It’s a bird! No, it’s not! It’s an insect??!!

Clearwing moth first photo©Maria de BruynSeveral years ago, as I was beginning to photograph wildlife more seriously, I became quite excited at the North Carolina Botanical Garden. Buzzing around some profusely blooming flowers was what I thought might be the smallest hummingbird I had ever seen. I was not used to taking shots of something that was in almost constant motion, but I persisted until I got photos that made it at least a little recognizable. I lost the original photo when both my computer and my back-up hard drive crashed at almost the same time, but I “rescued” one of those first photos from a Word document.

Hummingbird clearwing moth brown IMG_2701 M de Bruyn resizedI soon learned that what I had seen was actually an insect – a hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thysbe) to be precise. This is likely one of the first insects that I ever got enthusiastic about.

I have seen a second, similar, species called the snowberry clearwing moth (Hemaris diffinis), seen below.

 

Snowberry clearwing moth IMG_8436dddd nr MdBSnowberry Clearwing moth IMG_8492

So, how do you tell the species apart? The snowberry clearwing has a dark band running from its eye down its throat and thorax and its legs are black, while the hummingbird clearwing lacks the thick dark band and has yellowish or paler legs.

snowberry and hummingbird clearwing moths IMG_7461©Maria de BruynresSome people identify these moths as bumblebee mimics, which also makes sense since they are similar in size to bumblebees. Here you see a hummingbird clearwing moth next to a silver-spotted skipper butterfly (Epargyreus clarus, one of the smaller butterflies).

Snowberry clearwing moth IMG_8252dnr MdBAnd here you see a snowberry clearwing next to a large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus). The adult moths are about 1.25-2 inches (3.18-5 cm) long.

Large milkweed bug and snowberry clearwing moth IMG_6290©Maria de Bruynres

The clearwings have an upper body color that ranges from tan to green. They are quite “furry” and have cute little tufts at their posteriors. Underneath they are pale, whitish or yellowish.

Hummingbird clearwing moth brown IMG_1822 MdBHummingbird clearwing moth green IMG_2200 MdB

Both species have dark abdomens. The juvenile moths have dark wings but scales fall away as they mature leaving clear, transparent, panels in their wings. They would make good subjects for a stained glass artist!

Hummingbird clearwing moth IMG_0027 MdB

Like butterflies, these moths have a long proboscis (tongue) that they can curl up when resting or during flight. The adult moths sip nectar from a variety of plants including Japanese honeysuckle, beebalm, red clover, lilacs, phlox and thistles. In my yard, they are especially fond of the butterfly bushes (Buddleja davidii), which I just discovered can be an invasive plant (so I have to keep them trimmed and make sure to lop off the dried flowers before seeds spread).

Hummingbird clearwing moth IMG_9982 MdBHummingbird clearwing moth green IMG_1955 MdB

Snowberry clearwing moth IMG_4435©Maria de Bruyn resTheir caterpillars are called hornworms as they have a horn at the rear; I have not seen one yet but they must be around somewhere. They pupate in leaf litter and on the ground; since I leave the fallen leaves around, I’ve been providing them with a childhood and adolescent home! And that’s good as I really look forward now to welcoming them to my yard each year!

 

Moths to rival butterflies!

Friendly probole moth IMG_9681©Maria de BruynresThe past week has been incredibly busy with work and the next couple weeks will be so as well. But I hope to stick somewhat to my weekly schedule of (hopefully) entertaining and perhaps educating you a bit on the wonderful wildlife around us!

Today, I was pleasantly surprised to find that a fellow Project Noah member, Jacob Gorneau, had mentioned me in his article about National Moth Week (http://nationalmothweek.org/2014/02/23/project-noah-hosts-the-second-annual-national-moth-week/), What he quoted me as saying – “I really did think of butterflies as being the beauties and moths as the plain cousins. It’s great to have learned so much about the beauty of moths!” – was  a result of having participated in that annual week. Just like birders do bird counts, “moth-ers” do moth counts. And it was through my joining in on that activity that I learned to appreciate just how gorgeous moths can be – like that Friendly Probole Moth (Probole amicaria) at the top of this blog! Here are a few more beauties I’ve seen over time.

