June 25, 2019

Moths in the News: Moths respond to pollution

This is an old news article that comes from the other side of the pond. I actually remember hearing this story in 2009, long before I took any particular interest in moths. It was really interesting to me because I am interested in evolution through natural selection and the time periods over which it can be observed. This story is a case where an environmental factor (industrial air pollution) favored darker coloration for a particular species of moth, and then over time that trend reversed as the air became cleaner.

The moth in question is apparently a relatively common moth in the United Kingdom known as Peppered Moth (Biston betularia). It is from the Geometridae family, which generally have wide wings and lay relatively flat. See the iNaturalist species page here.

Read the Telegraph article here.

Posted on June 25, 2019 16:05 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 18, 2019

Sexual Dimorphism in Moths

Sometimes I'll observe two distinct forms of moth that turn out to be the same species. Initially this was puzzling to me, but I have learned a bit about sexual dimorphism (each gender looking different) in moths, so now when this happens I usually suspect this is what's going on.

Sexual dimorphism is not rare in the animal kingdom. Many people are familiar with sexual dimorphism in birds. Generally males are more colorful, and females are drabber so they are better camouflaged while sitting still on a nest. The Northern Cardinal is a great example of a bird everyone in Oklahoma is familiar with - a bright red male and a tan female. And if you've been lucky enough to see a male Painted Bunting you'll know the male looks like a rainbow. Meanwhile the female is light green all over.

Some birds have size differences between male and female. This is most common with the raptors, where the females are larger than the males. There is an article describing the theories for this size difference here.

This is also common in insects like ants and bees. Most people are familiar with the Queen Bee and how she can usually be spotted in a hive due to her much larger size.

Just like with birds and many insects, if there is a size difference between male and female moths, the female is usually larger. Here is an example:

Larger and lighter female Waterlily Leafcutter Moth (Elophila obliteralis)

Smaller and darker male Waterlily Leafcutter Moth (Elophila obliteralis)

Curiously the theories for larger female birds doesn't have any relevance with moths. There must be a different reason. Biologists believe the females are larger to allow them to lay more eggs. There was a study done about a decade ago at the University of Arizona to determine how the females become larger. They determined they become larger by eating longer as larva before pupating. So now (we think) we know the how and the why.

I don't think there is a general rule on color differences between the sexes. For instance, the Promethea moth (Callosamia promethea) has a very dark male and a lighter and more colorful female, while the Wedgling Moth (Galgula partita) has a light brown male and a darker brown/maroon female.

Male and female Promethea moths
Dark male (above) and colorful female (below) Promethea silkmoth (Callosamia promethea)

male Wedgling Moth (Galgula partita)

female Wedgling Moth (Galgula partita)

Here is a mating pair of Fall Webworm Moths (Hyphantria cunea). The one with darker and larger spots is the male. I know because a little bit later the lighter one started laying eggs. The bugguide page for this species does not mention sexual dimorphism. Instead it says that the difference in extent of spots is regional. I'm not so sure after having seen this mating pair...

male (left) and female (right) Fall Webworm Moths (Hyphantria cunea)

Other common differences are antenna size. Many males have large, bushy antenna that allow them to smell the pheromones released by females of their species. For example, check out the size of the antenna on the male and female Chickweed Geometers (Haematopis grataria) below:

male Chickweed Geometer (Haematopis grataria)

female Chickweed Geometer (Haematopis grataria)

Now, all this being said, variation in coloration and size and other factors is not always attributed to gender. As mentioned earlier, sometimes these variations are due to location, others are a mystery. A great example is the One-spotted Variant (Hypagyrtis unipunctata), which as the name suggests, is quite variable. Bugguide says that the female is usually larger with a more scalloped hindwing, but there is a lot of variation in coloration based on geography and seasonality, as well. Here are three I have observed which look quite different.

Probably a male One-spotted Variant (Hypagyrtis unipunctata)

Probably a male One-spotted Variant (Hypagyrtis unipunctata)

female One-spotted Variant (Hypagyrtis unipunctata)

So what have we learned? Size, shape, color, and antenna can all be indicators of the gender of moths - but not always!

Posted on June 18, 2019 15:30 by zdufran zdufran | 2 comments | Leave a comment

June 11, 2019

Moths in the News: Invasive Gypsy Moth

Lots of people have negative impressions of moths, knowing them as pests that eat their clothes or as caterpillars that defoliate their trees and other plants. Generally speaking, these are uncommon occurrences. Yes, some moths eat fabrics, and yes, most caterpillars eat plants. But usually the eating is kept in check by predators like birds. There are some exceptions, of course.

One of these exceptions is when a non-native species is introduced into a new area. In the northeast part of the United States the introduced Gypsy Moths that are wreaking havoc. There are actually several species from Asia and Europe. They are from the genus Lymantria.

The USDA has a website dedicated to these moths with instructions on how to make sure you don't transport them to a new area if you are moving from an area where they are known to be found.

I see there are a handful of iNaturalist observations in the central part of the United States. While I am always keen to see a new species, I'll hope they are not spreading into the Great Plains. Realistically I think they have probably reached the point that they are beyond control and it will probably just be a matter of when, rather than if, they arrive here.

The USDA has webpages on four other invasive moths that are being monitored:
European Grapevine Moth
False Codling Moth
Light Brown Apple Moth
Old World Bollworm

Posted on June 11, 2019 15:23 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 05, 2019

Moths in the News: Women's College World Series

I have a collection of interesting moth stories that I will occasionally share with you through this blog. The first is a recent article that appeared on ESPN, of all places. It's not too often (ever?) that moths are mentioned by sports writers, but here we are!

