For the longest time, moths have taken a back seat to their more glamorous cousins, the butterflies.
However, in recent years, it seems more people are tuning in the "darker" side of Lepidoptera and becoming aware of the beauty and charisma of moths. It might seem like getting to know the moths in your area would be an uphill task: it's true, there are usually at least ten times the number of moths as butterflies present in an area, and they are mostly nocturnal. However, there are now many excellent resources available to the budding "moth'er."
When Seabrooke Leckie and I decided to write the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America it was very much with the beginner in mind. We wanted to produce a guide that concentrated on the most likely species to be encountered and present the information in a user-friendly way.
Over time it is our hope that this guide will spark new interest in this fascinating group of insects. Although most of the moths featured in our guide are common, many species are becoming increasingly scarce because of habitat loss and pesticide use. We hope that more people can become aware of the moths in their area and realize that looking at moths can be fun, for young and old alike.
Step aside butterfly, there's a new moth in town!
This beautiful silk moth is commonly found in woodlands throughout the northeastern region. It flashes the remarkable eyespots on its hindwings when disturbed or as a defense against potential predators, such as birds.
Instantly recognizable, the lovely Luna Moth is a common late spring flier in the eastern woodlands. Like all silk moths it has no mouthparts and has a very short life as an adult. The feathery antennae are used to detect pheromones emitted by female Luna Moths, often over a considerable distance.
Not all moths are active at night. The Hummingbird Clearwing is commonly found taking nectar from flowers in meadows during daylight hours. Its name is derived from its habit of hovering in front of the flowers it feeds upon, like a tiny hummingbird. Like all sphinx moths it possesses a long tube-like proboscis that is coiled up when not being used to sup nectar from flowers.
Most moths are masters of camouflage - after all, their lives depend upon surviving the daylight hours! The Black-blotched Schizura is one member of a small group of Prominent Moths that are effective twig mimics. They roll their wings around their abdomen in a tube-like fashion and rest at an angle, looking just like a snapped off twig. You'd be hard-pushed to notice such a moth in an eastern woodlot!
Some moths are known pests, and none more so than the Gypsy Moth. Introduced to Boston from Europe in the 1860s, it is now widespread throughout the northeastern region. The larvae are generalists and feed upon a huge variety of plants and trees, sometimes defoliating large tracts of woodland. The males are commonly seen during daylight hours as well as at night and have a distinctive erratic flight style. The males use their large antennae to detect the whitish, virtually flightless females.
Some moths are almost impossibly beautiful and The Herald is certainly one such creature. It has a distinctive patch of orange scales running through the center of the forewing that resembles the glowing embers of a dying fire. This widespread moth hibernates as an adult, sometimes in caves where large congregations can be found.
A common woodland species, the Pearly Wood-Nymph is a striking-looking moth. In spite of its flashy appearance it is an effective bird-dropping mimic with its largely white and olive coloration. When disturbed it has bright orange hind wings.
The spectacular Clematis Borer belongs to a group of mostly diurnal wasp mimic moths called Clearwing Borers. So effective are they at mimicking wasps and hornets that they are mostly overlooked! However, even when one is looking that can be frustratingly elusive. The larvae of many species are pests on orchard trees as they bore and feed inside the branches or roots so specific pheromones have been developed to attract and control such species. Obtaining such pheromone lures offers the best chances of seeing these remarkable moths.
The Showy Emerald is a typical geometer moth in that it rests with its ample wings pressed flat against a branch or tree trunk. However, it is certainly one of the prettiest that occurs in northeastern woodlands. The whitish lines help to beak up the outline of the moth, offering it some degree of camouflage.
With its Halloween colors and unique shape the Small-eyed Sphinx is a very attractive moth. It is a common nocturnal species of eastern woodlands and gardens. Like all sphingids it has a powerful, streamlined shape with long tapered wings. The hindwings of this species extend in front of the leading edge of the forewing when the moth is resting, creating an interesting shape.
Melsheimer's Sack-bearer has a character all of its own. With its pug-like face, speckled salmon body and wings and somewhat corpulent aspect it has few rivals in the charisma department! It is not a common moth and is most often found on sandy soils well populated with oaks, the larval foodplant.
All photos courtesy of David Beadle.