Shining Rock

Backpacking: An extended form of hiking in which people carry double the amount of gear they need for half the distance they planned to go in twice the time it should take.

~Author unknown

Melissa loves to backpack. That is an understatement. And I love to be in the places that backpacking takes us. It is the getting there that sometimes gets me. So, Melissa, the quote above is just a joke (sort of). This trip was planned between our birthdays (a several year tradition for us) to be an outing to one of our favorite spots, Dolly Sods Wilderness in West Virginia (see previous post). But the weather forecast looked rainy in WV, and we are not fans of long hikes in the rain, so we changed plans at the last minute and headed to an area Melissa had visited on a recent Museum workshop – the Shining Rock Wilderness. This is the largest wilderness area in North Carolina at about 18,000 acres. It is well-known as being one of the most scenic hiking areas in our state, with excellent views from several mountaintops over 6000 feet. There is easy access from areas near the Blue Ridge Parkway, making this a very popular destination on weekends. We decided to start from a lower elevation at the Big East Fork Trailhead and had planned to hike the Old Butt Trail (no comments, please) up to Shining Rock. But, as is apparently common in this area, we missed that trail juncture and ended up on its loop counterpart, the Shining Creek Trail. Both of these sections are described as difficult. I agree with that judgement as they climb about 2600 feet in a few miles over very rocky terrain. But Shining Creek is absolutely beautiful and, being on a weekday, we had no company on the way up.

Tributary to Shining Creek

A tributary to Shining Creek (click photos to enlarge)

Crown of thorns slug caterpillar

Crowned Slug, the first of many caterpillars we found along the trail

Pipevine swallowtail larva

Pipevine Swallowtail larvae were a common sight in the woods feeding on their host, Pipevine

Hickory tussock moth larva

A Hickory Tussock Moth larva

With the late start, we didn’t make it far up the trail before deciding to camp at a relatively flat spot above the creek. While sitting at camp, Melissa found a Blue  Ridge Two-lined Salamander crawling up her leg. That evening, we went down to the creek to wash up, and I got distracted by other salamanders crawling about in search of their evening meal. It really is amazing how many salamanders must live in these mountains!

Gray-cheeked salamander

Gray-cheeked Salamander

Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamander dorsal view

One of three Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamanders we saw down by the creek. This species often climbs up on vegetation at night (or a hiker’s legs) looking for invertebrate prey.

Blue Ridge Two-lined Salamander male with cirri

This is a male with swollen cirri (those snout appendages) which occurs during the breeding season

Black-bellied salamander

We spotted a couple of large Black-bellied Salamanders in the creek during our hike

The next day’s hike was a difficult one for me (somehow, our birthdays seem to have taken some umpf out of my legs, and added zip to hers) but we made it up to Shining Rock Gap with plenty of time to set up camp in a sheltered spruce grove. We took our stove and fixed dinner atop an outcrop of brilliantly white quartz that gives this mountaintop its name.

Quartz outcrop at Shining Rock

Outcrops of white quartz shine in the late day sun at the summit of Shining Rock (elevation – 6000 ft.)

View from Shining Rock

The mood changed dramatically as mist drifted through the valley with the approach of sunset

Sunset from Shining Rock as mist rolls in

A beautiful sunset view from Shining Rock

The next morning we hit a section of the famed Art Loeb Trail in search of views from a grassy bald. It turns out, there aren’t that many places through this stretch with that type of scenery. You are mainly hiking through rhododendron thickets and vast expanses of waist-high blueberries and blackberries. We broke out into the open at Flower Gap, but another couple had claimed that spot for the night. We weren’t keen on that spot anyway as we had heard from two guys at the trailhead that a bear had raided their supplies in this gap two nights ago, a fact we shared with the couple. It turns out, those guys had not brought a bear canister, a requirement when camping in the Shining Rock Wilderness. We went on a bit further and climbed a side trail up to the summit of Grassy Cove Top (elevation – 6049 ft.). There were a couple of tent-sized grassy patches, so we claimed one for the evening and had time to relax and enjoy the stunning views. We were hoping to see some raptors migrating, but it seems we missed the peak migration by a week or so. We did manage an American Kestrel, a Northern Harrier, an unidentified Buteo, and two Broad-winged Hawks, along with dozens of Cloudless Sulphur butterflies, and some mystery critters at sunset (they looked like large insects, but we couldn’t tell for sure in the low light).

