The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Tag Archives: Lepidoptera

Get your mothing on with National Moth Week!

National Moth Week

First National Moth Week – July 23-29, 2012

Well hello! Have any of you noticed how freaking nice it’s been outside?

I’ve been outside.

A lot.

And therefore have pretty much been entirely ignoring the Internets. But I’m back!

Since my last post was about a pretty little moth I found in my garden back in April (bad blogger!) I thought it was quite appropriate to re-start my summer posting with some exciting news for all you moth-lovers out there (generalist bug geeks also!): July 23-29 is officially National Moth Week. Although this venture is originating in the U.S., we Canuks have been invited to play too.

NMW is a great opportunity to get outside (um, it’s really nice out there), play around in the dark (minds out of the gutter, plz), take photos, record data, and enjoy some fun, hands-on citizen science! From the official website of NMW:

National Moth Week brings together everyone interested in moths to celebrate these amazing insects. This summer, groups and individuals from all the across the country [and Canada! and other countries!] will spend some time during National Moth Week looking for moths and sharing what they’ve found. Getting involved during National Moth Week is easy: attend a National Moth Night event, start an event, join friends and neighbors to check porch lights from time to time, set up a light and see what is in your own backyard, or read literature about moths, etc.

I registered an “event” (i.e., I’m going camping and taking my camera) just this morning – you should too! You know you’re probably already going to be hanging around your porch light in the evenings, so why not make it an official (and scientifically useful!) event?

I probably hang around my porch lights almost every night. I actually deliberately buy the really bright pure white floodlights, rather than the recommended yellowy ones that are supposed to keep swarms of insects from harassing you on your patio and streaming into your home every time you open the screen door. Keep the insects away? Pshaw! What’s the fun of that?

Despite all the time I spend looking at moths, I realized today as I waded through my photograph collection that I only have maybe 2 or 3 decent photos of moths. That’s it. I’ve only blogged specifically about a moth three times. Pathetic.

To rectify this sad state of affairs, I plan to get myself a copy of Seabrooke Leckie’s new Peterson Moths of Northeastern North America field guide (one can never have too many field guides – by the way, you can WIN a field guide if you register!). Then, when I return from my camping trip (which will be internet-free), you can expect some post-hoc blogging highlighting a moth or ten from each day of NMW.

Consider yourselves duly notified, and get yourself registered!

A woodpecker’s near miss, mystery lichen (FUNGUS!) and hidden treasures

I was on a bark-peeling mission today…I found this:   

This pupa was found under bark of a dying tree.


The thin, translucent, filamentous fibres of the cocoon encircled the pupa; it was evident where they had once adhered to the tree as well.    

Closeup of cocoon fibres


A woodpecker had come very close to finding this tasty morsel hidden beneath the bark…   

The woodpecker's bore hole is on the left; the shallow, pale, oval cavity that held the pupa and cocoon is on the right


Other treasures were to be found.  Peeling back bark from another tree revealed striking green lichen fungi growing beneath; I don’t recall ever seeing these before.    

Tiny bright green lichen (fungi?) growing beneath bark


I thought initially they were tiny fungi, as they were almost exclusively single, stalked bodies, but in the few “clusters” I saw there appear to be apothecia (spore-forming reproductive bodies) typical of lichens…any experts out there that can help me with these?  Thanks Susannah!  Susannah has solved the mystery for me…these ARE, in fact, the fruiting bodies of fungi: so-called “green stain” fungi,  most likely Chlorociboria aeruginascens.  There is a second green stain fungus, C. aeruginosa, but it is less common; only microscopic examination can distinguish the two species.  The largest of the bodies was approximately 5mm in diameter.  Here is a closeup (this cluster was about 1cm total diameter):   

Closeup of bright green Chlorociboria aeruginascens


Now, I have to admit that I was so taken by these little green gems, that I managed to overlook several dozen arthropods sitting about 6 inches away.  For serious.  Here’s a closeup of a crop of a zoom of the first lichen picture, which was taken from about 3 feet away:  


Can you see them? Collembola. Grrrr.


I’m so annoyed at myself for not seeing these. (*smacks forehead loudly with palm*)  From this super-fuzzy picture and based on their size, they’re springtails (Collembola) of some kind.  Springtails overwinter as adults.  One type, the “snow flea” can be found active and on the snow during warmer winter days, absorbing heat from the sun with their dark-coloured bodies.  These don’t look like snow fleas to me…and they were not active at all, I’m sure I would have noticed had they been moving.   I will check back at that tree next time I’m on walkabout to see if I can capture some proper images.  (*again with the forehead smacking*)

Hey Geek, what’s this? (European Yellow Underwing, Noctua pronuba)

I really enjoy when people either send me good photos or, even better, bring me insect specimens to identify.  I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert ID-er, but I adore a good challenge and relish the opportunity to familiarize myself with a new insect.  

I generally have a pretty good “gut feel” for most of the more common insect groups…in other words, I can place an unfamiliar critter in its family or subfamily by eyeballing it (but can’t necessarily tell you WHY it belongs there…it JUST DOES).  From there, there are a number of excellent resources (books, field guides, online, etc.) that I like to use to narrow down the list of possible candidates.*

An online friend recently provided a photograph of a chubby little fellow who had hitched a ride indoors on one of her pets.  She lives not-so-very-far-away from me and experiences nearly identical weather/climate.  She was quite surprised to see a critter like this outdoors in January, although the day he came into her home, it was unseasonably mild (+6°C or so). 

Noctua pronuba, the European Yellow Underwing moth (larva)

The first thing my gut told me was: “Pesty”.   Then, “Cutworm”. 

It didn’t take me long to find a match: Noctua pronuba (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae), the European Yellow Underwing (generally called the Large Yellow Underwing in its native range).   I’m always rather tickled when I find moths of this ilk; I adore the bold yellow-and-black striped underwings sported by the adults.  It’s a wonderfully unexpected flashy bit of bug bling that seems out of character with the otherwise brown/black colouration of the rest of the animal. (Susannah at Wanderin’ Weeta has some nice pics of the adult moth).

Noctua pronuba isn’t native to Ontario; it’s indigenous to Asia and Europe where it is widespread.  It was likely introduced to North America in the early to mid 80’s and is now found coast to coast in both Canada and the U.S.  It is a generalist herbivore, attacking grasses, flowers and vegetables alike, and is considered by some to be among the worst garden pests.

An interesting tidbit: apparently, although the moth overwinters as a larva (caterpillar), it is known to venture out to feed on milder winter days.  Perhaps the January sighting of this critter was not so out of character after all!


* sometimes, despite (or perhaps because of?) my enthusiasm for this type of activity, I am TOTALLY DEAD WRONG and NOT EVEN CLOSE with my so-called “identifications”.  I therefore suggest this disclaimer should be construed as an open invitation to all readers to say, “HEY!  YOU THERE!  GET WITH THE PROGRAM! That’s not a _____________, it’s a _____________, dumb-head! DUH.”  (But maybe you could be a little nicer about it. Geeks have feelings too.)

%d bloggers like this: