Category Archives: Sphingidae

A typical day

Yesterday my advisor dropped this on my desk.

“Here, bring this to class for show and tell”

20140918_103300 copySphingicampa sp. from Arizona.

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Moth Week 2014 – Copake Falls, NY

I was lucky enough to be invited to be a guest speaker for a National Moth Week event held by the Friends of Taconic State Park in Copake Falls, NY. I grew up in upstate NY, but had never been to that region before. I spent most of the afternoon chatting with my wonderful hosts, eating yummy food, and then I gave my talk and spent the night looking for moths – I’ll hopefully get a chance to go back and explore the park during the day.

My talk was about how every week is moth week in my life, as well as how amateurs can help with our scientific endeavors. I couldn’t do my dissertation work without an army of collaborators around the country and around the world. I’m hoping I inspired a few more people to check their porch lights (or gas station lights). When it comes to basic natural history observations, science is accessible to everyone. And we need all the help we can get!

After the talk a few people stuck around to check out the moths. There were several blacklights, a mercury vapor light, and some bait painted on trees (and soaked into ropes).

mothweek_1One of the first visitors to the blacklight, a Hermit sphinx, Linteneria eremitus.mothweek_2One of the sheets, early in the night.mothweek_3Gathering around the sheet. Poke nature!mothweek_4The new president of the society, Brian Boom, was my gracious and enthusiastic host – and he was well liked by the Pandorus sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus). mothweek_5As usual, I had to pose with a moth on my nose. Darapsa myron. mothweek_6And a few of the other goodies we saw: mothweek_7Top row: Tolype velleda, Acrolophus sp., Herpetogramma pertexalis, Darapsa myron
Middle row: Linteneria eremitus, Haploa confusa, Prolimacodes badia, Lymantria dispar
Bottom row: Haploa clymene, Pantographa limata, Crambus sp., Idia aemula

What a great way to celebrate National Moth Week!

Doomed

When moths emerge from their pupal shell, their wings start out small and shriveled. Over time the wings expand and harden so the moth is able to fly.

Unfortunately, sometimes things go wrong, and the wings aren’t able to expand. We see this periodically here in the lab, and we’re not sure why. Yesterday this little fuzz ball, Proserpinus lucidus, emerged. Perhaps due to the fact that it was not actually due to emerge until spring, its wings never expanded.

proserpinus_1 copyWe’re also not sure why it decided to stand up like a person.

20140217_134148 copy For reference, here is a fully formed adult (from Moth Photographer’s Group)

This makes me wonder how often mistakes like this happen in the wild. I imagine a moth like this would become a meal for a predator fairly quickly.

If you have raised moths and/or butterflies before – have you had this experience before, and do you have a sense of why it may have happened? One of my hypotheses is that a moth may spend too much time in the pupal shell once fully formed, and the wings could become hardened before actually emerging. Or in the case of our moth, being kept in a cool room for overwintering, it may have simply been too cold.

More travel!

I know, I haven’t even finished my stories about the Texas trip, and now I’ve gone to Colorado for more moth and caterpillar wrangling! All the pictures and stories will keep me busy for a while. Recently got home after a week of beautiful mountain views,  black lighting, caterpillar hunting, rainstorms, great people, visiting collections, and spending time with my aunt (who lives in Boulder) as an added bonus. My mom accompanied me for part of the trip, and was a great sport about helping me find collecting locations.

I started by flying into Denver late Thursday night (a trip fraught with nearly missing flights, booking the wrong hotel, and a long but interesting cab ride). I met up with my advisor in the morning and we hashed out our plans. Nearly everything had to be improvised due to the weather and who could meet with us. Before I had started grad school this approach would have sent me into a panic attack, but by now the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants-approach (championed by both my advisor and my boyfriend) is standard. We visited several collaborators, hunted for caterpillars, and set up sheets at night before parting ways – I stayed a few extra days to be with my family.

Here are some highlights from the trip. You will notice a severe lack of caterpillars – there were hardly any to be found! Not sure if it was the weather or the time of year?

