Jun 242017
 

We have a sweet smelling Abelia shrub that is proving to be very popular with the insect population. Visitors this month include our first and so far only Monarch, a Black Swallowtail, a White Admiral, and two hawkmoths, including the Hummingbird Clearwing and the Nessus Sphinx, the latter new to us. And out amongst the wildflowers, the Canada Tiger Swallowtail is regularly feeding on the Viper’s Bugloss. I was able to photograph them all except the Monarch, with two separate views of the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth.

On June 8th, Peter got a bit of a surprise opening the door to our under-deck to find an Eastern Milksnake coiled around one of the garden hoses. He was lucky to get a photo as it made its way along the line of stopcocks heading for a bit of cover under the stairs.

Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Eastern Milksnake – Peter Armstrong

Nessus Sphinx at Abelia shrub. Note two yellow bands on abdomen – Stephenie Armstrong – June 2017

Hummingbird Clearwing at Abelia shrub – Stephenie Armstrong

 

Canada Tiger Swallowtail on Viper Bugloss – Stephenie Armstrong

Jun 172017
 

On June 14, while sitting in my screened room in Millbrook, this moth plummeted down from the heavens and landed on the table beside me. I have no idea where he came from. Perhaps he was sleeping along the rafter and fell(?) I thought he was dead. After looking at him for about 10 minutes I lifted him up onto a piece of cardboard. He held on to the edges of the board. I went outside and he eventually walked/flew over to the screen, climbed up a few inches and stayed there for several hours. At dark I went out to see him and he was gone.
He was about 3 inches long, and his head and back looked almost like fur! Do you have any idea what this is?

Bev Hawkins

Note: Basil Conlin, a local moth expert, has identified it as a Laurel Sphinx (Sphinx kalmiae). “This species loves to feed on ash and lilac as a caterpillar and will nectar at deep flowers as an adult. They are lovely! As far as I know they do not fly during the day. I usually find the adults at lights in two batches: first right at dusk, then again after midnight.”

Laurel Sphinx (Sphinx kalmiae) June 14, 2017 – Millbrook – Bev Hawkins

Jun 082017
 

When it comes to seeing new species of plants and animals, a certain amount of effort is usually required. This might mean traveling to new locations and walking considerable distances. There is, however, a way to enjoy nature’s diversity that can appeal to even the most sedentary among us. Welcome to the gentle art of moth-watching. “Mothing” can be as simple as leaving the porch light on and checking periodically to see what is clinging to the screen door.

With 165,000 described species worldwide, moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on Earth. Their colours and patterns range from bright and dazzling to so cryptic as to define the very idea of camouflage.

Let’s begin by distinguishing moths from butterflies. Butterflies have club-like knobs on the ends of their antennae and usually perch with their wings held upwards. Moths, on the other hand, tend to perch with their wings outspread and have antennae that closely resemble bird feathers. Both moths and butterflies make a protective covering for the pupal stage of development. Moths, however, make a cocoon, which is wrapped in a covering of silk, while butterflies make a chrysalis, which is hard, smooth and has no silk covering. Unlike their sun-loving cousins, most moths are nocturnal.

Local moths

Moths are common just about everywhere there are trees and shrubs. This makes the Kawarthas a veritable moth paradise. Over 1000 species have been identified in Peterborough County, but they are probably many more. Basil Conlin, a Trent University student, has observed 560 species on the Trent campus alone!

Different moth species fly at different times of year. The season begins in late March or April with sallow moths like “The Joker” (Feralia jocosa) and extends right into December when the autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata) can be common. Late May, June and early July, however, is the most exciting time of year for “moth-ers”, since this is when the spectacular giant silkworm moths are on the wing. From the bright yellow of the Io, to the bold eye-like markings of the Polyphemus and the palm-size wingspan of the Cecropia, these moths are truly exceptional.

Giant silkworm moths take their collective name both from their impressive size and from the fine silk they use to spin their cocoons. (Note: Commercial silk comes from the silkworm moth, which belongs to a different family.) They can turn up just about anywhere and are most active on warm, still nights after 10 pm. One of the best places to look for them is on large buildings with bright lights that shine onto walls.

