What is that… Moth?

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Waddells

We published an article on February 12, 2016, comparing butterflies with moths.  We think it is time to write an article devoted solely to some of the beautiful moths we have photographed at the cottage.  Yes, moths can be beautiful too.

Moths and butterflies are closely related, both being in the scientific order Lepidoptera; however, some significant differences exist.  For example, moths have simple thread-like or ‘feathery’ antennae without a club, while butterflies have thickened clubs or hooks on the tip of the antennae, never ‘feathery’.  Moths are usually duller in colour than butterflies.  The wings of moths are linked together differently than butterflies.  As often is the case with insects, for each generalization there are exceptions.  Entomologists spend their time debating whether or not a certain beastie is a moth or a butterfly.  Kidsbutterfly.org suggests the best answer, which matches current knowledge, is just to say that butterflies are “fancy moths.”  We like that simple answer.

To us, one of the most amazing moths we have seen at the cottage is the snowberry clearwing moth.  We saw our first one in July, 2016.  What was that … a bumble bee, a moth, a butterfly, or a hummingbird?  Out came the camera and Bruce captured this amazing thing.  Our little John Acorn book enabled us to nail the name right away, and we later confirmed the name with bugguide.net.  Locally, folks often call this moth the hummingbird moth, but our technical sources consistently use snowberry clearwing.  moth-1

Before owning a cottage, we knew little about moths.  For example, ten years ago, we had not even heard of lichen moths.  These pretty moths tend to be small, 25 to 35 millimetres. Their caterpillars eat lichen, algae and the moss on trees, all of which we have in spades at the cottage.  The first photograph is the painted lichen moth; the second is the black-and-yellow lichen moth.

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Another genus of moths we had not heard of was the pondweed moths.  As the name suggests these moths feed on, and lay their eggs on, a variety of pondweeds.  Clearly we have the right pondweeds growing at the lake as we now have many photographs of these tiny, tiny moths that have wing spans in the range of 20 millimetres.  The first pictured is the polymorphic pondweed moth.  (We have not been able to find a simpler name.) The second is the chestnut-marked pondweed moth.

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The last moth we will talk about in today’s article is the common lytrosis moth.  It demonstrates well the benefits of camouflage.  We challenge you to find this beastie when it is resting on a tree trunk.  Only when it is where it should not be do we see the common lytrosis moth.

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The effectiveness of camouflage is underscored by the moth photographs we have included here.  Only the snowberry clearwing is shown in its natural, preferred environment.  The others have flown into areas such as the porch or landed on the road where we, and other predators, can more easily see and photograph them.

As always, when talking about insects, all our references in this article were verified at bugguide.net.  Other good sources are the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America and John Acorn’s  Bugs of Ontario.  Often, we use children’s resources too, such as www.kidsbutterfly.org for less technical descriptions.