Walking Small, Part 2

Look slowly and hard at something subtle and small.

~Philip Pearlstein

Some more finds while wandering in the heat in our yard jungle. The first one was a challenge. I noticed missing leaves at the tip of a Virginia Creeper vine (Parthenocissus quinquefolia). Only the curved stems of the leaves remained. I looked closely, and gently pulled the vine up from the sapling it was climbing for a closer look. At first, nothing. Then, something I touched moved. I stared at it and realized it was not a leaf petiole…it was a caterpillar.

geometer moth larva

Tentative identification is the caterpillar of the Lesser Grapevine Looper moth, Eulithis diversilineata (click photo to enlarge)

geometer moth larva close up

A close up helps to find the well-camouflaged caterpillar

These petiole-mimic larvae often rest underneath a leaf (of wild grape or Virginia Creeper) in a curved position where they really do like like a leaf petiole!

Lacewing larva

Lacewing larva with fuzz from flatid planthopper nymphs (probable prey items) stuck to its back

I always stop to look at the fuzzy little blobs that crawl along the trees in the yard. They are usually the larvae of lacewings, armed with sickle-shaped jaws that pierce aphids and planthopper nymphs. These tiny predators then place the discarded remains on spines on the back to complete their wolf-in-sheeps-clothing disguise.

Large Milkweed Bug

A Large Milkweed Bug, Oncopeltus fasciatus, probing a milkweed seed pod

The milkweed patch continues to provide some nice finds. I spotted a Large Milkweed Bug in the typical dress of orange and black for a critter that is distasteful to potential predators due its toxic diet of milkweed. These are primarily seed feeders, piercing through a seed pod into developing milkweed seeds with their sharp proboscis. They then inject digestive enzymes which dissolve the nutrients within the seed, allowing the bug to suck it up through that long beak. One interesting tidbit about these bugs is that they undergo migrations every year with overwintering southern populations migrating northward in spring to colonize milkweed patches as far north as Canada. As day length shortens with accompanying cooler temperatures, they migrate back to warmer climes.

As always, any slow stroll around the yard leads to a variety of tiny discoveries that are part of the complex matrix that helps a system function. Here are a few more of the pieces that make the machine that is our yard’s machinery work. Be sure to get outside and check your yard’s or neighborhood’s engine and see what makes it click. If you have a variety of native plants, you’ll be amazed at all the parts.

Banded Longhorn Beetle, Typocerus velutinus

Banded Longhorn Beetle, Typocerus velutinus

Handsome trig nymph

Nymph of a Handsome Trig, Phyllopalpus pulchellus (missing one leg)

Preying mantis nymph

Nymph of a Praying Mantis

Scudder's bush katydid nymph on black-eyed Susan

Another colorful nymph of a Scudder’s Bush Katydid, Scudderia sp.

Leaf-footed bug nymph with parasitoid egg on  it

A more ominous-looking nymph of a Leaf-footed Bug, Acanthocephala sp. (notice the lwhite blob, a ikely parasitoid egg, on its thorax)

Wheelbug nymoh

A definitely ominous-looking nymph of an Assassin Bug (aka Wheel Bug), Arilus cristatus

Colonus (puerperus)? jumping spider

Dorsal view of a tiny jumper – most likely Colonus puerperus

Colonus (puerperus)? jumping spider side view

Nice eyes

hummingbird at bee balm

I cheated a little on this one – a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) feeding on Bee Balm (Monarda didyma), shot through the glass in our sun room window

Frog Friday

You can’t tell by the look of a frog how far they’ll jump.

~Paul Doiron

Took a stroll around the property yesterday, camera in hand, looking for the tiny creatures who share these woods. One thing really impressed me – the amazing number of spider webs that seemed to block my way at every turn. When I spotted one, I tried to side step it so as to not ruin a night’s work, but I still managed a head full of silk strands (luckily, it blends in well). While focusing on the tiny subjects without backbones, I caught a quick movement over by the wet weather stream in our ravine. I looked, and saw nothing, but I suspected I knew what it had been. I turned, and stepped in that direction, and off it went, a Northern Cricket Frog. I leaned in for a photo but it leapt into the creek and disappeared.

northern crickrt frog

A more cooperative Northern Cricket Frog, Acris crepitans (click photos to enlarge)