Probably the best known of our silk moths is the Cecropia. Its body is red with exquisite white bands around the abdomen. Each of the dark brown wings boasts a stunning red and white crescent spot. Cecropias ride the June breezes in search of romance. The females release tiny quantities ‑ literally billionths of a gram ‑ of airborne sexual attractants called pheromones. These are still sufficiently potent to attract males from great distances. The male’s large, feather‑like antennae are covered with sophisticated olfactory sensors that sift the sweet night air for the female’s scent. If the breeze is right, males can follow a female scent plume for several kilometres. When male and female finally meet, they join at the abdomen and remain attached for up to 24 hours. The female will then begin to deposit 100 or more eggs on the undersides of leaves of trees such as cherry, birch and maple. Adult silk moths exist for the sole purpose of reproduction; in fact, they have no mouthparts and don’t eat.

A mating pair of Cecropia moths. Note the second moth below. (Ruthanne Sobiera)

Another spectacular species to watch for is the Luna. Pale green in colour, its hindwings end in a long curving “tail”. Other relatively common silkworm moths in the Kawarthas include the Polyphemus, the Promethea and the Columbia.

Sphingids and Catacolas

A group that warrants special attention from spring through fall is the sphinx and hawk moths (sphingids). Sphingids are often brown or grey in colour, moderate to large in size, and have narrow wings and sleek abdomens. This makes them fast flyers. Many have an impressively long proboscis for feeding on nectar. Although most Sphingids are either nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn), some species fly during the day. These include the gallium sphinx and the hummingbird clearwing moth. Night-flying sphingids are often attracted to tube-shaped white flowers with a strong scent.

Hummingbird clearwing moth nectaring at butterfly bush flowers (Rick Stankiewicz)

A few other sphingids to get to know are the one-eyed, elm and big poplar sphinxes. The latter has a wingspan that reaches 12 centimetres and, when at rest, it resembles a fighter jet!

Moth-ers also look forward to mid-summer when the underwing (Catocala) moths start flying. Unassuming at first glance, they are called underwings because of the remarkable contrast between the nondescript forewings and the bright, colourful hindwings (underwings). In many species, the underwings are boldly marked with black bands on an orange or yellow background. When the forewings close, however, the insect effectively “disappears.” Some common local species include the pink, scarlet, once-married and sweetheart underwings.

Moth identification

To identify moths, start by focusing on the larger species and those that stand out from the rest because of their distinctive colours or markings. Pay special attention to how the moth holds its wings when at rest. Are the wings spread out to the side or tent-like over its back? A moth with tent-like wings probably belongs to the Noctuidae family. Once you have an idea of what family the moth might belong to, look more closely at the patterns on the wings and try to compare these to the photographs on a website or in a field guide. I would recommend purchasing the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by Canadians David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie.

Io moth – Michael Gillespie

The guide shows you the time(s) of year each moth flies as well as its geographic range. It also gives you the host plant(s) the moth requires. If, for example, a given species lays its eggs on oaks and they are plentiful in your area, this is important information. Two excellent moth websites for identification purposes are BugGuide at www.bugguide.net and the Moth Photographers Group at http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/ You can also view local moth sightings by going to my website at drewmonkman.com Go to the topics page and scroll down to “Moths”.

Attracting moths

To bring moths to you, purchase a bulb that projects light in the UV spectrum such as a black light CFL. Screw the bulb into a lamp – a floor lamp works well – and place in front of a white sheet. The moths will land on the sheet, making them easy to see.

Not all moths, however, are interested in lights. Some are nectar-feeders and will come to a sugary bait. Mix together an over-ripe banana, a dollop of molasses, a scoop of brown sugar and a glug or two of beer. Spread the concoction on a tree trunk or hanging rope and check regularly to see what shows up. This is a great way to attract underwing moths.

Two typical underwing moths of the Kawarthas – Tim Dyson

A lot of the fun in mothing comes from photographing and identifying the insects. Be aware, however, that a flash can sometimes create washed-out images. A way to get around this problem is to carefully catch the moth in a small container and put it in the fridge overnight. You can then take a picture of it the following morning using natural light and a pleasing background such as a leaf or piece of bark. You may also wish to place a ruler beside the moth (a useful size reference) for one of the shots. You’ll only have about 30 seconds, however, before the moth warms up and flies away.

