moths


Sunflowers along the edge of a field

“By all these lovely tokens, September days are here. With summer’s best of weather and autumn’s best of cheer.” – Helen Hunt Jackson

September arrived with a splash this year, and a big one at that. Hurricane Ida may have spared us her winds, but not the heavy rains and the flooding that came with it. Temperatures at least have dropped and people  have a reprieve from watering gardens and lawns.  

Saturated soils resulted in the standing water on this turf area.
Flooding and strong currents here at the Glastonbury ferry entrance ramp on the Connecticut River has stopped ferry service temporarily

The extended hot, humid weather has led to a burst of stinkhorn fungi in mulched areas and woodlands. These fungi have spores in a slimy material that is visited by flies attracted by the putrid odor. After visiting this stinky slime and getting nothing for their trouble, the flies move on, dispersing the spores as they go. The stinky squid fungi are small, orange and have three or four fingerlike “arms”. Spores are often in mulch that was added to gardens earlier in the year.

Stinky squid fungi in images above

I found a little 4-toed salamander far from its woodland domain the day after a rain- just missed it with a mower. This is Connecticut’s smallest salamander being only 2- 3 ½ inches long.  These salamanders are found found in both moist and dry woodlands and in wooded swamps. Sphagnum moss is usually present nearby and is often used by the female for nesting.

4-toed salamander

On a woodland trail, a female American pelecinid wasp flew by and landed on a leaf. They have a long ovipositor that they use to inserts eggs with especially where grubs are in the soil. These black wasps diet consists primarily of nectar, perhaps supplemented by some pollen and water.

Female American pelecinid wasp

Three weeks ago I came across an elm sphinx caterpillar on slippery elm. This caterpillar has four horns on the thorax and one on the rear, like most sphinx caterpillars. it can be green or brown, but this one started off green and then just turned brown this week. Food is exclusively elm.

Travelling through tobacco farmland this past week, there was a lot of harvesting activity. Drying barns are filling up with sun grown broadleaf tobacco leaves. Tobacco sheds are vanishing as the land is bought up for development and houses..

Drying shed with hanging tobacco leaves
Hay bales in a barn with green doors

There are so many native plants that have fruits now- viburnums, filberts, shrub and tree dogwoods, black cherry, winterberry and spicebush just to name a few. Along with many herbaceous plants like pokeweed and goldenrods, these fruits are valuable to all kinds of wildlife including migrating birds.

Arrowwood viburnum
Red osier dogwood fruit

Tansy, an introduced member of the aster family, is blooming now. Its yellow, button- like flowers have a striking pattern. The plans has a long history of cultivation for its medicinal qualities.

Of September, who can say it better than this?

“…there is a clarity about September. On clear days, the sun seems brighter, the sky more blue, the white clouds take on marvelous shapes; the moon is a wonderful apparition, rising gold, cooling to silver; and the stars are so big. The September storms… are exhilarating…”
— Faith Baldwin, 

Pamm Cooper

Waning Moon in September
American Lady on Viola Flower

“In early June the world of leaf and blade and flowers explodes, and every sunset is different.” – John Steinbeck

June is always a month when there is an explosion of the new and a little fading away of certain things. Spring wildflowers have had their day and now the flowers and fruits of summer are arriving to take their place. Viburnums that just a little while ago were lending the air a sweet fragrance are now full of developing fruit. Crabapples and wild cherry are full of green fruits while flowers like yarrow, June blooming magnolias, winterberry, milkweeds and whorled loosestrife are just in bloom. Trees are full of leaves and the sky is a clearer blue so when foliage and skies meet, it is a striking contrast.


June blooming magnolia flowers appear after the leaves are fully out
Native tulip tree

American cow wheat, Melampyrum lineare, is a native annual wildflower that has interesting tubular white and yellow flowers. This small plant appears along dry woodland edges and is partially parasitic, stealing nutrients from the roots of certain tress, especially native birch.

Cow wheat flowers

Yarrow, an introduced wildflower, is attractive to many pollinators and butterflies. After years of not seeing a variegated fritillary, last week I finally came across one in a power line right-of-way that was exclusively feeding on yarrow flowers that were abundant there.

