June 13, 2024

Moths at Natural Falls State Park

I camped at Natural Falls State Park with my family the weekend of May 31 - June 2. Natural Falls State Park is located in northeast Oklahoma, directly east of Tulsa along Hwy 412 directly just 6 miles from the Arkansas border. It lies within the Ozark Highlands ecoregion. Our campsite was in a mixed Pine and Oak forest, with a small open grassy area and also a deep ravine nearby. For the two nights we were there I set up my lights and sheets and recorded a total of 207 species of moths, with a surprising 38 which were new to me! You can see all of my moth observations from the state park here, but I will highlight a few below. All pictures should link to the observations.

Note: When I refer to "state records" this means that I have not been able to find any previous records of that species in the state of Oklahoma looking on iNaturalist, BugGuide.net, or Moth Photographer's Group.


First is an Oklahoma state record which is stunning and was present in good numbers: Dark-banded Geometer (Gandaritis atricolorata)


Next is Green Leuconycta (Leuconycta diphteroides), which was also present in good numbers. This moth has been recorded before in Oklahoma, but was new to me.


The Drab Condylolomia (Condylolomia participialis) was another state record that was present in good numbers. This moth is in the same subfamily of Scaly-legged Pyralids (Chrysauginae) as the Olive Arta, Posturing Arta, Boxwood Leaftier, and a few others I've seen and am more familiar with.


The Tulip Tree Beauty (Epimecis hortaria) was new to me, but not a state record. This is a large and nicely patterned geometer with quite a bit of variation. I think I saw three different individuals over the two nights and they were each distinct.


Amphipoea erepta is a state record and one of those ultra rarities. It is a macro moth of average Noctuid size, and yet there is only one other observation of this species on iNaturalist. There are a handful of observations on both BugGuide and MPG, but none in Oklahoma. I'm curious why this species is so uncommon even though it has a large distribution. BugGuide reports that the host plant is Eastern Gamagrass (Tripsacum dactyloides).


Suzuki's Promalactis (Promalactis suzukiella) is an introduced species in North America, originating in Asia. It's been spreading throughout the country, but this was a state record for Oklahoma. When I saw it I snapped a quick picture or two while it was on the move, but then it flew up and I lost it. I searched for it for a while and kept my eyes peeled, but couldn't ever relocate it, which is a real shame since I didn't get great focus on the two pictures I did get. Oh well.


I saw a good number of this undescribed species of Hypsopygia. I had just become aware of this species a few days before my trip when I spent some time looking through moth observations in the tristate area of Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. I was happy to get numerous photos of this species at this location so that when it is formally described the distribution information will be that much more complete.


I saw a good number of Ozark Petrophila (Petrophila hodgesi), which I had seen before in Arkansas, but not in Oklahoma. These are really good mimics of jumping spiders.


Caloptilia packardella is a real beauty. I've always liked this genus and have seen a total of 8 species, but this was a new one for me.


The Large Clover Casebearer (Coleophora trifolii) was a clear standout with it's dripping gold appearance. I saw three other distinct moths from the same genus, two of which I'm unsure about the identification. Anyone want to take a look at these two below?


Possibly Coleophora tiliaefoliella


unknown Coleophora


I saw a good assortment of underwings, including the above Ultronia Underwing (Catocala ultronia). This species (maybe specifically this specimen) has an uncommonly strong contrast on the forewings, whereas many underwings have more subtle markings and blend in well on bark.


Charming Underwing (Catocala blandula) - a state record


Sordid Underwing (Catocala sordida) - another state record


Most of my moth observations are made at the lit sheets, but I did go walking around, looking at leaves on trees and shrubs nearby, checking for caterpillars. At one point I ran across this tiny moth and snapped a few pictures (unfortunately overexposed). I thought it might be a species of Aristotelia, but it is an unfamiliar species from an unfamiliar family. This is Dryadaula visaliella, another state record.

I saw several Daggers (Acronicta genus) which I haven't been able to identify. That's a tough genus for me and every time I feel like I'm starting to get the hang of it I see a moth that upends my confidence. If anyone cares to take a stab at identifying mine, here are the ones I saw over the weekend. I believe there are at least three species represented in those pictures.

I had four of the bigger macro moths which are always stunning to see. None of them were new for me, but they're always fun to see.


Rosy Maple Moth (Dryocampa rubicunda)


Io Moth (Automeris io)


Bisected Honey Locust (Syssphinx bisecta)


Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia)

Posted on June 13, 2024 09:26 PM by zdufran zdufran | 7 comments | Leave a comment

April 23, 2024

Schinia interspecies mating?

Yesterday I learned that there is a PhD student at Penn State working on a revision of the gall wasp genus Antistrophus and that he needs collections of galls on Pyrrhopappus. I volunteered to help look for them, having seen some in the past.