Just a few steps more, and I encountered another, this one resting at the base of large tree. This is a common species here and I find them down along the creek and in our yard in the vicinity of our two water gardens (although they often wander far from standing water). Their calls sound like clicking two pebbles or pennies together. They are excellent jumpers for their size, often leaping more than 3 feet to escape danger (or silk-covered giants).


northern crickrt frog from above

Cricket frogs blend in with their surroundings

They are small frogs, reaching a little over an inch in length. They can be identified by the backward-pointing triangle between the eyes (the color can be quite variable, but usually either brown or green). They often have a contrasting color, Y-shaped stripe, going from that triangle down the back (in this one it is a very faint cream color, but is often much more noticeable). This species is replaced by the Southern Cricket Frog as you move toward the coast.

green treefrog dorsal view

A Green Treefrog, Hyla cinerea, outside our window

When I got back home, I was watching the butterflies and hummingbirds feeding just outside the sun room window when I noticed a green lump on one of the Jewelweed stalks. It was one of my favorite frogs, a Green Treefrog. We are at the western range of this beautiful species, but we have had one every year for the past several years (I’ve never found more than one and never heard them call here). Online resources say this species can live up to 6 years in captivity, but that would surprise me if this is the same individual, year after year, but who knows.

green treefrog side view

The diagnostic white racing stripe down the side

One of the things I love about this species is their Buddha-like presence, as if they are serenely contemplating the world around them while maintaining a stoic position of deep reflection (have I been self-isolating too long?).

green treefrog ready to move

The frog finally tired of my presence and camera flashes, and moved as if to jump, so I departed to leave it in peace

Plus, they are just a beautiful creature – the colors, those eyes, the enlarged toe-pads, all an incredible design that helps them blend into and function in their green world. After a few shots, the frog started to move, so I stepped away and let it return to its composed demeanor. Perhaps I can learn something about our current condition from these frogs…stay calm, or leap like crazy when it gets to be too much. Be like a frog…

Baby Saddlebacks

Relative to other caterpillars, slug caterpillars seem more fantasy than reality.

~David Wagner

It is getting to be that time of year – caterpillar time! As summer draws to a creeping close, one of the things that lifts my spirits above the stifling heat waves is the increasing abundance of larval Lepidoptera. And one of our favorite groups, the slug caterpillars, is starting to show up in greater numbers in our woods and yard. Earlier this week, Melissa was out in the garden and harvested some of our collards, since it was obvious they were becoming riddled by insect chewing. When she pulled one leaf she saw two tiny Saddleback caterpillars, Acharia stimulea. The female moth tends to lay clusters of eggs and the young feed gregariously at first. They are extremely variable in their choice of host plants. We have found them on tomatoes, various tree leaves, iris leaves, and now, collards. This may be why so may people recognize this as one of our most common so-called, stinging caterpillars as you can find them almost anywhere. You may accidentally brush up against one while weeding your garden and you won’t soon forget that encounter as they pack a powerful punch resembling the pain associated with a wasp sting. You can read more about them in an earlier blog post here.

Saddlebacks on collards

Two tiny Saddleback Caterpillars feeding on a collard leaf (click photos to enlarge)

Saddleback on collards

They are already sporting the pattern that gives them their name – the distinctive brown saddle outlined in white in the middle of their back

Saddleback with ballpoint pen for scale

Ballpoint pen tip for scale

Though these guys are extremely small (the tiniest Saddlebacks either of us has ever seen), I think they have probably molted at least once already. Online descriptions say that the earliest instars lack the prominent tubercles on either end.

Saddleback day 2

After one day, the caterpillars’ colors had already darkened and taken on more of the pattern of later instars

One scientific study I found said it was extremely difficult to accurately determine how many times this species molts during its larval development since the head capsule is hidden beneath the body and they almost always eat their shed skin. It is certainly more than the usual five molts of many butterfly and moth species, and may be as many as eleven or more and may require several months before pupation. Once again, I’m afraid we have taken on more than we bargained for in raising some caterpillars (we still have a few Cecropia larvae that hatched on June 10!). But, Saddlebacks will eat a variety of leaves are are not nearly as voracious in their feeding habits as most other species. I’ll try to keep you posted as they mature.

Saddleback caterpllar side view 1

What they will look like in a month or two


Itsy Bitsy Spiderlings

When we’re distracted, we are still paying attention—just not to the task that was the previous still point of our intentional neural processing.