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One-eyed sphinx (Smerinthus cerisyi), came to a blacklight in Golden Gate Canyon, CO

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Dueling hummingbirds, Golden Gate Canyon, CO.

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Acronicta exempta, Castle Rock Canyon, CO. I captured 15 males that night, but no females!

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Our set-up at Castle Rock Canyon. I went blacklighting with a colleague who works at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature, so we had lots of equipment to play with. It was the best night of blacklighting of the whole trip.

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Obligatory shot of the scenery. Just outside of Boulder, CO.

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Went up to Gold Hill with my family to see the town, the views, and have a delicious 6-course dinner.

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Click for a bigger view!! Somewhere on Rt. 70 west.

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Me and my mom ❤

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Last stop – curation at the Denver Museum of Science and Nature! I got to sort some drawers of Acronicta, mostly unidentified and with other moths mixed in. I only got partway through after a few hours though, so I need to go back and finish!

I had a wonderful time in Colorado, and really hope it’s not too long before I can visit again. Besides, next time I need to get some female Acronicta and some eggs!

A caterpillar!

Winter is a slow time for caterpillar news in the Northeast. Most lepidopterans overwinter as eggs or pupae, and any overwintering caterpillars are usually hiding in the leaf litter. As a child I never liked winter very much, because there are very few insects to find. What’s the point in going outside if you can’t catch bugs?

However I still get some caterpillar identification questions from around the world. If you have a question of your own, send along a photo, I enjoy a challenge!

I nearly squealed when I saw this cute caterpillar in my inbox:

south african caterpillar

Photo courtesy of Katie Roller, Johannesburg, South Africa

This caterpillar hails from South Africa, a country I would love to visit someday (and some of my Acronicta caterpillars can be found there!). It appears to be Hippotion celerio, in the family Sphingidae, the hawk moths. Sphingid caterpillars are large and often have a “tail” at the end of their bodies. If you live in the US you are probably familiar with the tomato and tobacco hornworms, genus Manduca – they are fat green caterpillars, and big garden pests.

I found this video of Hippotion celerio in action. It’s pretty cool how the body can stretch out, and then retract to look more like a snake-mimic. If you want to learn more about caterpillar eyespots, check out Tom Hossie’s blog about his research!

Catching moths

Had my first night of black-lighting with the mercury vapor light – pretty decent turn out. I got six species of Acronictines, but they were all males. I’m really hoping for some females in order to get eggs!

My friend and I also encountered some other interesting creatures. That is bound to happen when you set up a light and sheet at night.

Here is the set up: The base is a projector screen (looks to be about 1970s, cost $5 at a garage sale), covered by a sheet. We hung the mercury vapor light from a branch to hold it away from the sheet (my advisor has many sheets with holes burned into them).

Some of the earliest visitors were the luna moths (Actias luna). These were both males – I could tell based on the antennae, and small size of their abdomens.

This giant water bug (Lethocerus americanus) sounded like a small helicopter coming toward the sheet – and then it hit me on the back of the head! It was a feisty one.

The water bug made a friend at the sheet – an equally as large hydrophilid, a water beetle. Luckily hydrophilids are scavengers, so they do not have the same terrifying beak as the water bug. They are so smooth you can hardly pick them up.

A very pretty moth – the hog sphinx, (Darapsa myron).

I am excited for future black-lighting endeavors this summer.

Eumorpha typhon

Do you ever see something and just have no idea how to react? You start to utter jumbled syllables, unsure of what you’re feeling or how to express it? Awe? Shock? Wonder? Attraction? Revulsion? Love? Panic?

That’s how I felt when I saw this caterpillar.

How is this possible? How is this even real?

What’s with the bright colors and spots? And that ridiculously smooshed face?

I know I shouldn’t be surprised by things like this, but I always am. Caterpillars have such an amazing array of coloration, defenses, postures, patterns, shapes and sizes –  there is always something new to discover.

This big guy is Eumorpha typhon, in the family Sphingidae. It will turn into a beautiful moth one day.

Connecticut Entomological Society

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Trying to make sense of the world through science and language.