While I was at work today I went for a walk down the street, as is my habit. I noticed plenty of Pyrrhopappus along the side of the road, so I began looking. I found quite a few, and collected about a dozen.

As I was walking along and inspecting the flowers I noticed one of my favorite little elusive moths, Schinia mitis, which hosts on this plant. The moths visit the flowers in the morning, lay their eggs in the center and then fly away or snooze in the flower as it closes for the day. The caterpillars eat the flowers and then, I assume, they pupate in the soil or inside the spent seed head on the ground. Since I was looking closely at each of these flowers I started coming across a few mating pairs of Schinia mitis, which was a first for me.

A lot of these moths would dart as soon as I would get close. Combined with the wind and their small size I would quickly lose them. However, the mating pairs would stay in place, even when I used my hand to steady the flowers in the wind. Because of the flighty nature, I was videoing each flower that I could tell had an occupant, not knowing if it would be a single moth that quickly disappeared or a mating pair that would stay in place. In one of these cases I came upon a mating pair where one of the two moths was much more vividly colored than the other. At the time I chalked this up to sexual dimorphism or natural variability.

However, when I returned to my desk at work I started looking at my photos a little more closely. If the other pairs demonstrated sexual dimorphism it was on a much more subtle scale than this pair. Furthermore, this one vividly colored moth looks identically like another species in the genus, Schinia bina.

The moth in question has a deep raspberry basal third, moderately pink median, and yellow terminal third. Also, the three sections are separated by two narrow and scalloped bands of white. The ventral sides of the wings are patterned. All of these characteristics are consistent with S bina and not with S mitis.

S mitis has a tan wing superimposed with magenta or brown V mark in the basal half of the wing and a diagonal mark in the lower half of the wing. The ventral sides of the wings are dark and solid, not patterned.

A final observation: when the wind blew the wings of the moth in question the abdomen was exposed and it appears to be quite large, which leads me to believe this was the female of the pair. I don't know if that has any implications, but I presume it might. For instance, if the female is the one who emits the pheromones among Schinia moths, then perhaps she was in the wrong place (the host plants of a different species) at the right time to make this pairing happen. Rather than a male S bina having traveled to this location after having sensed the pheromones of a different species.

I have shared the photos with Chuck Harp (@cehmoth), who specializes in Schinia and other Heliothinae.

I don't know how common interspecies mating or hybridization are among moths or specifically those of this family, but it's not something I have witnessed before. I also did a little searching today and have not come across many examples online. (one example)

IF this truly was a case of interspecies breeding, does this imply something about their phylogeny? Could they be related closely enough that their pheromones are similar?

I do note that Schinia bina's host plants are a bit of a mystery. It has been recorded on Verbesina encelioides during the late summer brood, but this spring brood that is in flight in April must be using a different plant. Could they be using Pyrrhopappus?

I did not collect any of these moths, although now I am sort of wishing that I had. I will be watching for this moth again, and also be looking for the caterpillars. Perhaps one flower will have some odd looking caterpillars that don't match the normal red and white striped caterpillars of Schinia mitis...

For reference, here are the MPG pages for each species.
Schinia mitis
Schinia bina

Posted on April 23, 2024 08:51 PM by zdufran zdufran | 3 observations | 8 comments | Leave a comment

April 01, 2024

Moth observations by traveling friends

This journal entry is to draw attention to observations from a few friends who encountered some wonderful moths on recent travels to South America.

First, Steve Davis (https://www.inaturalist.org/people/spdavis81) and a few other local birders I know went on a group birding trip to Ecuador in early March. At several of the eco lodges where they stayed the hosts had setup a white sheet and light overnight to lure in insects which would serve as a buffet to birds in the morning. This has become common practice at many such eco lodges that cater to birders. I'm conflicted on this practice, since it is surely detrimental to the insect numbers in the area. On the flip side, it is bringing some awareness of insect biodiversity to a group of people (birders) who are already naturally inclined to care. Maybe the awareness will lead to some positive changes to help insects. Some of these birders have become enamored with the late night insect show as much as the morning birding that it attracts. Steve took photos of some of the insects and has uploaded them to iNaturalist here: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=7512&taxon_id=47157&user_id=spdavis81&verifiable=any

(By the way, on the rare occasions that I leave my sheet setup and light on overnight, I am careful to get up early to check the sheet and shoo away the insects before the birds come for breakfast.)

