Clearwing Moths

Something is missing from the meadows and the many blooming wildflowers that define them in late summer: butterflies. So, Plan B – cultivated Phlox around the house.

A common, reliable summer visitor, the Hummingbird Clearwing is a daytime moth that hovers and feeds like a hummingbird.

HumbirdClearwing18Aug14#085E2c5x7

HumbirdClearwing18Aug14#112E2c8x10

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Twisting in the Breeze

While walking along a nature trail at an environmental education center, I discovered several tussock moth caterpillars. They were suspended above the trail tread on strands of silk, twisting, turning and drifting in the breeze.

CaterpillarThread30July14#061E3c8x10

Brightly colored critters appear to be easy pick’ins for predators, but have evolved unseen avoidance strategies to compensate for the absence of camouflage. This one, the Hickory Tussock Moth caterpillar (Lophocampa caryae), is loaded for bear. The hairs have microscopic barbs, and the longer ones (hollow lashes) are connected to poison glands. The flesh is repugnant and toxic as well. Predators learn from experience and, seeing a juicy black and white caterpillar twisting helplessly in the breeze, turn tail and hunt elsewhere. The conspicuous coloration actually serves as a warning.

CaterpillarThread30July14#045E6c8x10

CaterpillarThread30July14#056E3c8x10

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

Wet Meadows in Early Summer

Seasoned wet meadow habitats are usually a tangle of shrubs and herbaceous plants in a mosaic of thickets and openings. They’re transitional habitats, evolving from grassy, weedy meadows to woodlands. A dominant, overstory tree canopy is absent, although increasing numbers of young trees forecast a very different landscape in the decades to come. Wet meadows are places where one is likely to get wet or muddy feet, even when it hasn’t rained for awhile. They’re also places that support rich wetland communities of plant and animal life, all begging to be observed and photographed!

These images were all captured last week while exploring  just a few acres of wet meadow habitats.

BaltCheckerspot11July14#083E2c8x10

Baltimore Checkerspot on Birdsfoot Trefoil; the primary host plant for caterpillars is Turtlehead, a wetland wildflower

VaCtenuchid9July14#085E2c5x7

Virginia Ctenuchid moth on dogwood; Silky and Red-osier Dogwood are dominant shrubs in aging wet meadows and important wildlife habitat

Brown12July14#070E2c8x10

The Browns or Satyrs are signature butterfly species in wetlands; adults feed at bird droppings and sap flows – not flowers

12-spottedSkimmer11July14#068Ec4x6

Twelve-spotted Skimmer, a common hunter in open habitats

SwampMilkweed12July14#081E2c8x10

Swamp Milkweed, a popular source of nectar in wetlands

PearlyEye12July14#068E3c8x10

Northern Pearly-eye, resting on a favorite tree in the transitional zone between wet meadow and forested swamp.

BaltCheckerspot10July14#080Ec5x7

Baltimore Checkerspot

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.

 

Daytime Moths

This has not been a good year for butterfly sightings in central New York. So, rather than dig into my archives for old butterfly photos, I’ll feature one of the few members of the butterfly and moth group (Order Lepidoptera) that I’m seeing daily, in the field as well as around the house: a moth that refuses to act like a moth!

The species is the Hummingbird Moth (Hemaris thysbe), also called Common Clearwing or Hummingbird Clearwing. These moths are very “unmoth-like” in two ways: they’re active during the daytime and, as their name implies, they look and act like tiny hummingbirds. In flight, the mostly transparent wings move so fast they’re barely visible. When nectaring, they hover, just like a hummingbird.

HumbirdClearwing12Aug13#038E

Hummingbird Moth nectaring on garden Phlox, 1 of 5

Hummingbird moths have a long, tongue-like feeding tube (proboscis), an adaptation for nectaring on tubular flowers. The proboscis is coiled in flight, then extended for feeding.

HumbirdClearwing12Aug13#062E

HumbirdClearwing12Aug13#042E

HumbirdClearwingFlox11Aug13#037E

HumbirdMothPhlox19Aug13#056E

The adults are active throughout the summer and are most often seen in landscape gardens when Bee Balm (Monarda), Phlox and other tubular flowers are blooming. Earlier today I watched one nectaring on Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium), a wildflower approaching full bloom in damp meadow habitats

HumbirdMothBeeBalmGoldrod17Aug13#087E2

Hummingbird Moth nectaring on Bee Balm

The larvae feed on a variety of woody plants, especially those in the honeysuckle and rose families (honeysuckles, Viburnums, hawthorns, cherries, etc.). They weave a cocoon on the ground, in leaf litter, where they overwinter (to encourage these plump little pollinators, a little benign neglect in the form of leaf litter around the edge of the yard could be helpful!).

Photos by NB Hunter. © All Rights Reserved.