Moth atlas

Unlike birds and mammals, there are still large gaps in our knowledge of Ontario’s moths. It is for this reason that the Toronto Entomologists’ Association (TEA) recently launched the Ontario Silk Moth and Sphinx Moth Atlas to gather data on their distribution, abundance and seasonal patterns. The TEA is asking people to contribute photo records of silk and sphinx moth sightings, including those needing an ID, to inaturalist.ca/projects/moths-of-ontario. The atlas already contains about 4,200 silk observations -many of them from older databases. It can be seen online at ontarioinsects.org/moth/. The hope is that the moth atlas will evolve into a rich dataset like the Ontario Butterfly Atlas, which can be seen at ontarioinsects.org/atlas.

Researchers are seeing a disturbing decline in silkworm and sphinx moth populations across northeastern North America. This has been especially notable in species like the io moth and great ash sphinx. A possible cause is Compsilura concinnata, a tachnid fly that was introduced from Europe to control gypsy moth populations. The fly is known to also attack native moth species like giant silkworm moths.

Peterborough Field Naturalists event

On June 10, Basil Conlin and the Peterborough Field Naturalists will be holding an evening of mothing at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre, starting at 8:30 pm. The Centre is located at 2505 Pioneer Road. Basil will give a talk on moth identification, as well as methods for attracting, collecting and observing moths. In addition, participants will be able to sit and watch moths coming to a light sheet and to bait. Bring boots, a flashlight/headlamp and maybe a blanket and snacks. The evening will wrap up by 11:30.

 

 

 

Mar 062017
 

I was lucky to come across this Red-headed Woodpecker on May 21, 2016, at my home on Northey’s Bay Road on the north shore of Stoney Lake.  I had never seen one and haven’t seen one since. In August 9, 2016, we also had a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth feeding at the phlox in our garden. I had seen it in the garden in August, 2015, as well, but never before that.

Dennis Johnson, Stoney Lake

Red-headed Woodpecker 2 – May 2016 – Dennis Johnson

Hummingbird Clearwing Moth – August 2016 – Dennis Johnson

 

Sep 222016
 

I have spent some evenings this summer with some of my moth friends of the Noctuid group. Underwings, (genus – Catocala), are a fascinating bunch when one puts out bait repeatedly, night after night, to attract them. Some, like most nocturnal moths, will come to lights at night, but nothing will attract the underwings better than squished rotten bananas smeared onto the trunks of trees. The variety of underwing moths is outstanding, not just in terms of the number of species, but every now and then, you will encounter a different “form” within a species. A form, unless it shows only subtle differences outside the norm, will usually stand out due to having markings, colours, and/or patterns quite different from what one becomes used to seeing. Personally, I find the thrill of seeing a rare form just as great as seeing a new species for the first time!!

Plate 1

Plate 1

Where you bait will decide what species you are most likely to encounter. For instance, if you are baiting trees in farmland, you can expect to see many of the smaller species, who as larvae, have been feeding on the leaves of hawthorn, apple, and/or cherry. In addition, you will attract the large Yellow-banded Underwing, who in the larval stage, would have been eating the leaves of Basswood trees that are a common large tree along farm fence rows that divide one crop field from the next. If you live in the north and east of the county, you should expect species that, as larva, have been feeding on oak, blueberry, and Sweetfern (the latter being a woody shrub, and not a “fern” at all). If you happen to live in town, or in the south of the county, where there are plenty of walnut trees and/or hickories, then you will see the species who use those trees as larval hosts, and so on. I have tried baiting in all three of these described areas, and thus far, have encountered 27 of the 47 species listed as having ever been recorded within Ontario, (plus one natural hybrid).

Plate 3

Plate 3

Plate 2

Plate 2

Of the Ontario list, there are a couple of species that have only been recorded a handful of times, and of the remaining ones, about ten species that you would likely only ever encounter in s/w Ontario, west of the Niagara Escarpment in the Carolinian Zone. That shouldn’t discourage you, however, and as things continue to change, (many butterfly species are currently expanding ranges northward, so I suspect some moths are as well), now and in the near future seems a great time to find some new underwings in this area that might not have been recorded here before.

Plate 4

Plate 4

There are a few species that should be here, and reasonably common in Peterborough County, but I have just not seen them as yet. I would guess that the number of expected catocala species to be found here would be in the low thirties. Twenty-seven that I know of, and counting. Within those, I’ve recorded an additional fourteen “forms”.

Plate 5

Plate 5

I have made ten colour plates (see below) of species and forms to hopefully serve as a guide if/when you might like to try a little moth baiting yourself. Don’t be too surprised if you encounter an underwing that is not featured here; after all, I have not seen “all” of the species and forms that one could encounter in this area.