Second, my friends Rosario (https://www.inaturalist.org/people/argonauta) and Mike Douglas went on an incredible 28-day cruise from Miami, down through the lesser Antilles, and then up the Amazon River to Manaus, Brasil. They are avid naturalists with keen interest in plants and birds. Mike has been giving nature talks on cruise ships for the past few years and was doing so on this cruise ship. While their cruise ship moved up the Amazon River within view of the forests on the river bank, many insects (mostly moths) were attracted to the lit walkways of the ship and landed on the walls and walkways. Mike and Rosario have been coming to moth nights with me for the past few years and were already inclined to pay attention. Mike started to show photos of the insects at his nature talks on the boat, especially to highlight the concept of biodiversity. After that, people started joining Mike and Rosario for their evening insect surveys. Perhaps others have made insect observations while floating down a river like this, but it seemed pretty novel to me, and a great way to do a transect of the Amazon Rainforest. "Moth Nights on the Amazon" really puts my local moth nights to shame! :)

Mike has added a page to his website with a narrative and photos of the insect activity and some of the fellow passengers who joined in the appreciation. He talks a little about photography, about mimicry, crypsis, and then breaks the moths down by families. There are some truly astounding and beautiful specimens. Please check it out here:
https://thetravelingnaturalist.org/miami-to-manaus-28-day-cruise/

Meanwhile, Rosario has been posting the observations to iNaturalist and getting identifications. Here are their observations from the Amazon leg of the journey:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?nelat=1.9913868074126604&nelng=-49.069248611170785&place_id=any&subview=map&swlat=-6.344814000687892&swlng=-65.50479548617079&user_id=argonauta&verifiable=any

Who wants to sign up for a 28 day cruise with me!?! :)

Posted on April 01, 2024 04:01 PM by zdufran zdufran | 4 comments | Leave a comment

September 13, 2023

Mega Moth Festival

Over the long Labor Day weekend Rick Parker (@rdparker) and I took a long road trip down to the southern tip of Texas to the National Butterfly Center (NBC) in Mission, Texas for the inaugural Mega Moth Festival. This festival is centered around nighttime observations of moths at 15 different lit sheets around the property, but also included some fun daytime activities, talks, and meals. One of the highlights of the trip for me was getting to meet and visit other naturalists and moth enthusiasts, several of whom I had been corresponding with for years. I got to spend some quality time with all of these great folks: NBC Assistant Director Lori Malloy (@lorimalloy), NBC Director of Operations Stephanie Lopez (@rgvbirdingallnature), keynote speaker Chuck Sexton (@gcwarbler), organizer and speaker Jack Cochran (@jcochran706), caterpillar expert and speaker Kate Farkas (@k8thegr8), Annika Lindqvist (@annikaml), Tom Langschied (@tomlang88), and @spyingnaturalist. The NBC staff did a great job of organizing this event and put in long hours each day. They all seemed really invested in the mission of the NBC and enthusiastic about the festival.

There is a collection project for all of the attendees' observations from the official locations over the weekend, which you can see here.
Mega Moth Mission 2023 project
Typical of iNat devotees, in just a 4-day weekend, this small group observed more than 500 species of living things.

As a fun personal note, I logged more than 200 species during the weekend. More than 100 species (including insects, birds, plants, and other) were new to my iNat life list and I surpassed 5,000 species on iNat!

The Venue

The National Butterfly Center is a 100 acre property in Hidalgo County, Texas. The property includes many carefully-curated gardens of native plants, including butterfly host plants and nectar plants. The property has had some natural disaster setbacks over the years - tropical storms and wind storms have taken out some of the larger, more mature hackberry trees, leaving the once-shady Hackberry trail much more sun exposed. With time this trail will become shady once more. During the host plants talk by Stephanie Lopez, she noted that many times the general public finds the garden area to be untidy and doesn't understand that this is by design. All of the plants that are growing there have their role in the ecosystem, as well as the piles of leaves that collect under trees. This place is meant to be a haven for native wildlife and it cannot fully function in that capacity if "weeds" are pulled and leaves are removed. Therefore it is intentionally a little "wild." Common trees growing on the property are Spiny Hackberries (Celtis pallida), Anacua (Ehretia anacua), Anacahuita / Mexican Olive (Cordia boissieri), and Vasey's Wild Lime (Adelia vaseyi).

The trails are mostly dense packed soil or, in a few areas, paving stones, so it should be easily accessed to those using wheelchairs. There are some new features, including a birding (or butterfly spotting) blind, and a stream. The stream, fountains, and numerous hummingbird feeders are all great places to sit and watch for birds. There is even an area where birds are fed daily and the swarm of Green Jays and Plain Chachalacas is overwhelming. It's at this location where Luciano photographed a Bobcat hunting birds last year. He has some amazing captures of that experience!

The lower half of the property is more wild and runs right up to the Rio Grande. We were able to access this portion of the property and even stand on the dock over the Rio Grande, looking across the water to Mexico. It was at this location that Rick and I heard a Ringed Kingfisher calling and got a brief glimpse of it as it flew away from us.

