Moths in Hiding

Many creatures on this planet have evolved camouflage, and moths have some of the most impressive hiding techniques out there.


Let's face it, there's a lot of brown moths. Most of these are brown because they spend the daylight hours lying still on dead leaves or on tree bark. The Underwing moths (Genus Catocala) are especially good at hiding on bark, which is important since they can be quite large and would be a nice catch for many birds. The Underwings pull off their camouflage with base colors of gray and brown overlaid with darker ruptive markings that mimic patches of bark. Here are a few outstanding examples:

Widow Underwing (Catocala vidua) and Ilia Underwing (Catocala ilia) observed by @lmm3629. Catocala sp. observed by @arrowheadspiketail58.

Sad Underwing (Catocala maestosa) observed by @kboeg; Ilia Underwing (Catocala ilia) observed by @vicfazio3.

It may be clear that these are moths perched on bark when you're looking at a cropped photo, but standing back just a foot or two it is easy to lose sight of these moths altogether and have trouble finding them again.

Sad Underwing (Catocala maestosa) observed by @lmm3629; Sad Underwing (Catocala maestosa) observed by @israels_walks.

Ilia Underwing (Catocala ilia) observed by @heytheremacie; Tearful Underwing (Catocala lacrymosa) observed by @i268021.

Of course, Underwings derive their name from their very flashy lower set of wings. I believe this flash of color is meant to startle a potential predator when the moth takes flight, helping them evade capture.

Bird droppings

This next group of moths doesn't try to blend in. Instead, these moths hide during the day by resting on leaves and pretending they're something else that happens to be seen on leaves - bird droppings. There are a surprising number of moths that use this ruse and derive their names from their form of disguise. Here are a few examples:

Small Bird-dropping Moth (Ponometia erastrioides) observed by Buddy (

Olive-shaded Bird-dropping Moth (Ponometia candefacta) also observed by Buddy

Notice that these first two species are from the same genus (Ponometia) in the Noctuidae family, which means they are closely related and it should be no surprise that they both evolved this clever disguise. The next species shown below is from an entirely different family of moths (Depressariidae), which shows that this trait evolved separately. This is a classic example of convergent evolution.

Schlaeger's Fruitworm Moth (Antaeotricha schlaegeri) observed by Matt (

Exposed Bird Dropping Moth (Tarache aprica) observed by Victor W. Fazio III (

While I want to focus on Oklahoma moths, I have to point out that there is even a moth in Malaysia that has patterns that look like flies overlaid on white (bird droppings). After having seen a pair of flies mating on bird droppings, this seems like a pretty good disguise.

Macrocilix maia
observed by @paraggiri


Many moths blend in well on either living or dead leaves. In fact, the Herminiinae subfamily of moths are known as "Litter Moths" because many of the caterpillars feed on dead leaves, what is known as "leaf litter." These moths are mostly triangle shaped and various shades of brown to blend in with dead leaves lying on the ground.

As yet unidentified Litter Moth observed by @strix_v and Renia sp. observed by Bill Carrell (@arrowheadspiketail58)/

Bleptina sangamonia observed by @strix_v and Speckled Renia (Renia adspergillus) observed by Emily Hjalmarson (@ehjalmarson).

Bent-winged Owlest (Bleptina caradrinalis) observed by Emily Hjalmarson and @david1415.

These next three are not from the "litter moths" subfamily, but they also evolved to mimic a dead leaf. Again, convergent evolution at play.

Red-lined Panopoda (Panopoda rufimargo) observed by Bill Carrell.

Obtuse Euchlaena Moth (Euchlaena obtusaria) observed by @strix_v.

White-dotted Prominent (Nadata gibbosa) I observed.

Looking at all of these dead leaf mimics makes me wonder if the moths are cognitively aware of their safest perching spots due to their coloration or if they are simply evolved to blend into their favorite perching spots.

Rick spotted this Green Cloverworm (Hypena scabra) blending in quite well on a dead leaf still hanging from the tree.

The beautiful Luna Moth likes to rest up in the trees among the leaves and does a great job of appearing like a leaf, even trembling in the breeze just like a leaf would. That being said, I had trouble finding an Oklahoma observation of this species clinging to a branch with leaves. Most of the observations are on the side of buildings or other structures where the moth is very conspicuous. I have two thoughts about this:
1. It sucks for the Luna that humans have introduced so many perching spots that aid predators in seeing them.
2. This is where people are seeing Luna Moths, but maybe there are lots more successfully hiding in the trees.

Luna Moths (Actias luna) observed by

Luna Moth observed among Poison Ivy by Rick

There are also a number of day-flying moths with pink and yellow colors on their wings. I assume this is mostly to blend in on flowers they may be visiting, but they also blend in rather nicely on the fallen leaves of peach trees, don't you think? I intentionally posed these two moths on these leaves from my yard to see how well the effect works.

Chickweed Geometer Moth (Haematopis grataria) posed on peach tree leaves

Southern Purple Mint Moth (Pyrausta laticlavia) posed on peach tree leaves


Here are a few other miscellaneous disguises we've seen in Oklahoma, including moths perched on twigs and cinder blocks.

Green Cloverworm Moth (Hypena scabra) found on the twigs of a shrub

Brown-shaded Gray (Iridopsis defectaria) perched on a cinder block

As I pointed out in the last blog post, you can apply Observation Fields to your observations to make them even more useful. One relevant Observation Field for this discussion is "Camouflage." When you select this field you will be provided with a drop down box to select how good (in your opinion) the camouflage is. I have been filling in this field on my observations of camouflaged critters.

Posted by zdufran zdufran, September 17, 2019 15:33


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