Plate 6

Plate 6

I would suggest that you only take photos, (and not the moths, themselves). Collecting is a common practice, and I try not to judge those who take part in it, I just do not collect them myself. I look at it that if you are not someone taking DNA samples to attempt to identify new species out of known species, then what is the point?

Plate 7

Plate 7

Photos will last a lifetime, and you will help to ensure a continued supply of new moths for future generations to experience, if you just leave them where you find them and move on to the next one.
Although the season is winding down now… Happy Mothing, anyway!!      Tim Dyson, Stoney Lake

 

Plate 9

Plate 9

Plate 10

Plate 8

 

Plate 8

Plate 10

Aug 022016
 

I was doing maintenance in the vegetable garden today and found three very large and healthy Tomato Hornworms which will soon pupate and become a Five-spotted Hawkmoth. I placed them on some tomato seedlings that came up in the compost pile as the larvae have a sweet tooth for the fruit in preference to the foliage.

Bill Snowden, Ennismore

Manduca quinquemaculatus – Five-spotted Hawk Moth (tomato hornworm) Wikimedia

Manduca quinquemaculatus – Five-spotted Hawkmoth (tomato hornworm) Wikimedia

 Five-spotted Hawk Moth (hornworm) Wikimedia

Five-spotted Hawkmoth (tomato hornworm) Wikimedia

Tomato Hornworm (Rick Stankiewicz)

Tomato Hornworm (Rick Stankiewicz)

Tomato Hornworm 2 (Rick Stankiewicz)

Tomato Hornworm 2 (Rick Stankiewicz)

Jul 292016
 
Cardinal Flower - August 3, 2016 - Big Gull Lake - Elaine Monkman

Cardinal Flower – August 3, 2016 – Big Gull Lake – Elaine Monkman

Here are some sightings of interest from this past week (July 25 – 31, 2016)) at my brother’s cottage on Big Gull Lake, south of Bon Echo Provincial Park.

  1. Family group of Cooper’s Hawks. Two or three very vocal juveniles, “whistling” loudly. As big as adults.
  2. A covey of 8 Ruffed Grouse, almost adult size.
  3. A Hummingbird Clearwing Moth on the petunias at the dock.
  4. A “convocation” of five, non-breeding Common Loons on the lake.
  5. A larval Blue-spotted Salamander, which was still showing gills behind the head. Was in a backwater section of shoreline, protected from waves by a large fallen log.
  6. Several Dragonhunter dragonflies.
  7. Numerous Red-eyed Vireos (probably young ones) on cottage property.
  8. Two Ruby-throated Hummingbirds at nectar feeder.
  9. Cardinal flowers in bloom along shoreline.
  10. Bird song: Hermit Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, Pine Warbler

Drew Monkman

juvenile Cooper's Hawk - Linda Easton

juvenile Cooper’s Hawk – Linda Easton

Jun 072016
 

I saw my first “hummingbird” moths this weekend (three on June 4) nectaring at petunias. One was looking very tattered, but still able to fly and feed…
Gwen Forsyth, Lakefield

Note: The so-called hummingbird moths are in the Sphingidae family (sphinx moths). Some come to flowers at dusk, where they drink nectar in hummingbird-like fashion. Other species are strictly diurnal and only come to flowers during the day, usually on sunny afternoons. The species here is the Gallium Sphinx (Hyles gallii). Its host plants include bedstraw and woodruff. D.M.

Tattered Gallium Sphinx - June 4, 2016 - Gwen Forsyth

Tattered Gallium Sphinx – June 4, 2016 – Gwen Forsyth

Gallium Sphinx moth 2 - June 4, 2016 - Gwen Forsyth

Gallium Sphinx moth 2 – June 4, 2016 – Gwen Forsyth

Gallium Sphinx moth - June 4, 2016 - Gwen Forsyth

Gallium Sphinx moth – June 4, 2016 – Gwen Forsyth

Jun 062016
 

Sighting date: June 1, 2016
Location: Bridgenorth, Ontario

This beautiful female Luna moth was on a piece of plywood where there is some construction going on at the NAPA store in Bridgenorth. I took a couple pictures then moved her out of the way so the guys could get to work. 🙂 I noticed he stayed where I put her for most of the day. What a treat to see this as I have never seen one before!