~Dale Keiger

I’m afraid I have a long history of being “distracted” by the natural world. I remember a time as a young teenager when I was helping my father nail shingles on the roof of our soon-to-be new home in Stafford County, Virginia. The property was on a freshwater tidal tributary to the Potomac River and was set in a forested landscape with large trees. It was spring, and warblers were moving through the trees, and now I was up at eye level with them. My Dad noticed a lack of hammering in my direction and looked over to see me trying to figure out what bird that was without my binoculars. I believe there was some quote like, quit watching them $%$^ birds and get back to nailing. Years later, when I started work as a naturalist for NC State Parks, he remarked how he was amazed I was actually being paid to watch birds (a bit of an oversimplification, but, yes, I did get to observe all sorts of nature on my job).

In retirement, I’m not sure I can really call it being distracted. In fact, maybe the tasks and chores I do are the actual distractions and the nature observation is my primary duty. Well, a couple of days ago I was on task to weed eat some of the dreaded invasive, Microstegium, along the roadside outside our deer fence. I try to cut it a few times every year as it nears seed set to reduce the amount of seed released back onto the landscape. I had finished one patch and was walking up toward another. Just as I revved the motor, I was “distracted” by a slight movement on the ground. I stopped and stared, but saw nothing at first. Then, a tiny movement and something pushing under a piece of dead leaf on the ground. I leaned in and was surprised to see this staring up at me.

wolf spider in burrow

A large wolf spider retreats backwards down into its burrow (click photo to enlarge)

It was a large wolf spider retreating into a burrow. I couldn’t tell which species for sure, but it reminded me of common one in this area, the Rabid Wolf Spider, Rabidosa rabida. The unfortunate name comes from their quick and somewhat erratic movements, not that are carrying rabies. As I watched, I saw something move just outside the burrow. It was tiny spiderling that crawled toward the large spider and then pulled itself onto her back. It had apparently been dislodged when she backed down into the hole. Many species of wolf spiders carry their egg sacs around attached to their spinnerets at the tip of the abdomen. When the young hatch, they cling to their mother’s back for a short while until they disperse and fend for themselves (usually after their first molt).

wolf spider with young on back top view

When the spider came back out, I could see she was a mom carrying a full load of babies on her back

I sat still for several minutes and the large spider finally crept out of the hole and allowed me a closer look and the chance to grab a few photos. Now I could see the jumble of babies clinging to her. It looked a little like a pandemic hair style for spiders, but upon closer inspection, I could see a tangle of patterned bodies and legs. It’s hard to tell how many layers of spiderlings  there are, but it appears there is likely more than one. Studies have shown that egg sacs for wolf spiders contain on average 200-300 eggs.

wolf spider with young on back side view

The spiderlings will stay with their mother until their first molt

If you enlarge the image and start counting, you can easily imagine there being over 100 spider babies with what looks like more partially hidden underneath. This spider stagecoach is for the benefit of the young until they are a little more mobile. This group of spiders does not build a web to ensnare prey, but rather stalks and pounces on its victims, so carrying the young around for too long would undoubtedly be a hindrance to the adult spider.

One of my favorite nighttime activities is looking for spider eyes. You hold a flashlight on your forehead or nose and shine it out into the woods onto the ground. Wolf spiders (and other nocturnal non-web building spiders that depend more on eyesight for capturing their prey) have reflective chemicals in their eyes causing a tiny bit of light to be reflected back to your light (which is why you need to hold it near your eyes). This is similar to the phenomenon of eye-shine in nocturnal mammals like deer. It is a real treat when you find a mother spider like this one carrying her young as you get the reflection from multiple sets of eyes, giving the spider a sparkly look like a tiny jewel on the forest floor. Give it a try. Even if you don’t see a mama with her baby cargo, you’ll be amazed at how many spider eyes are out there!

Anybody Home?

Every night in the woods, when most humans are safely indoors, strange creatures emerge from their lairs and leap into the air, swooping silently among the trees.~Michael Farquhar

I was strolling the yard yesterday, looking for whatever small critters caught my eye, when I walked over to the front of the house where we have some shade-loving wildflowers planted. A couple of years ago I put up a new hollow log nest box in that bed, but have had no takers, so I assumed there was a design flaw of some sort or that perhaps bees or wasps had taken over.


