it becomes a challenge for skimming and booming," Ferguson said, noting that about 2,800 vessels of opportunity were currently contracted for the spill response....

While the storm pushes oil away from Florida, though, high seas and winds have delayed the launch of a new system for capturing more oil from the ruptured well.

The system, which consists of a flexible pipe attached to a containment dome lowered over the ruptured well head, would siphon oil to the Helix Producer, a ship with the capacity to collect 20,000 to 25,000 barrels a day. BP spokespersons said the system should be ready to launch by July 8.
The effect the hurricane may have on the slick itself is to push the oil in more of a westerly direction, towards the Louisiana and Mississippi coasts. It appears to be doing just that.

I have seen some speculation on the internet about what effects a hurricane might have on an oil slick, from carrying the oil in the storm surge to raining oil. (This scenario was not quite serious.) Raining oil is not likely to happen, though the use of dispersants leaves some unknowns.
For the most part, oil itself doesn't actually evaporate, though some of the chemical elements in crude oil can. (The sticky tar balls washing ashore are the remnants.) That hasn't stopped some from hypothesizing that, given the dispersants BP has been applying in unprecedented quantities in the Gulf and the lack of information about how they work, it's possible that dispersant-altered oil may indeed be entering the atmosphere. The EPA says this isn't the case. "EPA has no data, information or scientific basis that suggests that oil mixed with dispersant could possibly evaporate from the Gulf into the water cycle," the agency said in a statement.
However, other substances in oil can evaporate and those could cause problems if they were carried into the water cycle:
The most problematic VOCs in oil are hydrogen sulfide, benzene, and naphthalene, writes NRDC senior scientist Gina Solomon, though she lists a number of other troublesome compounds in oil as well. Hydrogen sulfide smells like rotten eggs and can cause headaches, confusion, and respiratory problems. Benzene and naphthalene are known carcinogens. The bigger concern than rain is that these VOCs are being carried ashore by wind currents. The EPA is monitoring the VOCs in the air, and Solomon says that her study of that data finds "some levels that could raise health concerns." Exposure to the crude oil itself, either on land or in the water, is also not particularly good for humans. There's also concern that storms in the Gulf could sweep up the oil and push more onto land, and hurricane season is already upon us.

We also know that one of the dispersants that has been used in the Gulf carries its own health concerns. Corexit EC9527A contains 2-butoxyethanol, which can cause headaches, vomiting, reproductive problems, and "liver and kidney effects and/or damage." More than 300 cleanup workers have already reported feeling ill, describing symptoms ranging from vomiting and stomach pain to headaches and chest pain.
 Also troubling is that very little is known about the health effects of a cleanup on the workers who carry it out. There was an opportunity to do long range health studies in the wake of the Exxon Valdez spill. Anecdotal reports suggest a connection between exposure to the slick and various respiratory and neurological conditions. Unfortunately, no peer-reviewed study on the workers' health was ever published.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Recent Beetles

Moths, butterflies, and flies are not the only active insects right now. I have also been seeing a variety of beetles. The one above is a regular presence at the back porch if the light is on. This is a May beetle, sometimes called a "Junebug." I think this one is in the genus Phyllophaga. I see a lot of these when I am looking for moths; sometimes a dozen or more will be on the screen door.

The second also came to the back porch while I was looking for moths. This is an Oriental Beetle (Anomala orientalis), an introduced species that apparently is considered a lawn pest. I have not noticed any problems from them myself, but perhaps there are not enough around here to cause trouble.

The third is another introduced species, a Japanese Beetle (Popillia japonica). This beetle is rarely a welcome visitor as it feeds on a wide variety of cultivated plants. APHIS gives its background as follows:
Japanese beetles were first found in the United States in 1916 near Riverton, New Jersey. Since then Japanese beetles have spread throughout most states the lie east of the Mississippi River. However, partial infestations also occur west of the Mississippi River in states such as Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oklahoma. Usually infestations in states west of the Mississippi River are eradicated before the Japanese beetle becomes established.
This one happens to be feeding on a coneflower.

The fourth is a toe-winged beetle (Ptilodactyla sp.). These beetles are attracted to artificial light; I had previously seen some of these during a session of mothing. This one turned up in my bedroom a few nights ago. Unlike the previous three, which are all scarab beetles, this one is in the family Ptilodactylidae, which are mostly aquatic.