Polka-dot wasp moth IMG_0107VThis polka dot wasp moth (Syntomeida epimoth, Cream-striped owl IMG_6548© Maria de Bruynlais) was visiting a plant in Mexico. And this is a cream-striped owl moth (Cyligramma latona), which was a welcome surprise in Namibia.

Zale moth IMG_4866©Maria de BruynMy backyard also reveals some interesting specimens. Moth Week induced me to go outside at night with a flashlight and I found these beauties on my crepe myrtle trees. Left is a Zale moth and below a black bit moth (Celiptera frustulum).

Black bit moth IMG_4867©Maria de Bruyn2

Splendid palpita moth IMG_4696©Maria de BruynThis splendid palpita moth (Palpita magniferalis) was on the ceiling of the roof overhanging my front porch. Gorgeous pattern, don’t you think?

Next week, I’ll share a few more of these beauties!

Caterpillars with fuzzy hair-dos

This past year, I was having trouble getting good shots of birds hidden in foliage so, inspired by fellTiger moth caterpillar 3 IMG_8012©Maria de Bruynow contributors to Project Noah, I tried my hand at photographing more insects. This opened up another fascinating wildlife world to me and I’ve been learning about different species of flies, bees, hoppers, and moths.

I had always thought of butterflies as the “beauties” of the insect kingdom but found out that the moths can be simply stunning (another blog to come). Moth caterpillars are really interesting, too – and there are so many kinds with fuzzy bodies. At an early stage, their hairs or bristles (setae) may be short, as seen in this Tiger moth IMG_0332©Maria de Bruynpale tiger moth; as they grow, the setae become longer like those in the dark tiger moth.

TheSycamore tussock moth IMG_0144©Maria de Bruyn Sycamore tussock moth caterpillar (Halysidota harrisii) is a fancy variety, with hairs  that give its face a bit of an “old man” look (droopy mustaches). Though not considered one of the stinging caterpillars (read on to find out about them), the hairs have been known to cause hives if a person touches them. If one lands on you, use a twig or leaf to remove it gently.

The BandeBanded tussock moth IMG_3930©Maria de Bruynd tussock moth (Halysidota tessellaris) shown below also has a beautiful caterpillar with long tufts on its head and posterior.

Two caterpillars have been nicknamed woolly bears. The Virginia tiger moth (Spilosoma virginica) caterpillar, which can vary widely in color, is known as the yellow woolly bear in its pale color variation.

Virginia tiger moth caterpillar IMG_0917©Maria de BruynVirginia tiger moth IMG_9202©Maria de Bruyn res

The banded woolly bear caterpillar of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia Isabella) even has whole festivals devoted to it in places like Banner Elk, a mountain town in North Carolina. There is a myth that if this caterpillar has a thick brown stripe, the winter will be mild; if the brown stripe is narrow, we will have a severe winter. This year, I saw caterpillars with narrow and wide stripes, so I wonder what it will be.

Isabella tiger moth IMG_8604©Maria de Bruyn

The Fall webworm moth caterpillar (Hyphantria cunea) is especially well-known for the communal webbed nests that they create on shrubs and in trees. They can vary in color from yellow to gray with two light stripes along their sides. The adult moth is a beauty; in the northern states, it is mostly white but in the South it can have dark spots on its fore-wings.

Fall webworm moth IMG_9141©Maria de Bruyn resFall webworm moth Hyphantria IMG_6582 ©Maria de Bruyn signed

Some of the hairy caterpillars are known as “stinging caterpillars”. They do not inject venom like bees and wasps but their hollow hairs contain toxins, which are designed to protect them from predators. When another being – including humans – brushes against the hairs, they break away and release the toxin. This can cause varying reactions, including mild to intense burning, stinging pain and itching. Depending on the species, a person might also experience rashes, swelling and inflammation, numbness and even fever and nausea. The reactions can be especially serious for people with sensitive skin and allergies.

Saddleback caterpillar moth IMG_2647©Maria de BruynresI didn’t know about this until this year; fortunately, I did not pick up any of the stinging caterpillars since I try not to disturb the creatures I photograph. That was a good decision when I came across the Saddleback moth caterpillar  (Acharia stimulea), which is quite an eye-catching individual. This slug-type caterpillar isn’t quite as hairy as some other species but causes some of the more severe reactions. I hope to find some new hairy caterpillars next year!

Next blog: Weaver bird nests