Kim Mitchell

Luna - June 1, 2016 - Bridgenorth - Kim Mitchell

Luna – June 1, 2016 – Bridgenorth – Kim Mitchell

Luna 2 - June 1, 2016 - Bridgenorth - Kim Mitchell

Luna 2 – June 1, 2016 – Bridgenorth – Kim Mitchell

May 192016
 

The Kawarthas is home to at least 100 species of butterflies, 135 kinds of dragonflies and damselflies and a thousand or more different moths. Learning to identify the more common species is a great way to connect to the natural world around us and get kids interested in nature.

Butterflies

Who has not been enchanted by butterflies – the delicate, colorful wind danc­ers that are the hallmark of a warm spring or summer day? Belonging to an order of insects known as Lepidoptera, butterflies are easy to observe and turn up everywhere from woodland trails to backyard gardens. In fact, butterfly-watching also adds a whole new level of enjoyment to gardening. Compared to birding, which can involve getting up at the crack of dawn to take advantage of peak avian activity, identifying and photographing butterflies is a more civilized affair. Butterflies are rarely on the wing before 8 am and are most active on warm, sunny days.

Getting good looks at butterflies is easiest with a pair of binoculars, especially those that focus to within six feet or less. A camera with a zoom lens also comes in handy. By taking a picture of the butterfly, you can identify it later. Lots of excellent guide books and apps are available such as the “ROM Field Guide to the Butterflies of Ontario” and the “Audubon Butterflies” app. Some butterfly-watchers also use a net for catching hard-to-identify species such as skippers, which tend to be very similar. The butterfly can be transferred to a plastic viewing jar and then released.

Here are a few additional suggestions to keep in mind.

1. To find a given species, research the time of year it flies and its preferred habitat. Spring azures, for example, are most often seen in May; Canadian tiger swallowtails are active in June, while many of the fritillaries are observed in mid-summer.

Spring Azure - male - Wikimedia

Spring Azure – male – Wikimedia

2. Roadsides and wetland edges can be particularly productive, as long as there are sufficient flowers in bloom.

3. Learn to identify the plants that attract butterflies, either for nectar or as “larval plants” on which to lay eggs. Among the most important are the milkweeds.

Coral Hairstreak on Butterfly Milkweed

Coral Hairstreak on Butterfly Milkweed

4. Watch for butterflies basking in the sun on gravel roads (e.g., anglewings) and tree trunks (e.g., satyrs). Some species are attracted to animal dung and muddy puddles, which serve as a source of minerals, amino acids and nitrogen.

5. Be careful not to cast a shadow on the butterfly, since this will usually cause it to fly away.

6. Pay special attention to the butterfly’s size, wing shape, color and pattern­ing. The pattern on the underside of the wing, usually visible as the butterfly feeds, is especially important for identification purposes.

Moths

If you would simply prefer that insects to come to you, then moth-watching may be your thing. Mothing, as it is sometimes called, can be as simple as leaving on the porch light and checking periodically to see what’s clinging to the screen door. Unlike butterflies, most moths are nocturnal. However, there are exceptions. To distinguish moths from butterflies, remember that butterflies have club-like knobs on the ends of the antennae and usually perch with their wings held upwards. Moths, on the other hand, perch with their wings outspread and have antennae that closely resemble bird feathers.

While a simple incandescent light will attract some moths, the most effective bulbs are those that project light in the UV spectrum such as a black light CFL. Grow bulbs, designed for plants or aquariums, also work well. An even more effective option is to use a mercury or sodium vapour bulb, which broadcast an extremely bright light and draw in moths from further away. Set the light up in front of a wall or, even better, a white cotton sheet where the moths can land and be studied at close range.

Not all moths, however, are interested in lights. Some are nectar-feeders and will come to bait such as over-ripe bananas. A particularly effective way to entice moths is with a syrupy “goop.” One mixture calls for one over-ripe banana, a dollop of molasses, a scoop of brown sugar and a glug or two of beer. Mix the ingredients in a blender and spread the concoction on a tree trunk or a hang­ing rope. Check regularly after dark to see what has been attracted. With any luck, species such as Catocala (underwing) moths will show up. During the day, the bait may also attract butterflies.

Gallium Sphinx moth - June 4, 2016 - Gwen Forsyth

Gallium Sphinx moth – June 4, 2016 – Gwen Forsyth

A lot of the fun in mothing comes from taking pictures of the insects. Be aware, however, that using a flash may create washed-out images. A way to get around this is to carefully catch the moth in a small container, put it in the fridge overnight and take a picture the following morning using natural light. Place the moth on a pleasing background such as a leaf or a piece of bark. Make sure your camera settings are ready, because you will only have 30 seconds or so before the insect warms up enough to fly away. Placing a ruler beside the moth for one of the shots serves as a simple size reference.

Moth identification can be challenging, so keep in mind the following tips:

1. Start by focusing your ef­forts on the larger moths and those that stand out from the rest because of their large size and distinctive colours and markings (e.g., giant silkworm moths, sphinx moths).

2.  Take note of how it holds its wings when at rest. Are they spread out to the side or tent-like over the back? The former is probably a moth in the family Geometri­dae while the latter likely belongs to the family Noctuidae.

3. Once you have a rough idea of what family the moth might belong to, look more closely at the patterns on its wings and compare these to the photo­graphs in a guide such as “Peterson Field Guide to Moths” by Seabrooke Leckie.

4. Keep in mind the time of year. Like butter­flies, the moths you see change with the seasons. Knowing a given moth’s flight period will help to narrow down the species.

5.  Look at the range maps and make sure the species occurs in your area.

6. Check the type of host plant (larval food plant) the moth requires. If, for example, a given moth lays its eggs on plants that don’t grow in the Kawarthas, you can probably discount it.

 

Almost everything that applies to butterfly-watch­ing is also pertinent to the observation of dragonflies and their close cousins, damselflies. Collectively, these two groups of insects are known as the Odonata or simply “odonates.” Like butterflies and moths, there is a great deal of species diversity, and they, too, make wonderful subjects for photography.

On warm, sunny days, dragonflies and damselflies can be found around any wetland, lake or river. Many species are also attracted to meadows, roadsides and backyard gardens. In addition to using binoculars and a camera to help with identification, it can be fun to catch the insect in a butterfly net. It can then be transferred to a transpar­ent jar or plastic bag. Despite what many people think, dragonflies cannot sting you and their “bite” – on the rare occasions when this happens – is usually more startling than anything else. Here are a few simple suggestions to get started as an odonate-watcher.

1. Learn the different dragonfly (e.g., darners, skimmers) and damselfly (e.g., bluets, spreadwings) families. Knowing the family will greatly narrow down the choice of possible species.

Male Ebony Jewelwing, a species of damselfly (D. Gordon Robertson)

Male Ebony Jewelwing, a species of damselfly (D. Gordon Robertson)

2. Pick up a copy of “The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Provincial Park and Surrounding Area”. Written by local naturalist Colin Jones and illustrated by former Peterborough resident Peter Burke, it covers all of the species you are likely to find in the Kawarthas.

3. For dragonflies, take special note of overall size, eye position (e.g., do the two large eyes touch each other?) as well as any patterning on the thorax, abdomen or wings.

Immature meadowhawk dragonfly - Margo Hughes

Immature meadowhawk dragonfly – Margo Hughes

4. Remember that the male and female in many species can be quite different.

5. As with common moths and butterflies, you may want to start collect­ing odonates to have a small reference collection. Doing so will not have any impact on the population. Guidelines for proper collecting (e.g., using glassine envelopes) can be found online.

You will find more ways to develop a stronger connection to the natural world in my new “Big Book of Nature Activities: A Year-Round Guide to Outdoor Learning” which I co-wrote with Jacob Rodenburg, executive director of Camp Kawartha. The book will be available in June.

 

 

 

Jul 112015
 

We were on the Incredible Edibles Farm Tour yesterday (July 10, 2015) in Campbellford and came upon this beautiful Luna Moth on the side of the house at the Haute-Goat Farm. The time was about 10:45 a.m.

Jill Purcell

Luna Moth - Jill Purcell - July 10, 2015

Luna Moth – Jill Purcell – July 10, 2015

 

Aug 182014
 

I don’t know how rare or common these Hummingbird Clearwing moths are in this area, but I’d never seen or heard of one before. It visited my Monardas at about 5 p.m. on August 12. It was pretty amazing to watch a moth fly and hover like a hummingbird. For a while, I was so confused about what I was seeing that I almost convinced myself it was a fairy!
Kathryn Sheridan, Euclid Avenue, Peterborough

Note: Hummingbird Clearwings show up every summer in small numbers in the Kawarthas.

