What Is That … Black and Yellow Moth?

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Waddells

Before we bought the cottage on Three Mile Bay, we knew moths were related to butterflies, but moths seemed most often to be small and brown.  Carolyn remembers her mother chasing down moths, brandishing a flyswatter, to prevent the moths from laying the eggs that would become  the larvae that would eat the family’s woollens.

Now she knows better; we know better.  It may not be surprising to hear that we have lots of moths at our cottage at White Lake.  After all, sources tell us there are over 11,000 species in North America, more than 1,500 of them in the northeast.  Yes, we have little brown moths at the cottage but we also have beautiful, colourful moths whose larvae do not eat woollens.  For example, the black-and-yellow lichen moth.  First of all, we assumed, given its name, that this pretty moth must dine on lichen; a few years later we learned it is the lichen moth caterpillar which dines on the lichen while the diurnal adult sips flower nectar.  Perhaps not surprisingly, lichen moths are closely related to the beautiful tiger moths.

A moth we find easy to confuse with the black and yellow lichen moth is the yellow-collared scape moth.  Side by side, they are distinctly different, yet our memories being as unreliable as they are creates an identification challenge.  tn was only this year that we photographed and were able to identify the yellow-collared scape moth. Earlier this year when we were trying to identify the yellow-collared scape moth, we thought it was a beetle.  The knowledgeable folks at bugguide.net set us straight.  Not a lichen moth, the caterpillar prefers grasses, while the adult prefers flowers.  The one we show in the following photograph chose knapweed.

Ironically, a beetle we thought was a moth is the net-winged beetle.  In fact, we thought this beetle was an instar of the yellow-collared scape moth but when we sent its photograph to bugguide.net we were told it was a beetle.  Even the experts tell us a net-winged beetle may be mistaken for the yellow-collared scape moth.  Net-winged beetles are found at Three Mile Bay during the summer on flowers and other vegetation usually in wooded areas.

If you look carefully, you might be able to see the ridges on this beetle’s wing covers.  Once we knew about this, the ridged wing covers helped us distinguish it from the yellow-collared scape moth.  Of course experienced field naturalists will tell you the differences between moths and beetles are fundamental.  Beetles have modified forewings which form hard, protective cases over their hind wings.

This is why beetles look rather funny when they fly, as they hold their hard forewings aloft while propelling themselves with their hind wings.  In the following photograph we can see the black and yellow forewings which render this beetle so similar in looks to the two moths.

A fourth black and yellow insect is the common eastern bumble bee.  This gentle giant can be seen often during the summer sipping nectar from our planter petunias and roadside ditch flowers especially the galardia and knapweed.   The yellow and black body of this bumble bee contrasts nicely with many of the flowers it feeds on, bumbling along scattering pollen from plant to plant. Clearly this is not a moth but a member of the bees, ants and wasps family.

No one would confuse this beautiful black and yellow butterfly with a moth.  The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail butterfly makes it into most of the articles we write about butterflies.  We simply cannot resist showing it to you over and over again.  Bruce captured this stunning photo mid-June.

For this article we depended greatly on Beadle and Leckie’s Peterson Field Guide to the Moths of Northeastern North American and Evans’ Beetles of Eastern North America. For a reminder of the fundamentals we returned to Peterson’s Field Guide to the Insects of America North of Mexico.