Planned Activities

The festival included a bird walk and a butterfly walk, both led by NBC photographer Luciano Guerra. There was also a nighttime UV caterpillar hunt led by Kate. There were scheduled talks on moths of the lower Rio Grande Valley, nighttime photography, building your own mothing rig, native host plants for moths, caterpillar identification, and the keynote "A Birder Gone Bad: My Journey to Moths."


The coolest caterpillar I saw on the trip - Wilson's Wood-nymph (Xerociris wilsonii)

Mothing

The mothing consisted of ~15 different light/sheet setups around the property of the NBC, as well as two auxilary sites: the nearby Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park and the new NBC property Pixie Preserve (which was previously known as Chihuahua Woods when owned by The Nature Conservancy). Despite the nearly full moon, we had pretty good numbers of moths at the sheets each of the first two nights. The third and final night was pretty breezy, so there were few moths on any of the sheets. Planning any outdoor event months ahead of time always has the potential for weather complications, so I was pleased that we had two great nights of observations. When we were at Pixie Preserve on the last night and the wind was preventing moths from staying on the sheets several of us switched over to looking for tiger beetles and we located two species.

Moth Highlights

Many of the moths at this location were new to me, since we were so far south and in a different ecoregion. However, some of these new-to-me moths can be found throughout a good portion of Texas. Other species are really regional specialties of the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV). Some of these regional specialties include: Elousa albicans, Micrathetis tecnion, Silvered Prominent (Didugua argentilinea), Hemeroplanis reversalis, Tripudia goyanensis, Antaeotricha haesitans, Satellite Sphinx (Eumorpha satellitia), and an undescribed Hypsopygia.

I believe that the lifers outnumbered the species I had previously seen. Probably the most charismatic moth species seen was the Heiligbrodt's Mesquite Moth (Syssphinx heiligbrodti), which we saw in abundance. This large speckled gray silk moth has beautiful pink underwings that are usually covered, but can be seen in flight or if you gently nudge the moth.


Heiligbrodt's Mesquite Moth (Syssphinx heiligbrodti)

One of my favorite new moths of the trip was Ofatulena luminosa, which really should be given a common name. I vote for the easy translation "Luminous Ofatulena." I really like these little Eucosmini moths, in general, and this one is quite attractive.


Ofatulena luminosa

I was happy to encounter 5 species of Sphingidae:
Clavipe's Sphinx (Aellopos clavipes)
Satellite Sphinx (Eumorpha satellitia)
Vine Sphinx (Eumorpha vitis) (adult and larvae)
Obscure Sphinx (Erinnyis obscura) (larva)
Carolina Sphinx (Manducta sexta)

Before going on this trip I was watching Jack Cochran's observations while he was scouting the area. The Beautiful Pseudopyrausta observations jumped out at me and I was really hoping I would see one. Well, I got to see a lot, as that is a very common moth for this time of year in the area. Here is one of my observations of the species. They usually have their forewings spread, revealing the hindwings, but occasionally they will have their wings closed and you can be fooled into thinking you're seeing a different moth at first.


Beautiful Pseudopyrausta (Pseudopyrausta santatalis)

There was a tiny Sesiidae that showed up to the sheet the first night. This was one of my favorite moths due to the unusually small size and the fact that I have never seen a clearwing moth attracted to a lit sheet before. I believe this is Carmenta subaerea, but I'm awaiting confirmation from one of the Sesiidae experts. I actually brought my Sesiidae pheromone lure on the trip, but forgot to use it during the daylight hours. I put it out during dinner a little before sunset the last evening but we didn't see any moths attracted to it.


Carmenta subaerea?

We saw a lot of Graphic moths (Melipotini) each night, including at least 6 species: Royal Poinciana Graphic (Melipotis acontioides), Indomitable Graphic (Melipotis indomita), Melipotis agrotoides, Deduced Graphic (Bulia deducta), Cellar Graphic (Melipotis cellaris), and Forsebia cinis.

I just became aware of an undescribed species of Aristotelia earlier this year after photographing one in my backyard in Norman, Oklahoma. Several of us photographed the same species during Mega Moth. Here are my observations of it. This must be a fairly widespread species and it is pretty easy to distinguish from other Aristotelia. I'm surprised it has not yet been described and named.


undescribed Aristotelia

There were also a couple of new-to-me undescribed species, including a neat looking like Polyhymno moth and a Hayworm (Hypsopygia).


undescribed Polyhymno only known to occur in south Texas


undescribed Hypsopygia only known to occur in the LRGV

There were many observations of Bagisara moths over the weekend and there is some debate ongoing regarding the identification of these moths. There could be observations of both B. buxea and B. oula, but the identifying characteristics are not really clear at this point.

Birding

Personally this was only my second visit to the area. My previous trip was a single day of birding back in 2019. There was a guided bird walk on Saturday morning at the NBC and also some free time in the schedule when Rick and I roamed around looking for more birds. (Rick has never really birded seriously before and might be taking up the hobby soon. This was a fun way for him to get started with all of these cool birds we don't see in central Oklahoma.) I got several lifers and target birds on my first trip to this area, but still managed to see 7 more on this trip. I was only expecting 2 or 3. My new lifers included: Audubon's Oriole, Hooded Oriole, Groove-billed Ani, Common Ground Dove, Canada Warbler, Lesser Nighthawk, Rose-throated Becard (biggest surprise). In addition to the lifers, I really enjoyed getting to see these regional birds again: Olive Sparrows, Plain Chachalacas, Green Jays, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Clay-colored Thrushes, White-tipped Doves, Great Kiskadees, Harris's Hawks, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers, and Cactus Wrens. I dipped on seeing or hearing a Common Pauraque, but oddly ended up finding feathers of this bird. So I have a record on iNat, but not my official eBird life list.


surprise sighting of Rose-throated Becard (Pachyramphus aglaiae)


feather of Common Pauraque (Nyctidromus albicollis)

Butterflies

There's a reason they call this place the National Butterfly Center. According to iNat there have been 225 species of butterflies recorded on the property. While I didn't see nearly that many, I did see several that were new to me. Mexican Bluewings were numerous, although difficult to photograph with their wings open. The next most numerous species was Queen, which I have seen several times before. But there was one Soldier among these Queens, easily overlooked if you're not paying close attention. The Soldier was new for me. Lyside Sulphurs were also around in pretty good numbers and were new to me. I saw several Tropical Checkered-Skippers, a single Lantana Scrub-Hairstreak, a single Southern Skipperling, a couple of Brown Longtails, a few Large Orange Sulphurs, and a Celia Roadside-Skipper. Maybe my favorite photo of the weekend was a single Western Pygmy-Blue that was spotted at the NBC's Pixie Preserve.


Western Pygmy-Blue (Brephidium exilis)

Other Critters of Note

On our last night we spotted a very cute Couch's Spadefoot hopping across the path. This was a new species for me, even though they can be found in southwestern Oklahoma.

We saw a really cool mantis which I had not been aware of prior to this trip, the Texas Unicorn Mantis, which is aptly named after the protrusion from the forehead. This is actually two knobs, but they are so close together that they appear to be a single horn.


Texas Unicorn Mantis (Pseudovates chlorophaea)

I'm a beetle lover and gravitate towards Longhorn (Cerambycidae) and Tiger Beetles (Cicindelinae). I recorded at least 8 species of longhorn beetles over the weekend.

As I mentioned above, we found two species of Tiger Beetles at the Pixie Preserve. Saltmarsh Tiger Beetles were in abundance, and I found a single White-cloaked Tiger Beetle, which was new for me. At Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park I spotted another species which I have seen many times back in Oklahoma, Carolina Metallic Tiger Beetle.


White-cloaked Tiger Beetle (Eunota togata ssp. togata)

On the NBC property we found several tortoise beetles which specialize on a regional tree, the Anacua Tortoise Beetle. If you ever wanted to raise these beetles in captivity you could try feeding them sandpaper. The leaves of Anacua are rough.


Anacua Tortoise Beetle (Coptocycla texana)

I also saw a few really nice jumping spiders on the trip, Habronattus mexicanus and Three-lined Maevia (Paramaevia poultoni) - both new to me - and a Gray Wall Jumping Spider (Menemerus bivittatus), which I have seen before. This last one is not native to the Americas. It has a pantropical distribution after having been introduced many places. It is thought to have originated in Africa. I photographed one back in February in India.


Three-lined Maevia (Paramaevia poultoni)

Posted on September 13, 2023 06:43 PM by zdufran zdufran | 8 comments | Leave a comment

June 26, 2023

Recent lifer moths

For Pollinator Week I organized two different public Moth Nights, one in Norman, Oklahoma and another in Tulsa, Oklahoma (which sadly had to be postponed due to the ongoing storm cleanup). The Moth Night in Norman at Saxon Park was very fruitful, with a count of more than 170 species - my highest single night count ever. We also had a good crowd of humans - around 30, though I didn't do an actual head count.

During that evening I found 6 species which were new-to-me, aka "lifers."

Hypatopa punctiferella

There's nothing real significant about this find, although it might be a new county record. There are prior records in northeast and southeast Oklahoma.

Diviana eudoreella

This is a really good record, as it has not been recorded in Oklahoma before and the nearest observation is from around 400 miles away near the Rio Grande. Thanks to Jack (@jcochran706) for the ID! Check out the range map:

Black-etched Prominent (Americerura scitiscripta)

This is a beauty, even though it's a little worn! My fellow mothing cohort (Rick and Leah) had both seen this species before, but I had somehow missed out. This was probably my favorite find of the night.

Bucculatrix simulans

This is a first state record for Oklahoma and only the 2nd observation on iNaturalist. Currently there isn't a thumbnail/default photo for the species.

Hahncappsia pergilvalis

The only other Oklahoma observation of this species on iNaturalist is from the far west end of the OK panhandle. MPG has a record from northeast Oklahoma.

Moon-lined Moth (Spiloloma lunilinea)

This was a bittersweet one for me. I knew on sight what this was and that it was a lifer for me, but sad to see that it had been stepped on.

Non-lifers

In addition to these new sightings, I saw an emerald I had previously only seen outside of Oklahoma and a rare underwing I had only seen once before.


Ultronia Underwing (Catocala ultronia)

And my final entry in this post is a Gracillariidae that I have not been able to identify and feel like we should be able to track down.

Any ideas?

Posted on June 26, 2023 09:11 PM by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment

Fascista Identifications

In Oklahoma there are 3 species of Fascista known to occur, bimaculella, cercerisella, and quinella. The Redbud Leaffolder Moth (F. cercerisella) is by far the most commonly observed among these three species. However, I have found that often when F. quinella is observed it is misidentified as F. cercerisella. I think this is due to the prevalence of F. cercerisella and the iNaturalist suggestions only showing that species. I have spent some time going through all observations in Oklahoma and Texas which have been identified as F. cercerisella and provided disagreeing identifications for those that do not fit. These are most often F. quinella or Aroga compositella, although in one case I did notice a JUMPING SPIDER had been identified as F. cercerisella! After noticing the small geographic range of F. quinella I decided to expand my range of review to Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Kentucky. I found at least one new state record of this species in Arkansas, which had also been misidentified as F. cercerisella and quite a few Aroga compositella which had been misidentified as well.

Redbud Leaffolder Moth (Fascista cercerisella)

Features which help identify this species are the creamy white head, series of three white markings along the outer margin of the forewings, faint orange spots in the center of the forewings, and white markings along the inner margin in the postmedial. Note that most of these features are consistent with F. quinella, with the exception of the feature in bold.

This species is known to occur throughout much of the eastern United States.

Fascista quinella

For this species I will point out features which differ from the aforementioned species. Note the white marking in the antimedial section of the wing is thinner. Where F. cercerisella has faint orange dots, F. quinella has a larger white marking. The central white marking along the outer margin is much smaller than seen on F. cercerisella.

Unlike the first species, F. quinella has a smaller geographic distribution, being known to occur in Oklahoma, Texas, and Florida.

The question of larvae and host plants

The lifecyle of F. cercerisella is well understood and extensively documented. Eggs are laid on the leaves of Eastern Redbud (Cercis canadensis). After the larvae hatch they stitch together a leaf (as seen above), and proceed to feed and then pupate inside this folded leaf. This behavior leads to the specific epithet cercerisella and the common name Redbud Leaffolder. Larvae are black and white striped.

There are no known photographs of F. quinella larvae and no known host plants. That being said, there are a number of photographs of larvae inside the folded leaves of Redbuds where the larvae are all white. I considered that these might be F. quinella, although it is possible that these are an earlier instar of F. cercerisella, as this photo of both white and striped larvae intermingled would suggest.

All of the photographs of Fascista quinella adults are on sheets or other human structures; none on plants.

Geography

Further, if F. quinella uses Eastern Redbuds as host plants then it is curious that the species has not been documented throughout the entire range of this tree, which is widespread in the eastern United States.

Flight time

Based on observations on iNaturalist, Fascista quinella appears to have two broods per year, with a first brief flight time peaking in early April and the second and longer flight time peaking in mid July but lasting from late June through early September. This suggests that caterpillars could be found in May and June.

The flight times and number of broods of F. cercerisella is less clear. There are probably two broods for this species as well, with the second flight being most prominent in July, followed by the most observations of larvae in September.

Next steps

I could answer the question of the white larvae by rearing those to adulthood. I could also try to pair some adult Fascista quinella to see what the resulting larvae look like, although doing this ex situ would not reveal the host plant. I would have to hope that someone recognized the resulting larvae as something that had been found on a host plant before but not correlated to an adult.

Posted on June 26, 2023 08:33 PM by zdufran zdufran | 6 comments | Leave a comment

June 15, 2023

Chickasaw National Recreation Area observations

Last week I was camping with my family at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area - Point Campground, which is located near Lake of the Arbuckles (aka Arbuckle Lake) in Murray County. This area lies in the EPA Level III "Crosstimbers (29)" ecoregion and the Level IV "Northern Crosstimbers (29a)" ecoregion, which is the same ecoregion as my most common moth night location near Lake Thunderbird in Cleveland County.

The weather was pretty mild for this time of the year. I did have my lights set up one evening and then took them down before doing any observing because a storm rolled through and the wind picked up considerably. I was able to set up my lights and observe moths on 4 nights (June 4, 5, 8, and 9). I left my lights on overnight, so my daily counts include the morning-after photos when I woke up and checked the sheets. Moths seen in the morning are added to the previous night's tally. I kept a tally of all moth species seen the first night, then additional moths each subsequent night.

June 4: 106 species
June 5: 27 additional species
June 8: 9 additional species
June 9: 32 additional species

Total count: 174 species

It's kind of rare for me to spend more than 2 nights with lights set up at a location, but when I do I prefer this method of recording additional new species after the first night. It would be much too cumbersome and time-consuming to generate a complete species report for every night. My list is partly generated as I see the moths and partly through subsequent processing and identification of photos.

The most common moths were:

White-dotted Prominents (Nadata gibbosa) - I actually counted 38 of these at one time.
Yellow-based Cacozelia (Cacozelia basiochrealis)
American Dun-bar (Cosmia calami)
Delightful Dagger (Acronicta vinnula)
Little Nymph Underwing (Catocala micronympha)
Shagreened Slug Moth (Apoda biguttata)

Significant finds for me were:


Lupine Leafroller (Anacampsis lupinella)


Forbes' Idia (Idia forbesii)


Epiblema benignata


Acrobasis comptella

Non-moth observations:

My wife and I were able to go on some daytime forays at the National Recreation Area, but also to the Chickasaw Cultural Center, and the Blue River Public Fishing and Hunting Area. There were lots of flowers in bloom, including Blanketflowers (Gaillardia pulchella), Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta), and American Basketflowers (Plectocephalus americanus). We saw a few Texas Brown Tarantulas around the campground.

Texas Brown Tarantula (Aphonopelma hentzi)

I found a longhorn beetle which was new to me.

Aegomorphus quadrigibbus

I got to go on some hikes with my wife and we ran across multiple Mexican Yellow butterflies, which were new for me. I also saw my first ever Soapberry Hairstreaks!


Mexican Yellow (Abaeis mexicana)


Soapberry Hairstreak (Phaeostrymon alcestis)

On my last full day in the area I went out on a search for larvae of Frosted Elfin (I previously wrote Henry's Elfins by mistake). This is a species of special concern in Oklahoma with a very limited distribution, which includes Murray County. I knew that I first needed to locate the host plants, Yellow Wild Indigo. I found a lot of the plants, which I considered a success all on its own.


Yellow Wild Indigo (Baptisia sphaerocarpa)

I ended up finding more than a dozen larvae of the Genista Broom Moth on these plants, but no Frosted Elfins. I think I will plan to visit this same area next spring when the butterflies should be in flight and laying eggs to see if I can find some then.


Genista Broom Moth larve (Uresiphita reversalis)

Posted on June 15, 2023 09:37 PM by zdufran zdufran | 4 comments | Leave a comment

May 25, 2023

Wichita Mountains moth observations

My family spent another extended weekend camping, this time at the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Oklahoma (Comanche County). This area is in the EPA Level III “Central Great Plains” ecoregion and the Level IV “Wichita Mountains” ecoregion. There has been pretty good rainfall over the last few months and the wildflowers were on peak display. It was really gorgeous.

I set up my moth lights and sheets on two nights, May 18 and May 20. The night of May 19 was cool and very windy, and it was not worth trying to anchor all of my things. We stayed in the Doris campground which is in oak forest. There are some grassy clearings nearby with milkweeds, Monarda, and other flowering plants. All said, I recorded 69 or more species of moths on May 18 and an additional 30 species of moths on May 20, for a total of 99 species of moths.

The most common moths were:

Ochre Parachma Moth (Parachma ochracealis)
American Dun-bar Moth (Cosmia calami)
Jaguar Flower Moth (Schinia jaguarina)
Confused Meganola Moth (Meganola miniscula)
Some as-yet-unidentified Litini – maybe Pseudotelphusa

Significant finds for me were:


Scarlet Underwing (Catocala coccinata)


Pelochrista argentialbana


Eucosma grindeliana


Long-horned Grass Tubeworm (Acrolophus mortipennella)


Georgia Archips (Archips georgiana)


Speckled Black Pyla (Pyla fusca) - really not sure about this ID.


Euchaetes zella


Charred Dagger (Acronicta brumosa)


Indigobush Twig Borer (Hystrichophora taleana)


Eastern White-blotched Prominent (Heterocampa pulverea)

It's quite possible that some of my observations are county records, but I don't think any of them are state records.

Here are my observations which I haven't been able to identify.

Non-moth observations

With all of the flowers in bloom there were a lot of butterflies out and about. The most common were: Common Buckeye, Black Swallowtail, Dainty Sulphur, Question Mark, and Hackberry Emperor.


I saw my lifer Oak Hairstreak, which I didn’t recognize on sight as being a new species for me.

I also saw a lifer bird, a Zone-tailed Hawk, which has been hanging around this area during breeding season for the last couple of years.
We saw a lot of Bison, Longhorn Cattle, Black-tailed Prairie Dogs, several Eastern Collared Lizards, a few Prairie Lizards, a coyote.

You can find all of my observations from the weekend here.

Posted on May 25, 2023 04:09 AM by zdufran zdufran | 5 comments | Leave a comment

May 05, 2023

Alabaster Caverns moth observations

Last weekend my family and I went camping at Alabaster Caverns State Park in northwest Oklahoma (Woodward County). The nearby city of Woodward has a few moth observers. There are other state parks in the area (Boiling Springs, Little Sahara, Gloss Mountains, and Salt Plains), which means there are nature-oriented people making observations in these areas - more so than in a lot of the sparsely populated western half of the state. That being said, there aren't a whole lot of insect observations at this particular state park. The park has varying terrain including a deep canyon with a spring-fed creek north of the campground. This canyon includes one of the entrances to the 3/4 mile long gypsum cave. The state park lies within the EPA Level III ecoregion of "Central Great Plains" and Level IV ecoregion of "Gypsum Hills." (source)

I set up my moth lights and sheets on two nights, Saturday, April 29 and Sunday, April 30. There was decent activity at the lights on Saturday night but Sunday night was almost a complete bust. I observed 65 or more species of moths on Saturday and 2 additional species on Sunday. The area where I set up the lights was south of the campground, close to a grove of trees in a lower lying area, which was sheltered from wind somewhat. (Google map link)

The most common moths were:

Army Cutworm Moth (Euxoa auxilliaris)
Pale Graphic (Drasteria pallescens)
Deduced Graphic (Bulia deducta)

Significant finds were:


Ponometia altera [OK STATE RECORD & lifer]


Arizona Bird-dropping Moth (Ponometia elegantula) [OK STATE RECORD & lifer]


Digrammia triviata [lifer]


Narrow-winged Midget (Tarache augustipennis) [lifer]


Melitara subumbrella - my first time to see in Oklahoma


Harvey's Prominent (Litodonta hydromeli) - my first time to ever see one all gray, completely lacking any green. I didn't recognize this as a Harvey's and thought I was seeing something new to me.


Radcliffe's Dagger (Acronicta radcliffei) - I've only seen this species once before and saw several on Saturday evening.

I imagine at least a handful of the 67+ species are county records but I haven't taken the time yet to go through each one and compare with the county list.

Interesting & unidentified:


Pococera - I'm considering this could be a species I haven't seen before, P. subcanalis. If not, it's probably P. asperatella or P. expandens.


Eucosmiini - I'm thinking this is probably from the genera Eucosma or Pelochrista but I haven't found a good match in either of those yet.


Eucosmiini - this is a really attractive little Tortricid moth that I think is from the genus Eucosma, but I haven't determined which species yet.


I'm pretty sure I have this one in the right family (Tortricidae), but I could be wrong. I'd be happy for any help identifying this one.

Non-moth observations

I saw a lot of Lemon Paintbrush (Castilleja citrina) in bloom - my first time seeing that species. Bird observations of note were Bewick's Wrens singing, lots of Lark Sparrows, a pair of Ladder-backed Woodpeckers, a Louisiana Waterthrush (which eBird flags as rare for this location), a huge flock of Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and my lifer Common Poorwills singing after dark. In the cave we saw several bats and I was able to get photographs of two species: Tricolored and Cave Myotis.

You can find all of my observations from this state park here.

Posted on May 05, 2023 07:05 PM by zdufran zdufran | 2 comments | Leave a comment

June 11, 2019

My 500th moth in Oklahoma

Yesterday I noticed that I had recorded 499 species in the Moths of Oklahoma project. Wow! One more and I would hit the 500 mark!

So, last night when I saw a Deadwood Borer (Scolecocampa liburna) on my sheet I was pretty excited. I had seen other observations of this species in Oklahoma, but hadn't yet seen it myself. It was fun that when I saw it I knew that it was my 500th.

I know I have a number of observations that have not been identified to species level and also some that may be misidentified, so my total species count will likely go up and down a bit, but for the time being the Deadwood Borer is my #500.

I am now in my 3rd year of pretty regular mothing and it is astounding and exciting how many new moths I continue to see - mostly in my own backyard. I love moths and it is so much fun to continue seeing new species on a regular basis. That is the main draw for me.

Posted on June 11, 2019 03:32 PM by zdufran zdufran | 0 comments | Leave a comment