Hollow log nest box in the yard. The PVC pipe surrounding the pole is to help prevent snakes from climbing into the box (click photos to enlarge)

I periodically check all our boxes by gently tapping on the sides or looking inside (on the bluebird boxes with opening fronts) but had never seen anything in this particular nest cavity. So, as I walked by yesterday, I gently tapped the sides, but didn’t bother to look at the box as my gaze was on a fallen log just beyond where I thought I saw something move. After a few seconds, I turned and was pleasantly surprised to see something quietly staring back at me.

Southern flying squirrel at nest box

A calm Southern Flying Squirrel wondering why I woke it up

I was only about two feet away, so I slowly turned, pulled my phone out and snapped a pic. The little guy didn’t budge, so I stepped out in front of the box to get a more straight-on view. Again, I snapped a few images, and it just quietly stared back, not twitching even a whisker.

Southern flying squirrel at nest box front view

After snapping a few photos, I stepped away to let this cute little fur ball return to its afternoon nap

I didn’t want to startle the squirrel, so I walked away without looking back until I was about 20 feet from the pole. When I glanced back, the flying squirrel had pulled back into the hole but was still keeping an eye on the bipedal interloper.

I have reported before on the flying squirrels that visit our bird feeder out back and, though I have not seen them lately, I suspected they were back at it as the sunflower seed seems to be disappearing quicker than usual. Last night, I turned the porch lights on just before heading to bed, and there was a flying squirrel hanging on the tube feeder, stuffing itself. I guess I show my bias when I am happy to share with these smallest of NC’s tree squirrels and much less tolerant of their gray daytime cousins.

Rain Man (and Woman)

A rainy day is a perfect time for a walk in the woods.

~Rachel Carson

I am finally getting around to posting about our trip to one of our favorite backpacking spots, Mount Rogers, VA. My backpacking and camping queen (you know who I am talking about) has been chomping at the bit to get out on the trail since the pandemic has caused us to hole up at home. So, after spending a few days helping my mom in her home in southwest VA, we planned to do an overnight to the nearby high country of Mt. Rogers. Since it was a weekday (and there was a less than ideal forecast), we were able to secure a spot in the overnight backpackers lot at Grayson Highlands State Park without having made online advance reservations (definitely required for weekend trips). We hit the trail after lunch and planned to do a short 2.7 mile hike to an area just off the Appalachian Trail on Forest Service lands. The cool temperatures made for a pleasant hike, and the overcast skies enriched the colors of the woodland details. As is usually the case on our backpacking trips, I did not carry my camera gear, so all accompanying images were taken with an iPhone.


Frequent rains make for a lush forest floor in the highlands (click photos to enlarge)


Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum)


A huge mushroom with a world of invertebrates in its gills


The highlands are home to numerous fruit-producing trees and shrubs like blueberries, blackberries, hawthorn, and mountain ash

It started raining about halfway on our journey, lightly at first, but then hard enough that we sought shelter under a spruce tree for a few minutes before marching on. Fortunately, we arrived at our campsite during a lull in the precipitation, so we were able to get the tent set up without much problem. But, as we started to put up the all-important tarp, the skies opened and our spirits dampened (along with everything we owned).


That look you get when you have been waiting to backpack for sooooo long, and it rains on your parade


The tarp is a life-saver on this kind of trip (once you manage to get it set up)

We finally got the tarp up and ate dinner, but dove into the tent as the torrential downpour began. It rained most of the night and continued past first light the next morning. It eventually eased up enough to encourage us out of our still dry tent and into the wet world. With the normally expansive vistas shrouded in low clouds, it encouraged us to focus more on the small beauties along the way. All in all, not a bad way to spend a rainy couple of days.

Maple looper, Parallelia bistriaris

A Maple Looper, Parallelia bistriaris


The wild ponies help keep the meadows open


The highlands are home to amazing textures and colors of lichens…


…you just need to pause and look closely


The green colors of ferns, mosses, and lichens were richly saturated in the gray skies


Patterns and textures everywhere


The upright fertile shoots of the Fan Clubmoss contain the spores. In prehistoric times, some clubmosses reached the height of trees and often dominated the landscape.

Turk's Cap Lily

We spotted a single Turk’s Cap Lily ((Lillium superbum) on our hike


Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris), as the name implies,  has been used to treat a variety of ailments in the past


St. John’s Wort (Hypericum sp.) were found scattered across the high balds


A view as the cloud bank started to lift (barely)


We lifted a few rocks in a tiny rivulet along the trail and found three salamanders


The highlands are home to an incredible variety of fungi. I believe this is a Pigskin Earthball, Scleroderma citrinum

Upright Coral Fungus, Ramaria stricta

This beauty was growing on a fallen log…probably the Upright Coral Fungus, Ramaria stricta

Eyelash Cup, Scutellinia scutellata

I love the names of this one – Eyelash Cup (Scutellinia scutellata) – also called the Molly Eye-winker, the Scarlet Elf Cap, and the Scarlet Pixie Cup. Look closely and you can see the fine fringe of filaments resembling eyelashes along the edge of each cup.

Ponies at Grayson Higlands SP

As we left the park, the weekend crowds were starting to arrive, the clouds were lifting, and the ponies were doing what they do, adding a touch of glamour to the most beautiful mountains in Virginia





National Moth Week Ends

I think that engaging with natural history – learning the identity and phenology of your neighbors by reading about their stories, and studying their lives alongside your own can give anyone a sense of rootedness.

~Henry Hershey

One reason I like National Moth Week so much is that it reminds me to make the effort to learn more about our little-known (and certainly under-appreciated) nocturnal neighbors. We were absent for much of this years’ event (plus evening thunderstorms hindered efforts) but we managed to set out a moth sheet and black light again last night. Visitors included several moth species new to me and a host of other night-flying insects, especially members of the beetle clan. Below are some highlights (as always, any species ID corrections are welcome)…

Common Spragueia Moth, Spragueia leo

Common Spragueia Moth, Spragueia leo, a small bird-dropping moth (click photos to enlarge)

Double-banded Grass-veneer, Crambus agitatellus

Another tiny moth, a Double-banded Grass-veneer, Crambus agitatellus

Crowned Slug Moth, Isa textula

The adult form of one of our favorite caterpillars, the Crowned Slug Moth, Isa textula

Common Pinkband, Ogdoconta cinereola

Common Pinkband, Ogdoconta cinereola

Sooty Lipocosmodes, Lipocosmodes fuliginosalis

A very small, but beautiful, Sooty Lipocosmodes, Lipocosmodes fuliginosalis

Striped Oak Webworm, Pococera expandens

A snappy dresser, a Striped Oak Webworm, Pococera expandens

Large Paectes Moth, paectes abrostoloides

Neutral colors are in this year – Large Paectes Moth, Paectes abrostoloides

Dusky Groundling, Condica vecors

Dusky Groundling, Condica vecors

Terrenella Bee Moth, Aphomia terrenella

Terrenella Bee Moth, Aphomia terrenella – not much is known about this species but larvae may feed on the honeycomb and/or larvae of bees

Bicolored Angle, Macaria bicolorata?

Though simialr in appearance to others in its group, I think this is a Bicolored Angle, Macaria bicolorata

Large Mossy Glyph, Prododeltote muscosula

Large Mossy Glyph, Protodeltote muscosula

Dimorphic Macalla Moth, Epipaschia superatalis

Dimorphic Macalla Moth, Epipaschia superatalis

Virginia Creeper Sphinx, Darapsa myron

The prize-winning moth of the night, a Virginia Creeper Sphinx, Darapsa myron (we both really love the sphinx moths for their beauty, patterns, and sleek design)

In addition to some cool moths, the light attracted many other critters. The most abundant (and smallest of the lot) were various species of caddisflies and the ubiquitous May Beetles (the ones that constantly pound on our windows at night). Here are some of the larger non-moth neighbors….

Cicada, Neotibicen sp

Several noisy cicadas (Neotibicen sp.) showed up last night

Grapevine Beetle, Pelidnota punctata

Grapevine Beetle, Pelidnota punctata

Brown Prionid Beetle, Orthosoma brunneum

The formidable-looking Brown Prionid Beetle, Orthosoma brunneum

Carolina Pine sawyer, Monochamus carolinensis

Several species of longhorned beetles showed up, including this Carolina Pine Sawyer, Monochamus carolinensis

White Oak Borer, Goes tiginus

A large White Oak Borer, Goes tigrinus

Eastern Hercules Beetle

Another huge Eastern Hercules Beetle, Dynastes tityus, male made an appearance. These guys are like small tanks!

Fiery Searcher Beetle, Calosoma scrutator

The fastest (and second largest) beetle of the night was this Fiery Searcher Beetle, Calosoma scrutator. These are in the caterpillar hunter group of beetles and can produce a strong musky odor and a painful bite if mishandled. Adults can live up to three years and can consume hundreds of caterpillars (including tent caterpillars and gypsy moth larvae) in their lifetime

Just because National Moth Week is over, don’t let that stop you from turning on a porch light or setting out a moth sheet to learn more about some of our amazing nocturnal neighbors.