Our tent nesteled among the blueberry shrubs

Our tent nestled in a small grassy area surrounded by blueberry shrubs atop Grassy Cove Top

bumblebee on gentian

Bumblebees were quite common in the balds, and here is one on a Gentian along the woodland trail

We strung our hammocks in a nearby stand of spruce to have some time in the shade, and then went back out to a rock outcrop for dinner and an amazing sunset.

sunset iphone

A spectacular sunset from Grassy Cove Top

sunset behind campsite

Looking north from our camp after sunset

That night, we sat and looked at stars, got great views of Venus, Jupiter, Saturn, and Mars, and were thankful to be here rather than in the distant lights of towns and cities on the horizon.

sunrise

The incredible view at sunrise from our campsite on Grassy Cove Top

Melissa mentioned the beauty of simple things like the scent of spruce and fir, an unobstructed view of the night sky, and the quiet of a mountaintop. She is right, this is why we do this. A more appropriate quote for backpacking these rugged hills might be this one by the muse of the mountains, John Muir…

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves. As age comes on, one source of enjoyment after another is closed, but Nature’s sources never fail.

Looking forward to our next birthday adventure (but we don’t have to wait that long, honest).

 

See No Weevil…Well, Just One

A big nose never spoiled a handsome face.

~French proverb

I set out the moth light the other night and had a few species come in, but had many non-moth visitors – katydids, a praying mantis, lots of caddisflies, and one very interesting little guy, a weevil.

weevil at moth light

Weevil on sheet at moth light (click photos to enlarge)

Weevils are the largest family of beetles with over 3000 species in North America. They are distinguished by often having a distinctive snout (rostrum) with chewing mouth parts at the end, and antennae part way down its length. They are plant feeders of one sort and many are considered agricultural pests, but, they sure are interesting and crazy-looking creatures. The Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America states that hardly any plant is not affected by at least one species of Curculionidae.

weevil close up

Close-up view of that amazing rostrum

My visitor the other night looks like one of the acorn weevils, Curculio sp. They are tan to brown with a long rostrum and spurs on the femurs of their legs. Weevil antennae are elbowed and can fit into a special groove in the snout.

weevil on rail 1

Acorn weevil

I am guessing this may be a female since they tend to have longer snouts, at least as long as their body. So, she has probably been using the mandibles at the tip of that “nose” to chew holes in some of the many acorns out back. She then turns around and lays an egg into that hole. Her baby will feed on the meat of the nut and then chew its way out and pupate in the soil once the acorn falls. I reported on the fascinating grubs of acorn weevils in an earlier post. No matter your opinion on the dietary costs of weevils, you gotta admit, they are one odd-looking, and some may even say, cute, critters.

 

 

Snippets

Life moves pretty fast.If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

~John Hughes

Indeed, life has been moving too fast of late, with so many things happening at work and in our personal lives. Luckily, I work in a magical place, and it doesn’t take much time to find something of interest – a short walk across the garden for a meeting, a trip out to my car, or just doing some of the outdoor chores that need doing, there is so much to see, if you just pay attention. It also helps when my co-workers and volunteers find something and drop me a note or give me a call. That was what brought many of these snippets to my attention this past week. Here are some of the highlights from the week of what you can encounter in a native plant haven like the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Monarch butterfly at NCBG