Variegated fritillary on yarrow flower

Whorled loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia, also native here in Connecticut, has leaves that are whorled around the stem, and star-like yellow flowers that dangle in between. The leaves are covered with small dark pits on the upper sides.

Whorled loosestrife

Whorled loosestrife flower

On the home front, lantana, salvia, petunias and violas are among the annuals that draw a lot of butterfly and bee activity plus hummingbirds visit lantana and annual salvias as well. A golden northern bumblebee, Bombus fervidus, visits certain flowers including the flowers of a new variety of Buddleia called ‘Miss Violet’.

Spiffy golden northern bumblebee

On a hike I came across a colorful geometrid moth called the hollow-spotted plagodis. Caterpillars of this moth are large loopers and can be found feeding on several trees but preferring Betula species like sweet birch.

Hollow- spotted Plagodis moth

On the same hike there was the sound of a newly fledged bird calling for some food from its parents. I tracked it down among a large stand of invasive mugwort to see what kind of bird it was. Closest guess- pine warbler. I left it alone so mom or dad could give it its next morsel.

Fledgling warbler-likely a pine warbler

On a walk along a land grant property in Manchester, there was an old  Carpathian or English walnut Juglans regia featuring a stout trunk with striking deep, vertically fissured bark. The bark was light colored and the dark fissures made it appear outlined.

English walnut

Dog vomit slime mold can be found on wood chips or mulched areas, usually after heavy rains. Usually it seems to appear overnight as the fruiting stage begins and can be a yellow or orange color.

Aptly named dog vomit slime mold on top of wood chips

Gray tree frogs can be heard trilling day and night. They are frequently found here at home resting on patio furniture, trees, shrubs, water faucets, inside watering cans and many other places they have found suitable for hiding during the day. They often rest on leaf upper sides on trees or shrubs. The one below was on a grape leaf.

Other things of interest are galls of all types on tree leaves and twigs, including the oak apple gall made by a small wasp. The larva feeds inside the gall and emerges as an adult from there.

Oak apple gall
Very tiny oak apple gall wasp just emerged from its gall

There are so many interesting things going on for those of us blessed enough to wait or look for them. The excitement never ends. I agree with the sentiment of Henry David Thoreau, who loved observing and becoming part of his surroundings in nature- “This is June, the month of grass and leaves . . . already the aspens are trembling again, and a new summer is offered me.”

Pamm Cooper

Painted lady on boneset

“Summer’s lease hath all too short a date.”

– William Shakespeare

Sedum var ‘Autumn Joy’ attracts many species of butterflies and bees

The grand finale of the blooming season is here and while many plants are winding down their bloom period, other plants are still in great form or are yet to put on their show of flowers. There are still many species of pollinators, especially native bees and honeybees, that are active and needful of pollen and nectar sources late in the year. And butterflies, especially those that migrate, are in the same biological boat, needing energy providing nectar sources for their long journeys south. Many annual, perennial and woody plants provide all of them with the food sources they need to accomplish their late season undertakings.        

  

Tiger swallowtail visiting aster flowers
Anise hyssop is a favorite of butterflies and bees
Giant swallowtail on Hyssop at James L. Goodwin State Forest
Agastache ‘Kudos Coral’ -a variety of anise hyssop

Among annuals that are late-season bloomers there are too many to name, but some of the best for pollinators and butterflies include Torenia, zinnias, sunflowers, Lantana, petunia, sweet potato vine, salvias, and sweet alyssum Lobularia maritima. Some of these may still bloom after a light frost, so place them carefully in the garden or planter.

Painted lady on a variety of annual salvia
Bumblebees go inside certain flowers, like this annual Torenia
Painted lady on annual Mexican sunflower Tithonia rotundifolia

Late- blooming perennials for pollinators and butterflies are numerous, and are best when mixed together for easy access for pollinating insects. For example, planting several tall garden phlox, asters, and goldenrods together makes it easy for bees to travel short distances to preferred flowers. In the wild native asters, goldenrods, boneset, snakeroot and woodland sunflowers and Rudbeckia often occur together.