Apparently the moths have been numerous under the lights in Oklahoma City for the Women's College World Series. Kudos to ESPN for actually writing about how this year's weather has affected moth numbers, interviewing a knowledgeable source at the OKC Zoo, mentioning a specific species (Cabbage Looper), and writing about their beneficial role as pollinators. This could have easily just been a "moths are problems and should be exterminated" article, but it wasn't.

There is a photo in the article of what appears to be a Teresa Sphinx on the outfield wall of the stadium. Should we add it as an observation in iNaturalist? ;)

Read the ESPN article here: "WCWS 2019: It's moth mayhem amid softball in Oklahoma City"

Posted on June 05, 2019 16:41 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 28, 2019

Third mothing night of the year!

Last week was windy and rainy. More rain is expected this week, but Thursday looks to be nice. Let's plan to meet at Thunderbird Chapel on Hwy 9 east of Norman at 8 pm on Thursday, May 30.

I hope to see some of you there!

If you have questions, send me a message or give me a call.

(405) 308-8972

Posted on May 28, 2019 13:38 by zdufran zdufran | 2 comments | Leave a comment

May 03, 2019

Second mothing night of the year!

I've been enjoying seeing so many new people contributing moth observations in Oklahoma this year. I've contact several people who are interested in coming to the next mothing night.

Let's plan to meet at Thunderbird Chapel on Hwy 9 east of Norman at 8 pm on Thursday, May 9 - assuming there is no rain. If it looks like it is going to be rainy Thursday evening then we'll meet on Friday night instead.

I hope to see some of you there!

If you have questions, send me a message.


Posted on May 03, 2019 19:38 by zdufran zdufran | 1 comments | Leave a comment

April 16, 2019

First mothing meet up of the year

A group of moth enthusiasts are meeting at the Thunderbird Chapel along Hwy 9 east of Norman tonight (April 16) at 8 pm. All are welcome to join us. We'll hang out around lit sheets for a couple of hours and see what comes and doesn't get blown away immediately.

Sorry for the short notice. We'll have another mothing meet up in 3-4 weeks, so stay tuned!

Posted on April 16, 2019 20:46 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 07, 2019

Taxonomic heirarchy for Oklahoma Moths

Lepidoptera is the order of insects that includes moths and butterflies. There are about 180,000 known species within this order, the majority of which (90-95%) are moths. This huge number is broken up into 126 families and 46 superfamilies.

I thought it would be interesting to spend a little time looking at the taxonomical breakdown of our "Moths of Oklahoma" project. We have the most observations from the following superfamilies (bold) and families:

  • Noctuoidea (2514 observations; 318 species)
    • Erebidae (1259 observations; 131 species)
    • Noctuidae (1027 observations; 157 species)
  • Pyraloidea (948 observations; 139 species)
    • Crambidae (685 observations; 98 species)
    • Pyralidae (239 observations; 41 species)
  • Geometroidea (663 observations; 89 species)
    • Geometridae (661 observations; 88 species)
  • Bombycoidea (518 observations; 46 species)
    • Sphingidae (363 observations; 32 species)
    • Saturniidae (153 observations; 13 species)

A couple of quick notes:
  1. I pulled these numbers at the beginning of February 2019. They can and will change over time as more Oklahoma observations of Lepidoptera are submitted to iNaturalist.
  2. I am omitting a lot of superfamilies and families and only listing the most populous (those with more than 600 observations). For instance, we have Oklahoma observations in 6 families within the Noctuoidea superfamily, but I only listed the two with significant numbers.
  3. Something that I have gleaned after looking at all of these family and superfamily names is that superfamilies end in "-idea" while families end in "-idae."
I plan to do a separate post on each of the 7 families list above. Stay tuned for each of those posts!

Posted on February 07, 2019 21:23 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2019

First moth memory

Recently I was reading a book called Last Child in the Woods which is all about getting kids outdoors in nature. The author, Richard Louv, talks a lot about his early childhood memories in nature and how formative those moments were for him. This got me to thinking about my own childhood and I decided to sit down and write some of my memories from childhood that took place in nature and the outdoors.

One of these memories is my first moth memory. I would guess that I was probably in 2nd or 3rd grade at the time, perhaps younger. We had a ping pong table on our back porch that folded up in half when not in use and pushed up against the back wall of our house. One year we were pulling out the table to play on it and I found a large deceased moth (which I now know to be a sphinx) between the two panels of the table. I remember holding it and thinking how alien it looked and realizing I had never seen a live moth of this size flying about. I remember either it's antennae or proboscis being very fascinating.

It would be a lie to say that I was forever a lover of moths from that moment. But I do remember that moment very distinctly, as I do several other moments involving various insects and other creatures I discovered in my backyard. I hope that my own kiddos have very positive memories in nature as they grow older.

What is your first moth memory?

Posted on January 31, 2019 22:33 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

January 22, 2019

An appeal for more common names

I came across this blog post written by a British moth-er, discussing names of moths and how there are few widely known and accepted names for micro moths. I think it's a really good post and an appeal worthy of consideration.

We should be working towards widely-accepted common names for all of our moths. I've certainly thought of a few names that seemed more fitting to me than the one that is currently accepted, and I've also thought of a few names for moths that only have scientific names for now.

Can you think of any good ones?

What are your favorite moths names that already exist?

(I'll throw out there, my mother-in-law, who has attended a few of our moth-ing nights, loves the Festive Midget's name. She also thinks the Diabolical Fungus Moth is a pretty good one.)

Posted on January 22, 2019 14:56 by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment