Malacosoma californica “Western Tent Caterpillar Moth” Lasiocampidae

Clinton, MT
July 25, 2015
Robert Niese

Tent caterpillar moths were some of our most abundant visitors during our Mothlighting event for National Moth Week with the Missoula Butterfly House. They are positively adorable as adults, wouldn’t you agree? In our area, we tend to have mostly Western Tent Caterpillars, but we do also get Forest Tent Caterpillars (M. disstria). Caterpillars of M. disstria tend to have broader blue dorsal bands, keyhole-shaped white dorsal spots, and whiter tufts of lateral hairs than M. californica, which, in our area, tend to have more yellow than blue

(however, farther east they tend to lack yellow entirely)

and tend to have dash-shaped white dorsal spots. Adults are far more difficult to distinguish, but in general, M. californica tends to have two lighter-colored lateral bands on its forewings in addition to dark bands, while M disstria tends to lack these bands and only has dark bands. But from the underside, they all just look like teddy bears.

Speyeria hydaspe “Hydaspe Fritillary” Nymphalidae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

 

Fritillaries are common residents of moist meadows throughout North America. They lay their eggs on a variety of violet species. Upon hatching, the larvae immediately burrow into the ground (before eating) and hibernate until spring when they emerge and munch on the violet leaves.

Agapeta zoegana “Sulphur Knapweed Moth” Tortricidae

August 14, 2014
Missoula, MT
Robert Niese

These diminutive moths (10mm in length) are obligate parasites of our invasive knapweed (Centaurea maculosa) and were introduced in 1984 as a potential biological control agent.

Happy National Moth Week!

Petrophila confusalis Crambidae

Missoula, MT
July 21, 2015
Robert Niese

These adorable moths are absolutely fascinating! They often rest with their hindwings partially visible, displaying these prominent black spots. It’s likely that these patterns look like jumping spiders to potential predators or parasites (i.e. wasps). Check out this awesome video of the moth moving its wings to make its eyespots look extra scary, and this cool video of a different species chasing a male jumping spider like it’s a potential mate. In addition to this cool ability to mimic its predators, these moths also lay their eggs underwater! Females actually dive down to the bottom of fast-flowing streams to lay their eggs on algae-ridden rocks in riffles and rapids. During these dives, their abdomens get encased in a bubble of air, providing them with oxygen just like a scuba diver! The larvae then hatch and consume the diatoms and algae growing on the stream-bottom.

We must have had six of these moths at our lights last night! Happy National Moth Week!

Malacosoma californica “Western Tent Caterpillar” Lasiocampidae

Drinking Horse Mountain, Bozeman, MT
June 3, 2015
Robert Niese

Normally, tent caterpillars live in large groups in the safety of their silk “tents,” but this individual appears to have wandered off on its own. Often, after defoliating all the foliage on their first tent-plant, caterpillars will seek out food on nearby trees. But this individual looks really big and I suspect that it is seeking some quiet place to metamorphose into an adult moth. Learn more about these awesome moths here.

Happy National Moth Week!

Malacosoma californica “Western Tent Caterpillar” Lasiocampidae

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

Tent caterpillars are really fascinating critters! In some years, populations of tent caterpillars explode and entire forests can be defoliated by these voracious animals. Fortunately, this extensive herbivory does will not kill most trees, although some eastern forests have experienced large-scale tree deaths when tent caterpillar outbreaks coincided with drought. This year, tent caterpillars have been in relatively low numbers. Learn more about these awesome moths here!

Happy National Moth Week!

Cydia pomonella “Codling Moth” Tortricidae

Missoula, MT
July 20, 2015
Robert Niese

Codling Moths are perhaps the most infamous moths in the world. They are found everywhere there are apple trees. In fact, these moths are so widespread that no one is quite sure where they came from, although it’s likely they evolved in Eurasia with the apple tree. Females lay their eggs on apple trees and the larvae hatch and immediately burrow into the fruit where they consume the flesh and seeds. The moths are controlled through various means of suppression including pheromone traps that catch males searching for females, trunk banding that captures larvae as they leave the tree to pupate, and releasing Trichogramma parasitic wasps to kill eggs. But the most common form of control is through the application of Codling Moth Granulosis Virus which kills larvae a few days after hatching.

Happy National Moth Week!

Ectoedemia sericopeza “Norway Maple Seedminer” Nepticulidae

Missoula, MT
September 25, 2014
Robert Niese

These teensy-tiny moths are rarely over 2mm in length and are among some of the smallest lepidopterans in the world. Their larvae, which are equally infinitesimal, feed exclusively on (and within!) the tissues of the Norway Maple (Acer platanoides), an introduced species which lines most of our streets here in Missoula.

Happy National Moth Week!

Anania hortulata “Small Magpie” Crambidae

Tacoma, WA
July 8, 2013
Robert Niese

The Small Magpie is an adorable moth that was accidentally introduced from Europe. Its larvae feed on Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) and many members of the mint family.

Happy National Moth Week!

Gnophaela vermiculata “Police-car Moth” Arctiidae (now Erebidae)

Great Burn, Lolo National Forest, MT
July 10, 2015
Robert Niese

Here’s another intimate moment between two Police-car Moths from my backpacking trip the other weekend. They really were copulating everywhere. The males will carry their partners through the forest as they both continue to feed on nectar. Eventually they will detach and the female will seek out a Bluebells plant (Mertensia) or some other member of Boraginaceae to lay her eggs.

Happy National Moth Week!