Spotted Joe-pye weed, boneset and goldenrods in their natural setting
Tiny green Halictidae bee on goldenrod
Wool carder bee on calamint

Among late season blooming non-native perennials, obedient plant, guara, Echinacea, veronica , hyssop varieties , sedums, Coreopsis and others are long bloomers that are preferred by the greatest variety of bee and butterfly species. Some may need to be dead–headed as needed to encourage maximum flower development.

Honey bee visiting obedient plant flower

Native perennials for pollinators like black snakeroot, asters, goldenrods, boneset, white snakeroot, Rudbeckia, mountain mint, closed gentians and turtlehead are among those  visited may many species of bees, wasps and butterflies. Turtlehead and closed bottle gentians need a robust pollinator like a bumblebee that is able to barge its way into the flowers and then exit

.

Pink variety of turtlehead with bumblebee visitors
Native turtlehead

Spotted bee balm, Monarda punctata is a short-lived perennial that has showy pagoda-like colorful bracts that the small, purple spotted tubular flowers rest upon. Attractive to butterflies and pollinators, blooms last for weeks. The plants have an appearance similar to an illustration in a Dr.  Suess book.

Spotted bee balm
Summer azure on spotted bee balm flower-James L. Goodwin State Forest garden

Black snakeroot, cimicifuga ramose, also called bugbane or Actaea, is a tall late-blooming perennial that is very attractive to bees. It has sweet-smelling white flowers on long spikes that attract bees, flies, flower beetles and small butterflies. Blooming in late September into October, it is a good shade- loving perennial for late flying pollinators .

Cimicifuga sp. snakeroot
unknown moth and honey bee on snakeroot

Among shrubs and trees that bloom late in the year Franklinia, witch hazel, rose-of-Sharon, sweet autumn clematis (a wonderful vine loaded with white sweet scented flowers), paniculata varieties of hydrangea and lespedeza bush clover are good pollen and nectar sources for bees and butterflies. Native witch hazel blooms the latest- starting in early October- and is striking when its peculiar yellow flowers bloom when its leaves are also yellow. This plant may bloom well into November, providing food for those bees and other pollinators that are still active very late in the year. Caryopteris– common name bluebeard- is also frequented by various bees and butterflies

Lespedeza thunbergii bush clover
Native fall blooming witch hazel still in flower in November after leaves have fallen
Bluebeard–Caryopteris--and bumblebees
Sweet autumn clematis
Franklinia tree flowering in late September- early October

Getting outside in both the natural and home landscape will provide moments of thoughtful consideration for the small, engaging things that are taking place around us. Whether insects, flowers or simply the changing of leaf color, there are so many things happening we should try not to miss. One of them has been the magnificent orange sun at dawn and dusk, even though the cause of this phenomenon is heart-rending.  

Sunrise September 15 2020 featured an orange sun due to smoke drifting across the nation from wildfires in the western U.S..

Pamm Cooper

mountain laurel

Native mountain laurel blooms in June

Spring being a tough act to follow, God created June.

–  Al Bernstein 

June is the month where green has become the main the landscape color with flowers and some early fruits sprinkling a bit of color in gardens and wild landscape. It is a cheery time for me as the best is yet to come. Butterflies, bees, dragonflies and other insects are everywhere now and provide a little bit of interest as they go about their daily lives. I stop by the woods early in the morning to listen to wood thrushes, veerys, vireos, grosbeaks, catbirds, tanagers and so many other birds of the forest that sing so sweetly at this time of year.

veery

Veery

common yellowthroat

Male common yellowthroat carrying an insect to its young

Wandering in my yard this week I found a little surprise- an enchanting Clytus arietis wasp beetle resting its little self on a fern. This diminutive, long-horned beetle has striking yellow markings on a dark brown to black narrow body and it has cricket-like back legs. Its larvae live in warm, dry, dead wood, favoring birches and willows. Adults can be found during the day from May- August resting in the open on low vegetation.

clytus arietis wasp beetle

Colorful Clytus arietis wasp beetle

Maple eyespot galls are brightly colored circles of red and yellow that appear on the surface of red maple leaves in early June. Caused by the ocellate gall midge Acericecis ocellaris, this tiny fly deposits eggs on the underside of red maple leaves, which causes a chemical response in the leaf at each spot an egg was laid. The larva hatches and feeds on leaf tissue within the small disk- shaped gall that was formed.

maple eyespot gall on red maple

Maple eyespot gall

Ebony jewelwing damselflies Calopteryx maculate are easily identified by their  metallic iridescent green/blue color and totally black wings. They can be found near streams and rivers, but are especially common found near shallow streams in forests. This damselfly is unlike other jewelwings because it is the only one that sometimes rambles far from water.

green damselfly Ruby fenton

Ebony jewelwing damselfly

White-tailed deer fawns are generally born from late May to June and can sometimes be seen trying to keep up with their mothers early in the morning. They often get exhausted doing so and collapse to rest, sometimes in unusual places. Fawns are generally left alone during the day and the doe will return at dawn and dusk to feed her fawn and sometimes move it along to a safer place.

fawn lying in grass beside a brook 6-3-2020

fawn tired from following its mom

Blue-eyed grass and orange hawkweed are blooming in the wild now, as are wild geraniums, beautybush, viburnums, bearded irises, Carolina spicebush, mountain laurels, tulip trees and raspberry. Grape should be flowering soon as will catalpa trees. Catalpa flowers are pollinated by several species of sphinx moths, who visit flowers mostly during the night.

blue-eyed grass

Blue-eyed grass Sisyrinchium albidum is not a grass but a member of the iris family

orange hawkweed II

Orange hawkweed

Butterflies and moths are more abundant now as we have warmer weather and plants that have leafed out. Giant silkworm moths like the beautiful luna moth emerge from mid-May through summer. Many are strongly attracted to lights and are often found resting on the sides of buildings where lights are left on all night. These large moths do not feed, but live off of stored food until they mate, perishing soon after. Red spotted purples and tiger swallowtails are just a couple of butterflies that visit my property and lay eggs on some black cherries planted a few years ago.

luna moth

The fabulous Luna moth, one of our native giant silkworm moths

red spotted purple June 5 2020

Red-spotted purple butterfly seen June 5 2020- the first of the year for me

Walking through a woodland path at a nature preserve I heard a buzzy high-pitched call above me and saw a blue-gray gnatcatcher sitting on her eggs in a nest. The nest was well camouflaged with a coating of lichens so it blended in perfectly with the lichen encrusted branches all around it.

P1210067

A blue-gray gnatcatcher nest is barely visible in the crotch of this tree

There is so much going on in the outdoors now wherever you happen to go. There are so many flowers yet to bloom, and so many young animals and birds just getting to know the world around them. As I watch bees and butterflies, and listen to the birds sing and the tree frogs trilling away day and night, I think Aldo Leopold got it just right when he wrote “ In June, as many as a dozen species may burst their buds on a single day.”

P1200217

A little surprise

Pamm Cooper

 

 

 

 

 

black etched prominent Cerura scitiscripta

Caterpillar of the black-etched prominent has highly modified anal prolegs that it can flail to defend itself against predators

 

I love insects. They are amazing.

-Andrea Arnold

 

Many insects never make it to adulthood to complete their life cycles because in the grand scheme of things, they are low on the food chain. Between birds and amphibians, mammals and fellow insects, there is no lack of creatures that rely upon insects as a food source. Insects are not necessarily limpid little defenseless victims of a more sophisticated life form, though. They have strategies for survival. Some use camouflage,  are cryptic in form and color, veil themselves with material, have weapons they use when threatened or they may simply hide. 

rose-hooktip-moth Oreta rosea-cryptic

Rose hooktip moth hidden by day by blending in on a leaf

P1270059

Pine sphinx caterpillars blend in with the green and white striped needles of white pine

One of the ways insects can hide in plain sight is by coloration, body form and feeding techniques. Spring caterpillars are often light green and feed on new leaves of similar color. Caterpillars that feed on mature foliage often have colorations or body forms that imitate the dead leaf spots and edges that occur later in the year.

cocoon structure of caddisfly- possibly Climacia areolaris

Spongillafly pupates inside this structure it made

Warning coloration protects many insects from being eaten, especially bright reds and oranges. Also, insects may have warts that sport hairs that repel some birds and other predators. One such insect having both is the red-humped caterpillar.

red hump caterpillar Pamm Cooper photo

Red- humped caterpillars Schizura concinna have warning colors and warts with hairs that detect air movement

Some caterpillars feed along leaf edges and appear to be part of the leaf itself. Careful scrutiny will reveal the ruse. Two of the prominent caterpillars, the Wavy- lined Heterocampa and the Lace-capped caterpillar are just two examples of this behavior.

wavy-lined-heteocampa-2-on-leaf-edge

Wavy-lined Heterocampa caterpillar hides in plain site feeding along the edge of a sweet birch leaf. It blends in also with cryptic coloration.

Walking sticks are a good example of cryptic coloration and mimicry. Both the insect’s shape and color allow it to blend in with leaf veins and twigs  so that unless they move or cast a shadow, they are very difficult to see.

walking stick 6-29-14

Early instar walking stick blends in with leaf vein color

Camouflage loopers are small caterpillars that are found on the flowers of composites. They take petals from the plant’s flowers and “glue“ them on their body. They blend in so well that the only evidence of their presence will be that the flowers seems to be deformed.

camouflaged looper plus tiny looper Belding

Camouflage looper sitting atop a flower head from which it has cut and pasted the flower petals upon its body

Caterpillars like woolly bears, Ios, slug moths and some tussocks have defense mechanisms that utilize urticating hairs or venomous barbs to ward off potential predators. Handling these caterpillars may prove a painful experience for some people. Especially to be avoided are the saddleback slug moth and the spiny oak slug caterpillars, which are very small but able to inflict severe pain or a burning sensation that may  last for several hours or even a few days. Use caution around any caterpillar having barbs, hairs or spines.

small saddleback

Tiny saddleback caterpillar has both urticating spines and coloration similar to the host plant leaf for defense

Another means by which insects can protect themselves is by mimicry. Many flies have coloration and markings that are very similar to wasps and bees, especially syrphid flies. These flies can also feed on the pollen of many of the plants that bees and wasps also visit. Birds will tend to avoid any insect that may have the potential to sting, so these bee mimics need not worry as they go about their everyday work acquiring pollen.

syrphid fly

This syrphid fly resembles a wasp and birds will leave it alone

Many insects use leaf shelters as a means of hiding from predators by day and then feed at night. They may tie leaves together with silk or fold a leaf. The caterpillar of the  spicebush swallowtail and the poplar tent caterpillars do this. Stink bugs routinely use leaf shelters abandoned by other insects.

spicebush ready to eat

Spicebush swallowtail caterpillars hide by day in a leaf folded lengthwise

red admiral

Chrysalis of the red admiral butterfly is made inside a leaf shelter where it was protected as a caterpillar

Some insects feed as immatures inside plants such as gall makers, borers, leafminers and others. Safely inside plant tissue, success rates of surviving to a mature adult are very high.

Pine Cone Willow Gall, caused by a gall midge, Rhobdophaga strobiloides. 9-16-19

Pine cone willow gall houses a midge larva, Rhobdophaga strobiloides

thief weevil

Thief weevil female laid an egg inside two a tightly rolled structures they made by cutting the leaf edge lengthwise while still remaining attached to the pedicel. Larva will feed safely inside on the leaf tissue.

potter wasp pot

A potter female wasp made this small clay pot and inserted food and its egg inside. Larva will be safe inside.

The larvae of tortoise beetles, 3-lined potato beetles and the infamous lily leaf beetle pile their frass on their bodies to escape predators.  Lacewing larva use their molted skins and other detritus to cover their body in a similar way. They can be found especially on white oak leaves in late summer appearing like a small, light tan, fuzzy pile moving across a leaf.

tortoise beetle larva waving frass hood

Tortoise beetle larva raises a “hood” made of frass when disturbed

This is only a brief look at some ways insects survive or attempt to survive in the world. There are many other ways and means by which insects employ subterfuge and other strategies that could fill a book, but this is simply a leaf through…

 

Pamm Cooper

P1000305II

The fabulous Luna moth

Thus hath the candle singed the moth.