The order Coleoptera includes the long-snouted weevils in addition to the more familiar leaf and scarab beetles. The last photo in this batch is an Imported Long-horned Weevil (Calomycterus setarius). This one happens to be resting on a coneflower. To me, its body looks like it had been knitted.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Colorful Moths

Most of the moths I have seen so far this year have been subtly colored, with varying shades of gray and brown. (See, for example, the Green Cloverworm Moth I posted yesterday, or this group.) Now that the weather has gotten warmer (and boy, has it gotten warmer!), I am starting to see some more colorful individuals.

The moth at the top of this post appears to be a Boxwood Leaftier (Galasa nigrinodis) in the family Pyralidae. The primary known host plants for this species are boxwoods (Buxus sp.), which are not native to North America. Presumably it evolved to feed on a native plant, but so far that plant's identity is unknown. Despite its bright red and white coloration, this moth proved to be more difficult to identify than I expected, mainly because I was looking for it in the wrong families. Luckily, one of my Flickr contacts set me straight.

The second moth is a Yellow-fringed Dolichomia (Dolichomia olinalis), also in Pyralidae. Larvae of this species feed on oaks, of which there are plenty in my neighborhood. This was another moth that I had trouble figuring out until I came across a Flickr contact's photos of the same species. It seems that the yellow triangles at the leading edges of the forewings distinguish it from similar species.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescents (Phyciodes tharos) were among the most common butterflies at the Negri-Nepote refuge yesterday morning. This one sat and nectared on some flowers long enough for me to shoot a few photographs. The sun was especially bright (being as it is close to summer solstice), so I could use the fast shutter speed necessary to freeze the butterfly's wings.

Here is a view of the underwing.

Clouded Sulphurs (Colias philodice) were also abundant. This one was nectaring at a purple coneflower.

Green Cloverworm Moth

I think this is a Green Cloverworm Moth (Hypena scabra) that came to the back porchlight last weekend. It seems to be a fairly common species, but this is the first one I have seen. Adults fly for most of the year, and larvae feed on a variety of plants, such as alfalfa, beans, clover, ragweed, raspberries, and strawberries.

Like other moths in its genus, it has a distinctive snout-like shape.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Verdict in Syncrude Duck Deaths Case

In April 2008, over 1,600 waterfowl died in an oil tailings pond managed by Syncrude in Alberta. The tailings are a toxic by-product of the processes used to separate bitumen from the ground. This spring Syncrude was tried violations of Canadian law in connection with the waterfowl deaths, and yesterday it was convicted of violating Alberta's Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the federal Migratory Birds Convention Act.
Oil companies operating tailings ponds, which are licensed by the province, are required to have bird deterrent programs including scare cannons, effigies and other tactics such as shiny, reflective kite-like objects to ward off the birds, which include local and migratory flocks. While other companies had their deterrent programs up and running in early April, as prosecutors alleged was customary, Syncrude's wasn't yet operational....

The interview with Mr. Matthews suggests the company took its bird deterrent program less seriously year after year. In the late 1990s, its bird team had about 13 people and would typically start on the first or second week of April, Mr. Matthews said. But in 2008, when the birds were found, the company had eight staff who didn't start until the 14th, at the earliest, and were led by Mr. Matthews who, while a long-time employee, did not have wildlife training. Many of the eight staff were further delayed by payroll issues and a funeral, according to testimony. Meanwhile, the team only had one pickup truck of its customary four, due to a shortage of rental vehicles in booming Fort McMurray and the fact that they'd lent one out, Mr. Matthews said....

Mr. Matthews and his team also had advance notice, at least 11 days before the grim discovery, that birds had been spotted in the area. Syncrude employee Frederick (Rick) Corcoran called Mr. Matthews to report the sightings, and was told “basically his people were just started that week,” according to Mr. Corcoran's statement to investigators.