Baby Bluebirds

Be like the bluebird who never is blue, for he knows from his upbringing what singing can do.

~Cole Porter

I checked on the bluebird box out in the yard yesterday to see if any of the four eggs I saw about a week ago had hatched. As always, I approached noisily, then knocked on the side of the house to give any sitting adult ample warning and time to fly out. I gently opened the box, pulled out the nest cup and saw this…


Newly hatched Eastern Bluebird nestlings (click photos to enlarge)

Three of the four eggs have hatched today. It amazes me they can even hold up their giant heads with oversized closed eyes to beg for food. It will take another 17+ days for these little ones to fledge and be seen following their busy parents around the yard. Wishing them well as they enter the world.

Museum Moth Night

The poets say some moths will do anything out of love for a flame…

~Mohsin Hamid

Last night we participated in the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ National Moth Week live event (well, Melissa worked it and I just rambled around taking pictures through my fogged glasses). It was a great start to National Moth Week and we shared lots of moth (and other nocturnal creatures) observations with participants from all over the state. After the fact, we discovered that, unfortunately, our really crummy internet diminished the viewing quality of Melissa’s live streaming of the many cool critters we have out here in our woods. But, I hope it was still fun for people to see some of the great diversity of moths and other insects attracted to our moth lights (we set up two white sheets and two UV lights to draw them in). Our friends, Deb and Keith, were here helping us monitor the sheets and identifying what we could using field guides and apps such as SEEK and LEPS. This is a great outdoor activity for sharing while physical distancing.

The live program was from 9 p.m. until 11 p.m.. We had to wait until just before the start time to set up the sheets due to a thunderstorm, but then the weather cooperated (if you call sweltering humidity and heat cooperating). But our Chatham County moths didn’t seem to mind. Below is a roster of the some of the amazing nocturnal visitors we entertained last night…

Southern Flannel Moth, female

This female Southern Flannel Moth (Megalopyge opercularis) actually emerged yesterday from a cocoon we have kept since last year’s BugFest event at the Museum (in September)…perfect timing. This is the adult moth of one our favorite caterpillars, commonly called the Puss Moth caterpillar (click photos to enlarge)

Datana sp.

Our first moth of the evening was a Datana sp. (aka cigarette butt moth – several species look very similar) (photo by Melissa Dowland)

Deep Yellow Euchlaena Moth, Euchlaena amoenaria

One of the more unusual shapes from last night, a Deep Yellow Euchlaena, Euchlaena amoenaria

Large Maple Spanworm Moth, Prochoerodes lineola

Continuing with the odd-shaped, presumably leaf-mimic, moths is the Large Maple Spanworm, Prochoerodes lineola

Juniper-twig Gemeter Moth, Patalene olyzonaria

The bizarre Juniper-twig Geometer, Patalene olyzonaria

Canadian  Melanolophia Moth, Melanolophia canadaria

One of several bark mimics, a Canadian Melanolophia Moth, Melanolophia canadaria

Tulip-tree Beauty, Epimecis hortaria

One of the most common moths in our woods is the Tulip-tree Beauty, Epimecis hortaria

Curved-line Angle, Digrammia continuata

Curved-line Angle, Digrammia continuata

Darker Diacme Moth, Diacme adipaloides

Darker Diacme Moth, Diacme adipaloides

Early Fan-foot, Zanclognatha cruralis

Early Fan-foot, Zanclognatha cruralis

Betrothed Underwing, Catocala innubrens

Betrothed Underwing, Catocala innubrens

Mottled Snout, Hypena palparia

Mottled Snout, Hypena palparia


American Idia Moth, Idia americalis

American Idia Moth, Idia americalis

Faint-spotted Palthis Moth, Palthis asopialis

Faint-spotted Palthis Moth, Palthis asopialis

Common Tan Wave, Pleuroprucha insulsaria

Common Tan Wave, Pleuroprucha insulsaria

Green Cutworm Moth, Anicla infecta

Green Cutworm Moth, Anicla infecta

Skiff Moth, Prolimacodes badia

One of our favorite slug caterpillars turns into the Skiff Moth, Prolimacodes badia