-William Shakespeare

Anyone who has lived in New England and been around outdoor lights in May or June may have encountered some of our giant silkworm moths which  .are members of the Saturniidae moths. The diminutive slug moths, Limacodiae, are perhaps not as well known, but they are commonly attracted to lights as well. Both are natives here in Connecticut and are spectacular in their own way.

luna moth puparium

Luna moth puparium inside the leaf shelter made by the caterpillar

The Cecropia moth and its caterpillar are likely the champs, the Goliaths of their peers. The  moth may be as large as a man’s hand, and the caterpillar comes close to the same size, at least in length. Late instar caterpillars can be heavy enough to cause small branches to droop. Caterpillars feed on locally preferred plants, especially cherry, ash and apple, but also other woody plants. Cocoons are made of leaves tied tightly together lengthwise along twigs or small branches, where they may remain all winter. Pupation takes place inside this structure.

cecropia on elderberry 7-11-16

Cecropia caterpillar is over three inches long in the final instar

cecropia female 9p.m. same day as emrged from cocoon 5-31-13 - Copy

Female Cecropia moth

 

Luna moths are probably the most recognized giant silkworm moth with their light green color and a pair of long tails streaming from the hind wings. Polyphemus are another species that have beautiful blue and yellow eye spots on the hind wings. Late instar Polyphemus caterpillars have striking white dots along their body that shimmer with silver at certain angles in bright sunlight.

 

polyphemus just out

Polyphemus moth just after emerging from its cocoon

Promethea moths have a strong preference for spicebush, sassafras and cherry for caterpillar host plants. Along with Io moths, their caterpillars follow each other in the very early instars, forming a train-like procession as they travel over a leaf. Both species also feed together for much of their life as a caterpillar.

promethea cats

Promethea caterpillars still hanging out together

Promethea moth female 2010 raised from egg found on sassafrass Belding

promethea moth cocoon

Cocoon of the Promethea moth is inside this leaf tied to the host plant

All silkworm moths lack fully developed mouths and cannot feed. They mate soon after emerging from their cocoons, as their life span as a moth is short. All overwinter as pupa and most emerge mid- May and onward the following year. Eggs are large and smooth. Somewhat flattened, and may be laid singly or in small to large rafts, depending upon species.

On the opposite side of the spectrum as far as size goes are the slug moths and their caterpillars which may be only one centimeter in size. Often found in late summer or early fall, the caterpillars often resemble galls or something else of uncaterpillar-like. They have medial suckers instead of legs and they glide along like slugs.

Red-eyed Button slug september 13, 2009 on small black cherry 12 tee GHills

Red-eyed button slug caterpillar

Always be careful not to touch caterpillars of the slug moth as many have spines that can inflict a painful sting that feels like being stabbed with dozens of hot hypodermic needles. One of the worst stings is from the aptly named saddleback, which has both its rear and tail ends covered with stinging spines. This year, green briar was a preferred host in the north central part of Connecticut, but they can be found on a variety of other plants including oaks, cherry, blueberry and sometimes herbaceous perennials.

saddleback on green briar a favorite host plant in 2019

Saddleback is aptly named

Slug moths are attracted to lights, and if identified, a search of larval host plants nearby may yield some caterpillars. Feeding takes place along leaf edges, and sometimes a shiny trail is left where they have glided along the leaf. Adult sightings peak in midsummer, with caterpillars found from June- October. Like the giant silkworms, adult slug moths do not eat.

smaller parasa caterpillar

Smaller Parasa slug moth caterpillar

 

The smaller parasa reminds me of a Shar-Pei. They have retractable spines, but they are mostly hidden inside warts along the back. When threatened, spines protrude in small clusters from the warts. I have found these most often on oaks, but they will feed on other woody plants also.

Smaller Parasa attracted to light

Smaller parasa moth

 

Skiff moth caterpillars have steep sides and have a short, sharp tail on the rear. Various brown markings help them blend in with dead plant tissue, so they may be hard to find. This slug cat is often found on the upper sides on leaves, though, rather than the undersides where other slug caterpillars are found. Moths can be found early in the night around outdoor lights near woods.

skiff moth back deck July 25, 2009

Skiff moth

skiffy
Skiff moth caterpillar

spiny oak slug caterpillar

Spiny oak slug caterpillar

crown slug on oak ruby fenton 10-2-11

crown slug

Next year, be on the alert for our native slug moths and giant silkworm moths. Check around outdoor lights in May- June for the moths, and look on specific host plants for  the different species of these interesting caterpillars. The excitement never ends…

 

Pamm Cooper