Mr. Corcoran then e-mailed six supervisors in the area, notifying them that birds had been spotted and that Mr. Matthews had acknowledged the lack of deterrents. The e-mail, sent on April 17, was relied on heavily by prosecutors.
Syncrude argues that being convicted under both laws amounts to double jeopardy; a hearing on that claim will take place in August. Once that issue is settled, the court will set a date for sentencing. Syncrude could face a fine of up to $800,000 for the bird deaths.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Loose Feathers #244

Birds and birding news
Birds in the blogosphere
Oil Spill
Environment and biodiversity
Blog carnivals

Thursday, June 24, 2010

I and the Bird

I and the Bird #128 is online at the Bird Ecology Study Group.

BP's Containment System Removed for a Day

Yesterday BP had to remove the containment chamber that had been funneling oil to the surface from the leaking riser pipe. It was back in place by evening, but in the meantime oil was free to flow from the pipe unimpeded.
Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the Obama administration's point man on the BP oil leak, told reporters in his daily briefing that the Discoverer Enterprise removed the device from the bleeding well after workers detected what appeared to be natural gas coming directly into the ship through a line that was being used to run warm water into the top hat to prevent a buildup of ice-like hydrate crystals. With the ship burning off millions of cubic feet of natural gas each day, workers were concerned the gas might ignite, creating an explosive situation aboard the ship.

Allen said it was unclear how the gas came to be in the warm water line, but that initial suspicions centered on the possibility that a robot vehicle working neaer the top hat had accidentally bumped it and closed one of the vents through which the crude continues to escape. That may have increased pressure within the top hat, forcing gas into the warm water line.
The containment system has worked fairly well in collecting at least some of the leaking oil, so hopefully it will be back to its previous form fairly quickly. That something like this could happen underscores how precarious this operation is and how important it will be to complete the relief wells.

Even with the containment system, a lot of oil has continued to escape into the Gulf of Mexico. Some of it recently reached the Pensacola area in Florida.
Cleanup workers in the area were kept busy overnight Wednesday, clearing eight tons of oil spill waste off a Perdido Key barrier island. By morning, a three-mile-long trail of the oily slick had washed up between the Pensacola Beach pier and Fort Pickens National Park.

In addition, the county spotted several solid masses of 8-by-10-foot weathered oil waste in the Pensacola Pass on the Florida-Alabama line. It was contained and a skimmer was on site, said Kelly Cooke, Escambia County's public information officer....

Despite a faint odor from the oil, a couple of dozen sunbathers watched as workers snaked along the sand with their shovels and rakes, occasionally resting under tents to sip water.

The Escambia County Health Department sent out a health advisory Wednesday warning beachgoers not to swim or wade in the oiled water, avoid contact with the oiled sand or sediment and stay away from dead fish and sealife. The region remains closed to fishing.
Similar scenes have played out all along the gulf coast this summer.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Review: Moths of the North Woods

Moth-lovers in Great Britain or western North America have some excellent choices for identification guides, such as Moths of Western North America by Jerry Powell. In the eastern U.S., the options are not as good. The most comprehensive option is Charles Covell's Moths of Eastern North America, a long out-of-print guide in the Peterson family, available only as a pricey reprint or hard-to-find used book. This means that the best easily-available resources for identifying eastern moths are the photos at BugGuide and the Moth Photographers Group. These websites have excellent resources, but as both are volunteer efforts, many species (including difficult ones) lack identification notes or even range descriptions.

A new book, Moths & Caterpillars of the North Woods by Jim Sogaard, seeks to fill the field guide gap for eastern moth enthusiasts. I should say from the outset that this guide is not comprehensive and makes no pretense of being so. The guide covers moths and caterpillars from the north woods region, defined as the northern parts of Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as parts of Ontario. The guide is also not comprehensive, even within that area. It covers just over 300 of the most common species of macrolepidotera, large moths such as noctuids, sphinx moths, and geometers. Microlepidoptera, tiny moths such as tortricids and pyralids, are only treated in brief.

Most species included in the guide are given a full page account. These show large photos of the adult and the caterpillar. In some cases, the facing page shows one or more similar species with similar life histories for easy comparison. (This is the case for American Idia; the facing page shows Glossy Black Idia, Common Idia, Dark-banded Owlet, Variable Zanclognatha, and Dark-spotted Palthis and is the only place where those species are illustrated in the guide.) A typical species account includes identification instructions for both adults and caterpillars, a range description, and the number of generations per year. Most also include a section called "Nature Notes," or brief remarks on aspects of a moth's life history that do not fit into the other categories. A calendar bar under the photo of the adult shows what time of year each species is active. The introduction includes diagrams of the adult and caterpillar with their body parts labeled; these are a useful reference for interpreting the identification notes.

Despite its lack of comprehensiveness, this guide offers some useful features. I find that it is useful for browsing subfamily and genus groups, even if I cannot find the exact moth species I am looking for. Beyond that, it contains useful information about life histories and anatomical features that may make difficult moths easier to identify. Even though the guide is limited to the north woods region, moth-lovers throughout the northeastern United States can use this guide until more comprehensive guides become available. The guide would be even more useful if it included an identification key similar to those found in the Peterson Guides to Insects or Beetles.

The good news is that some better guides should become available in the very near future. A new guide to the moths of northeastern North America is in the works for the Peterson series. In addition, Sogaard mentions in his introduction that he is working on a new guide called Living Moths & Caterpillars: A Guide to Eastern North America. This means that within a year or two, eastern moth-lovers could have two up-to-date field guides. I would not expect moths like the Olethreutine moth pictured below to become any easier to identify, but at least we will have better resources for doing so. Moths & Caterpillars of the North Woods is a good start in that direction.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flies in the Backyard, part 2

Two weeks ago, I posted about some of the flies I found in the backyard. Here are a few more. The one pictured above is a blow fly, probably a Common Green Bottle Fly (Lucilia sericata). This is a very common species, recognized by its metallic coloration and the pattern of hairs on its thorax. According to Wikipedia, the larvae of this species are sometimes used for maggot therapy. Lucilia sericata is also one of several species that help establish how long a corpse has been dead, since the flies lay their eggs and the larvae develop in a predictable sequence. When not scavenging at corpses, blow flies can be useful pollinators.

The second species is a Syrphid fly, probably Toxomerus marginatus. Syrphid flies mimic bees and wasps, but do not carry a sting. You can tell the difference between bee mimics and real bees by the number of wings (two for flies instead of four for bees) and the shape of their antennae. Like other Syrphid flies, Toxomerus marginatus is an important pollinator. Adults are often found around flowers.

The last species for this post is a soldier fly, Ptecticus trivittatus. These flies are often found around compost piles.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Griggstown Butterflies

In addition to the beetles I posted yesterday, a lot of butterflies were active at Griggstown on Saturday. The diversity was not quite as high as I would expect in the middle of summer or early fall, but there was still plenty of color.

Three Great Spangled Fritillaries were nectaring at these Butterfly Weed plants. Butterfly Weed is in the milkweed genus (Asclepias). Its nectar attracts numerous species, including butterflies, moths, bees, and flies.

This is an American Copper, a common butterfly that I often miss. These butterflies are tiny, so I am happy that I both noticed it and got a decent photo.

The last photo for this group is a micromoth (in Lepidoptera like the butterflies). I think this is an Elegant Grass-veneer Moth (Microcrambus elegans), a species in family Crambidae. This tiny moth was sitting on some mugwort.

Finally, this week is National Pollinator Week for 2010.

The Moth and Me

The 12th edition of The Moth and Me, a carnival of blog posts about moths, is online at The Skeptical Moth.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Beetles on Milkweed Plants at Griggstown

When I was at Griggstown yesterday, I noticed a lot of beetles active around the many milkweed plants. The most obvious were the Red Milkweed Beetles (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus), present on seemingly every milkweed I checked. Some seemed to be foraging, but a lot of them were mating. This species is among the few that are able to feed on milkweed leaves (Asclepias sp.). Like other species that feed on milkweed, these beetles advertise their distastefulness (derived from the milkweed's chemicals) with their bright red color.

From this angle, you can see the reason for the beetle's species name, tetrophthalmus, which means "four eyes" in Greek. This species has four eyes, two above the antennae and two below the antennae. Most long-horned beetles have their antennae very close to their eyes. In the case of this species, the antennae split the normal two eyes into four.

While only a few species can eat milkweed leaves, many can feed on its nectar. One insect I noticed at the plant's flowers was this firefly. This one was rather large and is probably in the genus Photuris. According to BugGuide, the species in this genus are only distinguishable by flash pattern.

