On our weekly trail walk this past Sunday, we saw several butterflies including an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus), a Cabbage White butterfly (Pieris rapae), and a Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa).  We also saw numerous caterpillars, mostly Banded Woollybears which will become the Isabella Tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella).  There were also several other types of moths, but I was unable to identify them.  That made me wonder why I am more familiar with butterflies than with moths.  

There are only 47 species of butterflies seen in Maine.  Some of these are rare and specific to an ecosystem.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are more than 360 species of moths found in Maine.  Similarly, across the United States, types of moths outnumber butterflies by approximately 9 to 1.  Yet, most people can’t name more than 2 species of moths.  The gorgeous Luna moth (Actias luna) is usually one that people know.  The second is probably a moth that has become a local nuisance.

Together we will explore some interesting examples of moths.  

Yes, there are some notorious moths, including the Gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar dispar) that damages trees and the Browntail Moth caterpillar (Euproctis chrysorrhoea) that causes a poison-ivy-like rash when the hairs contact your skin.  But a few bad characters should not condemn the entire population.

Let’s start with the notion that moths are exclusively nocturnal.  Most are on the night shift.  However, some appear during the daytime.   Clearwing moths, like the Hummingbird Clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe), are found in daylight hours.  True to its name, it moves like a hummingbird.

The Hummingbird Clearwing and a similar moth, the Snowberry Clearwing (Hemaris diffinis) are found throughout the United States. They are particularly attracted to phlox (Phlox), bee balm (Monarda), honeysuckle (Lonicera) and verbena (Verbena).  Double-check the next hovering creature you see collecting nectar at one of these plants to confirm whether it is a moth or a bird. 

Another beautiful moth for you to seek out is the diminutive Rosy Maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda).  This moth is found along the East Coast and heading west towards the interior of Minnesota and eastern Texas.  It is a member Saturniidae family, also known as great silk moths.

The adult moths are pink and yellow, although the colors do vary quite a bit. They have wingspans of about 1¼ to 2 ¼ inches. Their bodies look wooly.  In Maine, you can reliably see them by mid-June.  They can be found in urban and suburban areas, as well as in hardwood forested rural areas.  

As you may have guessed, they love maple trees but also oaks.  However, this attraction is not because they want to snack on the sap.  Rosy Maple moth adults do not have mouths, therefore, they do not feed.  They use the trees for housing their caterpillars. 

Look for these moths around dusk as they are nocturnal.  I’ve also spotted one on the wooden garage at daybreak. 

It’s time for me to start noticing the moths and giving them their due.  In the Northeast, July is the peak month for moth sightings, but they are out there now.  Enjoy moth-spotting!

Sources:

More about the Clearwing – https://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/pollinator-of-the-month/hummingbird_moth.shtml

More about the Rosy Maple Moth – https://www.butterfliesandmoths.org/species/Dryocampa-rubicunda

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