Moths

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Moths, Pacific Northwest

Tent Caterpillar Moths
Tent Caterpillar Moth, Photo By Bud Logan

Moths often have feather-like antennae or an antenna with no club at the end. When perched, their wings lay flat. They usually have thick hairy bodies and more earthy colors. They are usually active at night and rest during the day in their preferred habitat.

Their caterpillars spin a silk cocoon before changing into a moth. Scientists have identified some 250,000 species of them worldwide but suspect there may be that many again waiting to be discovered.

They are found all around the world and are closely related to the more colorful butterfly. However, they are a nocturnal animal and are more pastel-colored so as to blend into the darker surroundings of night.

As with their butterfly cousins, they are known to play a vital role in the pollination of plants as they flutter between them. Those plants that flower during the night rely solely on moths and bats to pollinate them. They are the second most important pollinator after the bees.

White Lined Spinx Moths
White Lined Spinx Moth, Photo By Bud Logan

Moths are herbivorous animals and survive on a plant-based diet. Moths predominantly drink the nectar from the plants using their long straw-like tongue and moths are also known to do a similar thing with sugary fruits and berries. The moth caterpillars, also still generally herbivores, eat a mixture of plants and leaves and some species will also eat insects.

The moth has natural predators throughout the world that include birds, bats, reptiles, amphibians, rodents, and even other insects and larger spiders.

Blackberry Looper Moth Caterpillar
Blackberry Looper Moth Caterpillar, Photo By Bud Logan

Inchworms are the larval or caterpillar stage of geometer moths, members of the Lepidoptera order of butterflies and moths. The Blackberry Looper is one of these.

They’re members of a very large family that includes over 26,000 species. About 1,200 of those species are native to North America.

The three names for this larval stage are looper, Inchworm, and span-worm. All three names refer to the way in which the worm gets around.

It lacks the middle pair of legs that most caterpillars have. It, therefore, has just two sets of two or three legs at either end. So for example, it gets around by clasping the ground, leaf or stem with its front legs and moving its hind legs right behind them. Then the hind legs clasp the leaf and the front legs move forward, and so on.

Leaves are the most common food source. But there are some inchworm species that favor pollen, lichens or flowers.

Blackberry Looper Moth
Blackberry Looper Moth, Photo By Bud Logan

There are even some that are carnivorous. There are even others that are far more destructive in their feeding, and they are called canker-worms. But whatever the type, they represent a particularly vulnerable stage within the geometer moth life cycle.

Specifically, larval stages tend to be attractive to such predators as birds and foraging mammals. So they are a much-needed food source for birds and animals.
When it’s disturbed or stressed, the inchworm clasps the surface with its hind legs and stands straight up and still.

The Blackberry Looper is quite common on Vancouver Island and we always run into it when we pick Blackberries, I am always surprised at just how fast they are able to move and at how, when they are alarmed and standing extended from a branch, how invisible they become.

They are very pretty and quite a large inchworm to observe. They are able to eat a large amount of leaf material when feeding.

Finger Dagger Moth Caterpillar
Finger Dagger Moth Caterpillar, Photo By Bud Logan

The Finger Dagger Moth Caterpillar grows into a medium to large moth with light grey fore wings with darker markings and white hind wings.

It’s fore wings have the normal markings but they are somewhat broken and blurred. Its orbicular spot a small, hollow ring. There is no basal dash.

The anal dagger mark is blurred but obvious. The male hind wings are white with grey scales along the veins. The female is larger and is more heavily dusted with grey on the hind wings. Antennae in both sexes are simple.

Can easily be mistaken for the American Dagger Moth, which is darker grey or brown on both wings and has a doubled, white filled postmedian line or the Cottonwood Dagger Moth, which is smaller and has narrower wings with a basal dash on the fore wings.

This moth is very common on Vancouver Island and in the fall, you can see the caterpillars on the move looking for a winter place to cocoon up for the winter.

You can find the finger dagger moth from Newfoundland west to the Pacific coast.

Lophocampa Roseata Caterpillar
Lophocampa Roseata Caterpillar, Photo By Bud Logan

The Lophocampa Roseata Caterpillar is the larvae of a moth of the Arctiidae family. It was described by Walker in 1868.

It is found in western Oregon, Washington and southwestern British Columbia and all of Vancouver Island. The habitat consists of conifer forests and urban landscapes. The length of the wings is 14 to15 mm.

The ground color of the fore wings is light yellow with brown lines and sharp orange-red veins. The hind wings are light yellow and have no markings.

The larvae have been recorded feeding on Acer plantanoides. They are covered with long hairs and are mottled with orange, white and black hair. I first became aware of them in 2012, but it took myself and several entomologists the next 2 years to properly name it. It was quite an investigation and it could not have been accomplished without the help of many.

Ruby Tiger Moth
Ruby Tiger Moth, photo by Bud Logan

There are many types of tiger moths that live in the Pacific Northwest, the vestal tiger moth is my personal favorite. Tiger moths are named for the beauty of their variegated coloring and not from any tiger like tendencies. They can be spotted and banded, or pure snow white in color.

Belonging to a large family, there are many interesting species of tiger moths scattered over the world. In North America, there are around one hundred and twenty different kinds recorded. They have moderately broad wings and stout bodies and are among our fairly large species of moths. The majority of them fly at night, but occasionally a day flying species may be found frequenting the open places in the woods. During the daytime, however, most of them are at rest, with their wings sitting rooflike over their bodies, on trunks of trees, walls and other similar areas.

Woolly bear is the popular name by which the caterpillars of many of our common tiger moths are known. The name was given to them in consequence of the coating of long bristle-like hairs with which the bodies of most of them are covered.

Hickory Tussock Tiger Moth Caterpillar
Hickory Tussock Tiger Moth Caterpillar, Photo By Bud Logan

The caterpillars of tiger moths prefer herbaceous plants, although some species can be destructive to the foliage of trees. After spending the summer and fall feeding, some species spend the winter in cocoons woven of silk, mixed with hairs that are shed during the process of pupation. Others continue to feed until the plants are nipped by frost when they crawl into some convenient place of concealment and sleep away the winter months.

With the arrival of April and a new supply of herbaceous greens, we will find our little woolly bears again active and by May they will have attained the full measure of their growth. The tiger moth will then form a cocoon and in 2 to 3 weeks will emerge as a beautiful Moth.

Eyed Hawk Moth
Eyed Hawk Moth, Photo By Carol Kowal

The eyed Hawk Moth has a wingspan up to 5 cm. Adults are a pale brown with pinkish brown fore wings. The fore wings are slightly scalloped with a series of chocolate blotches.

The hind wings are reddish brown, flushed with a rosy pink hue and large bluish grey eyespots. The moth adopts a curious resting posture, where the fore wings are held over the hind wings and the body is curled upwards. When threatened, it exposes its hind wings to reveal the large eyespots

An attractive species that is found in small numbers on bogs, marshes, and damp woodland, where willows are common. Adults are attracted to light but usually in very small numbers. The larvae can be found from early June until September on willows and crab apple. They seem to prefer small, often isolated trees, usually in more sheltered spots, you can see them if you look very carefully, resting on the branches near the base of the tree.

This is a common moth on Vancouver Island, but because they blend into their daytime resting spots so well, you can be considered lucky to have seen one.

All around the world, both moths and their caterpillars are known to be a pest, particularly to farmers as the caterpillars can, in some years, eat through a farmer’s crops pretty fast.

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