Near the firefly, I noticed this long-bodied beetle. Like the Pennsylvania Leatherwings I sometimes see around home, this is a soldier beetle. In this case the species is Margined Leatherwing (Chauliognathus marginatus). Adults of this species are active in early summer and often feed on pollen and nectar.

The last of the beetles is a Dogbane Beetle (Chrysochus auratus). Beetles of this species feed exclusively on plants in the dogbane family: larvae feed on the roots and adults on the leaves. This individual is perched on a milkweed leaf.

Images link to larger versions.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

House Wrens Nesting Again

The House Wrens that nested here last summer returned to the same nest box for a second breeding season. I am not sure exactly when the eggs were laid, but the chicks hatched this week, as evidenced by a chorus of hungry voices coming from the box. House Wrens usually incubate for about 12 days, so these eggs were probably laid during the first week of June. Based on average clutch size, there are probably 4-6 chicks in that little nestbox, assuming all eggs hatched.

While only the female incubates and broods, both parents participate in feeding. The parents of these chicks have been busily flying to and from the box. On most visits, a parent enters the box with a food item, feeds it to a chick and leaves. Occasionally, the parent will exit the box carrying something.

The white thing in the wren's bill is a fecal sac. The feces of young nestlings are encased in a mucous membrane. This makes it easy for parents to keep the nest clean by removing feces. A parent will usually carry and drop the fecal sacs at some distance from the nest to keep the nest's location less obvious to predators.

House Wren chicks usually stay in the nest for a little more than two weeks before fledgling. If that holds true for this group, they should fledge during the first week of July.

Inordinately Fond, and a Firefly

The fifth edition of An Inordinate Fondness is now online at The Marvelous in Nature. An Inordinate Fondness is a fairly new blog carnival that specializes in posts about beetles. This large and diverse order features everything from rhinoceros beetles to flower beetles (like the ones I wrote about recently) to fireflies like the one pictured below. So take a look at the link and the posts featured there.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Loose Feathers #243

Least Sandpiper with chick / USFWS Photo

Birds and birding news
Birds in the blogosphere
Oil Spill
Environment and biodiversity

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Cleaning a Sea Turtle

Checking a turtle's eye

The Deepwater Horizon Response Flickr site is one place to check if you want to see images from the oil spill. Since it is run by the government and BP, the images tend to put as positive of a spin as possible on the disaster. Despite that limitation, it sometimes has interesting photos, like this set showing the cleaning of a Kemp's Ridley Turtle (Lepidochelys kempii). All the photos in this post come from that set.

The Kemp's Ridley  Turtle is an endangered species. The main threat is from accidental capture by shrimp trawls or other types of fishing operations. Before beaches were protected, the turtles' eggs were vulnerable to harvesting. Unfortunately, the oil spill has added an extra threat to their survival.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Gulf Oil Spill Estimate Raised Again

Rehabilitators treat an oiled pelican / US Coast Guard photo

The official estimate for how much oil is leaking from the Deepwater Horizon's well continues to be revised upward. The current estimate is that 35,000 to 60,000 barrels of oil are leaking per day.
Chu said Tuesday's estimate was based on a variety of data, including new pressure readings taken within the last 24 hours from inside the "top hat" containment dome through which BP is now capturing crude.

The estimates include the crude BP is capturing.

Marcia McNutt, the director of the U.S. Geological Survey and the head of the Flow Rate Technical Group, said that the scientists would continue to revise the estimate as they get new data.
Remember that the initial estimate was 1,000 barrels per day, which was quickly revised to 5,000 barrels per day. Some independent estimates have put the leakage as high as 95,000 barrels per day, so it would not surprise me to see the official estimate rise as well. At least there is now a way to contain some of it until the relief well is completed:
BP has been capturing about 15,000 barrels a day for the past week aboard the Discoverer Enterprise drill ship, and hopes to expand that to 20,000 to 28,000 barrels a day this week. On Tuesday, a second vessel, the Q4000, with a capacity of 5,000 to 10,000 barrels a day, began capturing and burning oil, the joint government and BP information center said in a statement.

A third ship will allow the capture of 40,000 to 53,000 barrels a day by the end of June, BP hopes, before the addition of a fourth ship in mid July will complete the containment plan.
The trouble with having ships capture the leaking oil is that the operation is subject to disruptive weather, like hurricanes or lightning.
BP temporarily suspended the collection of crude oil from the runaway Deepwater Horizon well for nearly five hours Tuesday after a small fire was spotted at the top of the derrick of the Discoverer Enterprise drill ship.