Monarch butterfly stretching her wings after emerging from the chrysalis (click photos to enlarge)

monarch chrysalis with tachind fly pupa

Some monarchs are not so lucky. This one was brought to me by a wonderful volunteer. She was hoping to release an adult butterfly, but a tachinid fly larvae emerged instead. Its pupa is the brown case beneath the damaged monarch chrysalis.

caterpillar with parasitoid eggs on dorsal surface

Tachinid flies are common parasitoids of many butterflies and moths. But I had never found a caterpillar with the white eggs of one of these flies on it until I stumbled across this one this week.

green lynx pider under hooded pitcher plant

This female Green Lynx Spider laid her egg sac in the protected cover of a Hooded Pitcher Plant.

green lgynx spider and young

Another Green Lynx female sits next to her recently hatched spiderlings atop a Cardinal Flower seed stalk.

green lynx spiderlings up close

These Green Lynx Spider babies have molted once and will soon disperse away from their protective mother.

Cope's gray treefrog juvenile

After our wet summer, the Garden is now alive with many tiny Cope’s Gray Treefrogs.

black swallowtail prepupa

A co-worker alerted me to this Black Swallowtail pre-pupa one afternoon this week. Knowing it would shed one more time and reveal the chrysalis in the next 24-hours, I brought it to our volunteer training  the next morning.

black swallowtail just after chrysalis formed

I carried the pre-pupa along on a training session and, right on schedule, the last molt occurred and everyone was able to witness the amazing transformation to the chrysalis.

A Week of Moments

The butterfly counts not months, but moments, and has time enough.

~Rabindranath Tagore

Monarch hanging on chrysalis

Monarch butterfly shortly after emergence from its chrysalis (click photos to enlarge)

Last week was a busy one (actually, aren’t they all) at work with getting everything back out after the hurricane and preparing for and delivering several programs. And yet, it was still a week full of natural history highlights, brief moments when the beauty and mystery that surrounds us reveals itself and I take a moment to pause and wonder. Here are a few of those moments…

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One of the horticulture staff spotted this female marbled salamander (females have gray markings, males have white  ones) among the soil around some plants in the Display Gardens. She will be laying eggs soon in a wetland depression and will guard them until rains fill the pool.

Hearts-a-bustin seed pod at NCBG

Seed pods of Hearts-a-bustin, Euonymus americanus, one of my favorite native shrubs of autumn.

Purple-crested slug after molt

A purple-crested slug moth caterpillar (Adoneta spinuloides) that has recently molted.

I did a lunchbox talk at the Garden last week on one of my favorite topics, caterpillars. So, in spite of the postponement of the museum’s BugFest event due to the hurricane, Melissa and I were still able to go out one evening and collect a few for my talk (sounds like the prefect date night, doesn’t it).

Caterpillar with wasp coccons

This larva has fallen victim to a wasp parasitoid. The white silky blob beneath the caterpillar are the wasp cocoons. One study estimated that 10 to 25% of all last instar caterpillars are parasitized by wasp or fly parasitoids.

Turbulent phosphila larvae

The day after my caterpillar program we discovered this group of turbulent phosphila moth larvae feeding on their host plant, greenbrier. It can be hard to tell which end is which on this gregarious feeder.

Plume moth

Certainly one of the stranger-looking groups of moths, the plume moths, resemble tiny gliders.

Mantis with bee

The week ended rather poorly for this male carpenter bee that was prey for this Chinese mantis.

Goldenrod and wasp

Fall is just around the corner when the goldenrods (Solidgo sp.) are in bloom.

 

Be sure to take the time to find some moments in your week ahead.

 

Moths in a Storm

Intimate connection allows recognition in an all-too-often anonymous world… Intimacy gives us a different way of seeing.

~Robin Wall Kimmerer

As the rains continue to pour down from what was the hurricane that mercifully just glanced by us here in the woods, we are both reading and pursuing some indoor activities. I decided to look back at some recent photos of moths and try to learn a few more names using our Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Southeastern North America and a few of my favorite online resources (I mentioned some of these in a recent post on moths). This thing with moths has grabbed me for some reason in recent months. Certainly, the availability of a great field guide has helped (I am known, and sometimes mocked, for my tendency to browse field guides as my reading entertainment). But it is as if I have also just discovered this amazing variety of life that is so readily available just outside (literally sometimes) our door. For me, naming things is a way to feel connected to them. And naming moths is a challenge! For one thing, there are so many – over 2200 species in North Carolina, according to one of my go-to sites, Moths of NC (compare that to 177 species of butterflies recorded in the state). Plus, their differences are often quite subtle and variable. But, it is a great way to learn to appreciate them. As usual, there are many amazing and bizarre life histories. There is also the relationship to their larvae, which, for someone that is as fascinated by caterpillars as me, is reason enough to learn moths so I can make those life cycle connections. So, on a weekend when I normally would be surrounded by caterpillar cages for BugFest, I present a few of the adults of my larval friends that I have recently learned. As usual, if anyone finds an error in my ID, please drop me a note.

Confused Eusarca, Eusarca packardaria

Confused Eusarca, Eusarca packardaria. This little beauty fluttered up from some grass the day before Florence appeared.

Packard's wave, Cyclophora packardi

Packard’s Wave, Cyclophora packardi. Many of the Waves have a flattened appearance, often with a straight-edge line to the fore-wings.

Yellow-fringed hypsopygia, Hypsopygia olinalis

Yellow-fringed Hypsopygia, Hypsopygia olinalis

Little white lichen moth, Clemensia albata

Little white lichen moth, Clemensia albata, one of a group of moths whose larvae feed on lichens.

Uniform lichen moth, Crambidia uniformis

Uniform lichen moth, Crambidia uniformis

Richard's Fungus Moth (lower left), Metalectra richardsi

Richard’s Fungus Moth (lower left), Metalectra richardsi– perhaps a Uniform lichen moth, Crambidia uniformis, above

Robinson's underwing, Catocala robinsonii, wings spread

Robinson’s underwing, Catocala robinsonii, wings spread

Root collar borer, Euzophera ostricolorella, dorsal view

Root collar borer, Euzophera ostricolorella

Next are a few species seen on the buildings at work before the storm…

Variable oakleaf caterpilar moth, Lochmaeus manteo?

Variable oakleaf caterpillar moth, Lochmaeus manteo – this faded individual was a tough call, but this is one of the most common species of caterpillars I find in this area

Delicate Cycnia, Cycnia tenera

Delicate Cycnia, Cycnia tenera

Crocus geometer, Xanthotype sp. (adults cannot be separated  to

Crocus geometer, Xanthotype sp. (adults apparently cannot easily be separated to species without dissection) – note the distinctive spread-wing resting posture

Below is a series of species from a couple of years ago that I never got around to naming (this was before the publication of the new field guide)…

Dimorphic Tosale, Tosale oviplagalis

Dimorphic Tosale, Tosale oviplagalis

Light-ribboned Wave, Leptostales ferruminaria

Light-ribboned Wave, Leptostales ferruminaria – another straight-edge fore-wing

Pale-winged Gray, Iridopsis ephyraria

Pale-winged Gray, Iridopsis ephyraria, a tree bark mimic

Yellow-shouldered Slug Moth, Lithacodes fasciola

Yellow-shouldered Slug Moth, Lithacodes fasciola – the slug caterpillars are one of my favorite groups, so it is nice to learn what the adults look like

This last one was, by far, the most difficult to try to identify (not that we got all of the other ones correct). Still not sure if this is right, but it is the closest thing I could find (which is odd since it seems to be such a distinctive pattern)…

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George’s Midget, Elaphria georgei

Florence Cats

If you spend your whole life waiting for the storm, you’ll never enjoy the sunshine.

~Morris West

Florence has already had a huge impact on things here in the Piedmont, far away from her predicted point of landfall. While this is minor compared to what people in the more direct path of the storm will have to deal with over the next several days, many schedules in this area have been rearranged and many things canceled or postponed with the storm’s approach. One such cancellation was one of my favorite events of the year, BugFest, at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. As predictions of the stormy weather grew, it seemed less likely we would need to scour the fields and forests for caterpillars for our annual show of the diversity and beauty of the larvae of butterflies and moths of our region.

But some things are hard to give up. What does a caterpillar-lover do when all the preparations have been made for any wind and water headed our way? Why, you stroll through the yard looking for caterpillars, of course. So, below are a few species discovered this afternoon (and a couple from earlier in the week) while we wait for any impacts from Hurricane Florence.

Monarch larva, last instar

Monarch caterpillar (click photos to enlarge)

Black swalowtail larvae on rue

Two instars of Black Swallowtail larvae – notice how different this species looks in different stages. The larger instar is often mistaken for a monarch due to similar colors and patterns, but note the yellow dots inside the black stripes and the lack of black tentacles on either end compared to a monarch.

Florida fernth larva mo

Florida Fern Moth larva on, what else, a fern

White furcula side view

We love finding “Furkys”. Here is a White Furcula caterpillar on wild cherry

White furcula ventral view

White Furcula, ventral view

Double-lined prominent larva dorsal view

Double-lined Prominent on elm

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A mystery Geometrid moth larva on spicebush…anyone know this one?

Fall webworm

The most common caterpillar in the yard right now, the Fall Webworm, found now on almost any plant

White flannel moth dorsal view

A treat to find a White Flannel Moth larva on redbud, as it has been a few years since I have seen one of these odd beauties..

White flannel moth side view

This clownish looking caterpillar is one of the so-called “stinging caterpillars”, with tufts of urticating spines that can cause a bee-sting-like pain should you touch it.

And a couple from earlier this week at work…

Datana sp. getting ready to molt

Datana sp. larvae just prior to a synchronous molt

Drab prominent larva

A Drab Prominent caterpillar looking anything but…

Stay safe if you are in the path of the storm, but remember to take a moment to enjoy the beauty and wonder that surrounds you.

 

 

Hot Holiday

It’s summer and time for wandering…

~Kellie Elmore

After I retired (you remember back when I was retired) I loved the fact that I could go to some of my favorite places on a week day when fewer people would be out and about in the wild places I love. I certainly didn’t want to go on a holiday weekend when even more people created crowded campgrounds and busy highways en route to my favorite destinations. Well, that was then and this is now, so off we went last weekend on a camping excursion. It was prompted, in part, by a visit from Melissa’s cousin, Kevin, from New York. He had not traveled much in these parts so she had given him tips on where to camp and hike in the mountains on the first part of his visit and now we were going to share a couple of our favorite things with him down east – paddling in a swamp and looking for bears.

The first day we drove to Pettigrew State Park where we had reserved a site, set up camp, and then headed to the nearby boat launch on the Scuppernong River just outside Creswell. We had debated whether to try the entire 12 miles to Columbia (something we both have always wanted to do) but we decided to go ahead, despite the threat of thunderstorms.

IMG_5917

Upper reaches of the Scuppernong River (click photos to enlarge)

We put in about 1:30 p.m. and headed toward Columbia (we shuttled one car down there at the take out point). Melissa and I have paddled portions of this river several times and have seen a bear each time, so we had high hopes. No sightings this trip, but we think we heard a couple splashing through the swamp as we paddled. We also saw many pileated woodpeckers, wood ducks, a barred owl, a bald eagle, and had a constant escort of dragonflies.

Paddling the Scuppernong

Paddling the tranquil Scuppernong. We saw lots of pileated woodpeckers and heard a couple of bears splashing in the swamp.

Scuppernong lower reaches

We were alone along the entire 12 miles of river until we got to Columbia

Scuppernong near Columbia at sunset

A tranquil ending to a beautiful day on the river

We managed to dodge the thunderstorms and ended the day with a slick-as-glass water surface at sunset.  After a delicious dinner in Columbia we headed back to camp where another storm stopped just short of the campground. The next morning we headed over to the Pungo Unit hoping to show Kevin a few bears and other critters in our favorite area of the state.

Young Eastern box turtle in road

Our first wildlife of the day – a young Eastern box turtle

We started kind of slow but did see 5 bears by mid-day. My favorite was one sacked out in a tree right next to the road.

Young black bear in tree

Melissa spotted this sleepy bear lounging head down in a tree right next to the road

Young black bear chillin' in tree alongside road

This is one sleepy bear

We took a break from Pungo and drove over to Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge. After observing some waders (including a nice little blue heron and a tri-colored heron), a tour of the visitor center, and a short hike along one of the boardwalks, we headed back to Pungo. Kevin was driving to Richmond that evening so we wanted to try to find as many bears as possible and maybe have a few opportunities for photos before he headed out. Pungo did not disappoint…

Black bear and cub

Momma bear and cub on “Bear Road”

We saw a couple more as we drove the refuge roads and then decided to head to one of my favorite places, “Bear Road”. It wasn’t long before we saw the first of 14 bears! The sow above had two cubs of the year hanging out with her (only one is visible in the pic above), and we saw several other individuals and another sow with cubs. But one bear provided the highlight of the day…

Black bear walking toward us

This young bear was hurrying toward dinner in the cornfield near where we sat

Black bear realizing something is not right

The moment when you realize – wait, what are those things?

A young, beautiful bear (probably a 2 or 3-year old) came out of the woods and headed down the road towards its evening meal of corn. We were sitting in the road near the corn field and the bear strolled along until, suddenly, it realized something was amiss. It did what we all have probably done at one time or another…trying to decide which course of action is the best…go back, continue on to where I was headed, but what about…then a hesitation, a look back and forth, and finally, what the heck, I’m going. So, the bear scurried into the canal and over into the corn and disappeared.

Black bear trying to decide what to do

Do I stay or do I go?

Black bear indecision

But the corn is just over there…

We ended the day with 25 bears, including a few with cubs of the year (always fun to observe), a couple of bears standing up to check their surroundings, and a bear in a tree. It turns out, if you pick your destination carefully, you can still go somewhere even on a holiday, and not experience the hassle of crowds (unless you count the bears). A great outing on a hot holiday weekend. Can’t wait for our next visit.

Mothing, Part 2

Look closely. The beautiful may be small.

~Immanuel Kant

The last post had some recognizable moths, some big ones, some brightly colored ones. But countless moths are frustratingly small (when you are trying to identify them), and many are, at least at first glance, LBT’s (little brown things). But the magic of a macro lens is that it brings out their beauty once you enlarge them on your screen, making it somewhat easier to flip through the pages of a field guide until you find one that is similar. Yet they are all beautiful in their own way and worthy of our attention and appreciation. Once again, if I have made an ID error, I welcome comments and corrections.

Here are some of the littler ones that came to the moth light. I love the variation in shape, colors, and patterns of these tiny night-time visitors.

Orange-tufted Oneidannn

Orange-tufted Oneida, Oneida lunulalis (click photos to enlarge)

Black-marked inga

Black-marked Inga, Inga sparsiciliella

Redbud leaffolder, Fascista cercerisella

Redbud leaffolder, Fascista cercerisella (the diminutive black and white larvae fold the leaves of redbud)

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Olive Arta, Arta olivalis (this little moth seems to be standing at attention)

Suzuki's Promalactis Moth, Promalactis suzukiella

Suzuki’s Promalactis Moth, Promalactis suzukiella (this tiny moth was not in my Peterson Field Guide to Moths of the SE U.S.; introduced from East Asia)

Bent-line carpet, Costaconvexa centrostrigaria

Bent-line Carpet, Costaconvexa centrostrigaria

Bent-line Gray, Iridopsis larvaria

Bent-line Gray, Iridopsis larvaria

Common angle

Common Angle, Macaria aemulataria (the description says this moth has dark markings on its forewings that resemble paw prints)

Brown panopoda

Brown Panopoda, Panopoda carneicosta

Curved-tooth geometer moth, Eutrapela clemataria

Curved-tooth Geometer Moth, Eutrapela clemataria

Dead wood borer moth

Dead-wood Borer Moth, Scolecocampa liburna (larvae bore into dead logs/stumps of hardwoods)

Deep yellow Euchlaena

Deep Yellow Euchlaena, Euchlaena amoenaria

Faint-spotted Palthis, Palthis asopialis

Faint-spotted Palthis, Palthis asopialis

Drexel's or Major Datana?

Major Datana, Datana major (this group is difficult for me to separate, so this may be one of the other Datana species – they all look very pettable)

Oblique-banded Leafroller, male  - Choristoneura rosaceana

Oblique-banded Leafroller, Choristoneura rosaceana (this one looks like a stocky person wearing a cape)

Garden Tortrix Moth, Clepsis peritana

Garden Tortrix Moth, Clepsis peritana (another “caped” moth)

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Planthopper, Flataloides scabrosus (this one fooled me, I thought it was related to the two moths above, but a closer look showed it did not have moth antennae and is instead a very weird planthopper – thanks to Steve Hall for the ID)

Changenable Grass Veneer?nn

Changeable Grass-Veneer, Fissicrambus mutabilis (one of the group that always rests head down)

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Beautiful Wood Nymph, Eudryas grata (Adults perch with their fuzzy forelegs splayed outward)

Beautiful wood-nymph

Beautiful Wood Nymph, Eudryas grata (A truly beautiful and unusual moth – when disturbed they drop to the ground as if dead)

Mothing, Part 1

…to understand something of the wonders of a world which becomes the more wonderful the more we know of it.

~W.J. Holland, in The Moth Book, 1903

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A sample of moths (and some other wee beast) attracted to my black light (click photos to enlarge)

I set out my moth light for two nights a little over a week ago to see what species might drop by here at the house. Melissa and I gave a moth program at work the week before that and, though we didn’t get a tremendous number of moths that night (in part, due to the early hours for families), it did reignite my moth fever. One night I put the sheet on the clothesline out the basement door. The second night I strung it up on the back deck outside the living room. Both nights I turned outside lights on in addition to having a black light set up next to a cotton sheet. I checked the lights from sunset until about 12:30 p.m. both nights. Things started slow and peaked between 11 p.m. and midnight.

The thing I find so fascinating about moths is their diversity and beauty when you actually take the time to look at them. Many are, at first glance, just brown nondescript bugs, seemingly impossible to tell apart. But a closer look, and their colors and patterns are incredible. I do find them very challenging to identify, but there are a host of online resources that can really help. Among my favorites are: Moths of North Carolina, Bug Guide, Butterflies and Moths of North America, and the North American Moth Photographers Group.

But the real game-changer for me was the publication last spring of the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of the Southeastern North America. I had purchased their guide to moths of the northeast when it came out a couple of years ago and it had been helpful, but, obviously, not comprehensive for our region. But my copy of the new guide is already showing signs of wear as I have flipped through its pages countless times searching for a species new to me at the lights at home or at work. The challenge in moth identification is looking for key characteristics. A look at the online resources for any one species reveals the amazing variation between individuals of some species. And, of course, the printed field guide has space for only the most common variety (generally only one picture is chosen to represent an entire species’ variability). So, having said that, I have done my best (along with Melissa’s help) to identify these to species, but there is a chance some may be misidentified. If anyone catches a mistake, please share in the comments section.

Below are some of the larger moths (those approximately an inch or more in length) that came to the lights. More of the smaller ones will be shared in my next post.

How many of these have you seen?

Banded or sycamore tussock moth

I love the pattern and colors of this moth. It is either a Banded Tussock or a Sycamore Tussock Moth (Halysidota tesselaris/harrisii). They are apparently very difficult to tell apart, and both caterpillar species are common here.

rosy maple moth

One of the more common species at the sheet was the beautiful Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda.

Luna moth

Always happy to see a Luna Moth, Actias luna.

Angle-winged emerald, Chloropteryx tepperaria

There are other green guys out there – like this Angle-winged Emerald, Chloropteryx tepperaria.

Red-spotted emerald

Red-spotted Emerald, Nemoria saturiba.

Drab prominent?

Drab Prominent, Misogada unicolor.

Mottled prominent, Macrurocampa marthesia

Something appears to be wrong with the wings of this Mottled Prominent, Macrurocampa marthesia.

White-blotched heterocampa

White-blotched Heterocampa, Heterocampa umbrata.

Oval-based prominent

Love the shoulder pattern on this Oval-based Prominent, Peridea basitriens.

The Laugher, Charadra deridens

Moth common names are fascinating, like this one – The Laugher, Charadra deridens.

The Hebrew

The Hebrew, Polygrammate hebraeicum, so-named because the black markings somewhat resemble Hebrew script.

False Underwing - Allotria elonympha?

False Underwing, Allotria elonympha.

Stripes

These caterpillars come in brilliant green, pink and yellow, banded, and striped forms that often look nothing at all like each other.

~MOSI Outside blog post

If you are not a fan of bugs, then you may want to take a break from this blog for a bit because it is what is happening right now (oh, there may be something on bears or birds soon, but bugs rule this time of year). Yesterday at work I got an email and a voice mail from two staff about some cool caterpillars in our lower nursery. Comments ranged from do you know this guy, some sort of sphinx? to as big as a hot dog. Of course, I had to go see.

Banded sphinx larva reddish-green form

Banded sphinx moth (Eumorpha fasciatus) caterpillar (click photos to enlarge)

When I arrived, several staff were working in the nursery and pointed out the “hot dog” larva (it was about the size of my index finger). I recognized it as a banded sphinx. It was the characteristic shape of a sphinx moth larva, but lacked the true rear “horn” of most other hornworms. And the diagonal stripes are oriented in a different direction than those of most other sphinx species larvae (these slope from the abdomen upwards towards the head, whereas those in most species, like tobacco hornworms, go from the abdomen upwards toward the rear). But it soon became apparent that this beauty comes in many stripes…

Banded sphinx larva red form

A nearby banded sphinx with a different dress code

We found several more caterpillars, many with a more reddish color scheme.

Banded sphinx larva green form

And who is this guy?

Then, as I was walking out, I spotted another sphinx on the same host plant (Ludwigia sp.) but with a totally different pattern. I assumed it was a different species, but when I checked my field guide, I discovered that banded sphinx larvae come in two forms – a heavily striped one and a green one.

A close-up comparison of the three major color morphs of this species we found yesterday is shown above. Amazing variety for one species! And they are beautiful from every angle.

Banded sphinx larva reddish-green form dorsal view

Looking good from above…

Banded sphinx larva reddish-green form ventral view

…and below

Banded sphinx larva reddish-green form ventral view close up

You gotta love those “socks”

If you think these caterpillars are amazing, here is a look at the adult banded sphinx moth…

Banded sphinx moth

Adult banded sphinx moth

This moth was sitting at the front door of the Allen Education Center one morning earlier this summer. I took it out of harm’s way and snapped a couple of photos before releasing it. Perhaps some of those amazing caterpillars are descendants of this individual. Discovering several of these stunning caterpillars is one reason I find it so interesting working at the NC Botanical Garden. The diversity of native plant species makes for an incredible richness of fauna as well. Every day, a new discovery!