Eastern Grass Tubeworm, Acrolophus plumifrontella

One of the mohawk moths, the Eastern Grass Tubeworm, Acrolophus plumifrontella

Yellow-shouldered Slug Moth, Lithacodes, fasciola

A common small moth here in the woods, the Yellow-shouldered Slug Moth, Lithacodes, fasciola

Red-bordered Emerald, Nemoria lixaria

One of several small, lime green moths we see here, a Red-bordered Emerald, Nemoria lixaria

Delightfful Dagger, Acronicta vinnula

A Delightful Dagger, Acronicta vinnula

Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda

One of our smaller Royal Silkworm Moths, a Rosy Maple Moth, Dryocampa rubicunda

Desmia sp (Grape leaffolder Moth)

Desmia sp., one of the Grape Leaffolder Moths, best identified to species by looking at its underside apparently

Hebrew Moth, Polygrammate hebraeicum

A moth that was waiting for me the morning after, The Hebrew, Polygrammate hebraeicum

There were a few non-moth finds as well…

Female dobsonfly

A large female Dobsonfly, Corydalus cornutus (note its tiny moth neighbor, among others, a White Stripe-backed Moth, Arogalea cristifasciella)

Male dobsonfly

An impressive male Dobsonfly showed up right after the live program ended

All in all, a great evening of mothing and sharing. National Moth Week lasts all this week, so get outside and observe some of your night-time neighbors (the winged kind) at your window, porch light, or even in your wildflower garden (especially on white, fragrant flowers).


One of the cooler finds of the evening, a male Eastern Hercules Beetle, Dynastes tityus (photo by Melissa Dowland)

Walking Small

Nature will bear the closest inspection; she inspires us to lay our eye level with the smallest leaf, and take an insect view of its plain.

~Henry David Thoreau

The heat of summer is not my friend. It slows me down, saps me of energy, and makes me a little complacent I’m afraid. But, there is one saving grace – the abundance of minute life forms taking advantage of the green world that exists (in abundance I might add) outside our door. And, lucky for me, it doesn’t requite much effort to saunter around the yard, poking through the greenery, perusing the native plants, and looking for our tiny neighbors. I’ll most likely have several posts in the coming weeks that result from such forays into our yard jungle. Here are some recent discoveries…

Fall webworms leaf damage

Skeletonized leaves of a mulberry are the handiwork of Fall Webworms (click photos to enlarge)

Fall webworms on mulberry close up

The craftsmen (larvae of Fall Webworm, Hyphantria cunea) at work on a mulberry leaf

Fall Webworms are a widespread moth caterpillar easily recognized by their often large silken tents covering leaves and the branches of many species of hardwood trees in late summer and Fall. In contrast, the Eastern Tent Caterpillar makes its silken hideaways in the forks of branches (of mainly wild cherry trees around here) in the spring. Females lay clusters of several hundred eggs on a leaf and the young larvae construct silk tents and feed on the leaves underneath, moving to new branches when they skeletonize one food source. When disturbed, they do a group fling and jerk dance to attempt to drive away any predators or parasitoids.

Fall webworm close up 1

Close up of a group of Fall Webworm larvae

Northern Flatid Planthopper

An adult Northern Flatid Planthopper, Flatormenis proxima

We often find these distinctive planthoppers along the stems of many of our native wildflowers. This is probably the most common planthopper in our yard and is easily identified by its pale green coloration and the right angle of the rear corner of the wings.

Scudder's Bush Katydid nymph

Scudder’s Bush Katydid nymph, Scudderia sp.

One of my favorite tiny neighbors is the nymph stage of Scudder’s Bush Katydid. They are both gangly and bold in their appearance, with banded antennae to top off their comical look.

Blackened milkweed beetle showing pattern on dorsal surface?

Blackened Milkweed Beetle, Tetraopes melanurus

While checking out the milkweed patch, I spotted one of the many boldly marked insects that feed on this plant. It was a beetle with the bright warning coloration typical of insects that can feed on the toxins in milkweeds. This one had large, heart-shaped dark markings on its elytra (outer wings), identifying it as a Blackened Milkweed Beetle. When I looked up the scientific name, I discovered that the genus name, Tetraopes, means four eyes. This, and other members of the group of longhorn milkweed beetles, have compound eyes that are bisected by the base of their antennae (I could not find any explanation as to the possible benefits of this unusual eye arrangement). Every time I look closely at my little neighbors, I discover something new. Give it a try in your own nature neighborhood.


Various longhorn milkweed beetles have divided compound eyes