Hummingbird Clearwing moth - Kathryn Sheridan

Hummingbird Clearwing moth – Kathryn Sheridan

 

Mar 042014
 

         

 Promethea cocoon close-up - Tim Dyson


Promethea cocoon close-up – Tim Dyson

Although it would be nice to spend the entire winter in a sleeping bag made of silk, that could be very expensive, and of course, we humans cannot enter such a prolonged period of sleep. But what about other creatures? Creatures that can simply “make their own” silk sleeping bags? There are close to a dozen species of “Saturniidae” (silkmoths) native to the Kawarthas, and although a few of these are earth-pupators – those that as late stage larvae, tunnel into the soil where they transform into a naked pupa to spend the winter, the larvae of the other species spin some kind of silken cocoon prior to pupation. Some of these fall to the ground with the autumn leaves, but a few species fix their “sleeping bags” to the branches of trees before spinning the rest of the structure entirely around themselves.

 
During a walk down a country road north of Havelock on February 12, 2014, Jane and I spotted no less than 13 cocoons of the Promethea Moth as they hung from the branches of, (and each wrapped in a leaf of), ash and cherry, (two favorite larval host trees of the species). They were all along about a 200 metre section of the road, and although we checked each of them with a little “rattle test”, it appeared that only four of them contained living pupae that will likely emerge as adult moths – during the first week of June in The Kawarthas, if spring temperatures are average.
 
Unlike most other local species of silkmoths, the promethea is interesting in that the females emit their pheromones in the mid-afternoon, and the males are drawn in from great distances, until she breeds with one of them. This makes it rather easy to witness, whereas if you hoped to see the same display with one of the larger species like Cecropia, Polyphemus, or Luna, you would have to be watching after dark because females of those species “call” the males in late at night.
 
Promethea male (left) & female - Tim Dyson

Promethea male (left) & female – Tim Dyson

If you are fortunate enough to find a Promethea cocoon in one of the trees in your yard, keep an eye on it in late May and early June. The moths emerge from the cocoons in the morning, usually between 8:00 am and 11:00 am. They will pop out the top, and then simply hang onto the side of the cocoon while their wings unfurl, and “inflate” to full size and stiffen up. That process can take from one to two hours to complete. Then, the moth will quietly hang on into the afternoon. If it is a female, at between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm, you may notice that something has dropped down from her hind end. That is her ‘scenting” apparatus. Look soon then, for the smaller and darker male to come flying in. If the first one to get there has no competition, the mating will take place quickly. The two will usually hang joined together until just after dark. Then, they separate, and the female goes off to lay her eggs on the underside of the leaves of favorite host trees. If it is a male that has climbed out of your cocoon, he will simply fly off in the afternoon with the first scent of a female, (who could even be several kms away!) These moth have no feeding parts as adults, so don`t expect to see them flitting around the flowers like butterflies.

 
Promethea moth cocoons however, can hang for several years on a branch, and long after the moth has emerged from it. If you want to check to see if the cocoon in your tree is even going to produce a moth in the spring, here is a simple test to tell what is likely inside, without harming or removing the cocoon from the branch.
Just simply lift the cocoon a little, causing a little slack in the thin upper part that it hangs from. Shake it gently from side to side while you listen.
 
Four Promethea cocoons - Tim Dyson

Four Promethea cocoons – Tim Dyson

– if it feels rather heavy, and there is a dull thud when you shake it, it very likely holds a living pupa, and should be watched in the spring for an emerging moth.

– if it feels like it has a little weight to it, but makes a very dry “rattling” sound when shaken, it most likely contains a dried up pupae, or even a caterpillar that died and dried up after spinning the cocoon, and before it would have become a pupae. Either way, not really worth wasting time watching for an emergence in late spring.
– if the cocoon seems to have some weight to it, but makes absolutely no sound at all, it no doubt is filled with tightly-packed pupae of parasitic wasps or flies, which would have come from eggs layed on the caterpillar long before it spun it`s cocoon. You can watch for these to emerge if you like, but the timing is much harder to predict than that of the moth as described above.
– if you give a very light-weight cocoon a little shake, and there is no sound, or perhaps only a very quiet light papery sound, it is likely that there once was a moth, but it had already emerged one or more years before. The papery sound that you may hear inside, is the pupal shell from which the adult moth had broken free of just prior to tearing through the silk valve at the top of the cocoon when it had emerged.
 
I will keep my eye out for Cecropia cocoons, and report on those if I see any. They are much bigger than these, which average four to six cms by one to two centimetres in size.
 
Tim Dyson