In a statement, BP said the fire, which was extinguished, preliminarily was attributed to lightning that struck the ship at about 9:30 a.m. Central time. No one was injured, and recovery operations were resumed, BP said, at 2:15 p.m.
As the oil slick expands towards Florida's panhandle, there is increasing concern that the ecological damage seen in Louisiana's marshes could be repeated.
If oil creeping toward Northwest Florida pushes beyond the barrier island beach in the same consistency of ooze that has tarred Louisiana's delta marsh, scientists fear the impact could be felt for years, maybe decades -- and not just here in this small pocket of wetlands. The effects could potentially ripple across a complex and interconnected Gulf ecosystem that stretches hundreds of miles south into the Florida Keys....

Though shrunken by rampant coastal development and compromised by urban pollution, salt marshes, sea-grass beds and mangrove forests still survive along much of Florida's Gulf Coast. They're critical to the health of commercial and sport fishing and at the top the state's priority list for protection.

With a massive floating island of oil looming off Florida's coast, the estuaries in Perdido and Pensacola bays are at imminent risk.
The American Bird Conservancy has provided this map of the Important Bird Areas that could be affected by the oil spill. Click through for a full sized version.

Finally, it is important to remember that the harm to wildlife comes not just from the initial contact with oil but also from lingering toxins in the food chain.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Oil Spill in Utah

While most of the media attention has gone to the ongoing environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, there was another oil spill in Utah, this time caused by a ruptured Chevron pipeline.

The spill, first spotted on Saturday morning, poured 33,600 gallons of crude oil into a creek on the eastern edge of Salt Lake City, near the University of Utah campus. Emergency crews stopped the oil before it reached the lake, but not before the crude coated about 200 birds....

Investigators found a hole roughly the size of a quarter in the top of the pipeline, where it runs through Red Butte Canyon. The breached section of pipe lies underground, inches away from a metal fence post outside an electrical substation, and Chevron investigators believe that an electrical arc from the fence may have created the hole. The cause of the arc, however, remains under investigation.

Although it may have started Friday night, the spill came to light around 6:50 a.m. Saturday, after neighbors noticed the smell of petroleum in the air. Oil was found streaming through Red Butte Creek, which feeds into the Jordan River and, eventually, the Great Salt Lake.

Chevron shut off the pipeline east of the rupture, stanching the flow of crude. But by then, the oil had already contaminated the creek banks and some of the waterfowl living there. Oiled birds were taken to Hogle Zoo for cleaning.
The Salt Lake Tribune has a gallery of birds being cleaned. All of the photos show ducks or geese. The site also has a map showing where the spill occurred.

Update: Thanks to reader Elizabeth for pointing out that some oil has already been detected in Great Salt Lake wetlands.

Great Egret

A Great Egret fishing in the Raritan River.

Monday, June 14, 2010

More June Moths

Here are a few moths I found over the weekend. My usual procedure with moths I find at night is to capture them, refrigerate them overnight, and then photograph them during the day and release them. Photographing them during the day makes the colors look more natural without the harsh glare of a point-and-shoot camera's flash. It also makes it easier to add a ruler for scale. Some moths are more cooperative than others; sometimes one will escape before I can get any good photos of it. Others, like the one above, will cling to the side of their containers.

That one eventually did sit on the paper so that I could photograph its upperside. I think this is a Barberry Geometer Moth. As the name suggests, its larvae feed on barberry (Berberis sp.). Most likely it evolved eating the native American Barberry but expanded to the invasive Japanese Barberry as an alternate host plant. This one probably dined on one of the Japanese Barberry shrubs in the neighborhood. I found this one nectaring at Butterfly Weed.

I think this second moth is a Small Mossy Lithacodia. Most illustrations I have seen of this species have much more vivid colors. This one might just be a worn individual because otherwise the pattern is a close match.

One of the reasons I really like about noctuids like the lithacodia is that they look very cute from the side.

This last moth is a Speckled Renia Moth. I have already seen this species at least once this summer. In addition to these moths, I have a couple of tiny moths, but it will take a while longer to identify those.