Moths of Greater Austin, TX's Journal

April 18, 2023

Identifying a Texas Endemic Phycitine Pyralid Moth

Several of us recently attended a special mothing event April 15 at the Snowden Tract of Travis County's Balcones Canyonlands Preserves in NW Austin. The mothing was very good (around 200 species IDed so far), including many individuals of a small Phycitine Pyralid that had us scratching our collective heads. @jcochran706 did some sleuthing and pointed us towards some BOLD images of a Central Texas endemic that has been "rarely collected" (Neunzig, MONA fasc. 15.3, p. 68): Ephestiodes mignonella. The Moth Photographers’ Group page for the species, at this writing, has no images but I’ve written Steve Nanz to invite him to add some of our recent discoveries. BugGuide currently has no page for the species, a situation which should change soon.

For purposes of the present discussion, I am going to coin a somewhat whimsical common name for this species, the “Cute Plateau Pyralid”. If you’re curious, this is based not only on the geography of the species (confined primarily to the Edwards Plateau of Texas) but also on the first English word suggested by Google Translate for the base term “mignon” in French. The original authors of the genera Ephestia and Ephestiodes were French, and although Harrison Dyar, author of Ephestiodes mignonella, did not state as much, he was probably naming the species based on a Latinized derivative of the French word. So “CPP” it is, for the time being. This link will give you the array of presently-identified examples of CPP on iNaturalist.

2x2 dorsal comparison small
Photo Credits: 1st, 3rd, & 4th by @jcochran706, Williamson Co., TX; 2nd by @amzapp, Edwards Co., TX

Photo Credits: Both by @jcochran706, Willliamson Co., TX.

The Cute Plateau Pyralid is a close relative of the abundant (and over-identified) Dusky Raisin Moth (Ephestiodes gilvescentella; hereafter DRM). Many of the images of CPP on iNat were either mis-IDed by iNat’s Computer Vision as DRM, labelled inaccurately by observers, or just placed understandably as “Phycitinae”. After reviewing the BOLD images, rereading Neunzig's account of the species, and studying about 40 to 50 images on iNaturalist, I've compiled the following notes on how to separate CPP from DRM.

As we understand the taxon, the CPP is a central Texas endemic (type locality: Kerrville, TX), found mainly in the eastern and southern portions of the Edwards Plateau, with records from Hamilton County south and west to Edwards County. Neunzig mentioned that the species has a limited flight season in the early Spring. Dates of the available set of images range from March 16 to May 14, with the vast majority occuring from mid-April to early May.

Ephestiodes mignonella iNat 73771451a Ephestiodes gilvescentella iNat 153094978a
Left: Cute Plateau Pyralid, E. mignonella. Right: Dusky Raisin Moth, E. gilvescentella
Photo Credits: Both images by @jcochran706, Williamson Co., TX. Left: 11 April 2021, Right: 31 March 2023.

Summary: Identifying CPP: Compared to the DRM, the forewings (FWs) of CPP are proportionally wider and the FW apex more acute and outer margin more oblique. The buff ground color of CPP is more apparent due to a lighter peppering of black scales, rendering other lines and marks more obvious and crisper. Both the antemedial (AM) and postmedian (PM) lines of CPP are crisper and usually more complete than on DRM. The AM line on CPP appears more oblique; that of DRM closer to perpendicular. CPP usually has a distinct black post-basal patch or streak, lacking or not obvious on DRM. The heavy black overscaling of DRM can blend with the black shading on the AM and PM lines and is especially heavy in the median and subterminal areas of the FW.

Detailed Comparison: CPP is similar to DRM but its shape is quite different: The forewings are proportionally broader and not as parallel-sided. The FW apex is slightly acute and the outer margin is inwardly oblique to the tornal angle, contrasting with the squared to evenly rounded FW apex and outer margin of DRM. Most of the thorax and FWs have a distinctive buff-gray to pale olive-gray ground color similar to DRM, but all markings are more distinct, lacking most of the peppering of black scales of DRM. CPP usually has an obvious post-basal black streak, blotch, or spot occupying the middle of the basal 1/3 of the FW. This can take the form of an irregular black patch or might be reduced to a narrow rectangular streak. By contrast, DRM may have a scattering of black scales in the basal 1/3 of the FW but these rarely coalesce into anything resembling a patch or streak.

The white and black AM bands provide an important distinction between these two species. On both species the white AM line comes off the costal margin slightly distally oblique. On DRM, this white line curves or bends abruptly to reach the inner margin nearly perpendicular. The overall effect is of a relatively perpendicular or slightly (distally) bowed AM line. On about half of the images on iNat, this white line may have a very short distal turn at the inner margin but the overall effect is minor, still leaving the overall line looking mostly perpendicular. By contrast, most examples of CPP have the white AM line with a double zig-zag and meeting the inner margin at an outwardly oblique angle, thus giving the whole AM line an oblique look. There is quite a bit of variation in this line on the two species but basically, the AM line is more perpendicular on DRM and appears more jagged and oblique on CPP.

The black shading on the distal side of the white AM band differs recognizably in the two species. On CPP, the black shading is relatively crisp and complete from costal to inner margin. It is not usually broken by buff streaks as frequently seen on DRM. The rear edge of this black shading, while not crisply defined, is far less blurred than that typically seen on DRM. On the latter species, this post-AM line black shading is blurry and diffuse, sometimes broken into two or three separate black blotches which blur rearward into the heavily salt-and-pepper median area of the FW. In the median space on CPP, the black discal dots are bold, standing out on the mixed white and buff ground color which has only a slight admixture of black scales. On DRM, the median area is heavily peppered with black scales often obscuring the discal dots to a greater or lesser degree.

The inwardly oblique black and white PM line is fairly similar on both species but it shows up much more crisply on CPP due to the lack of black overscaling. On CPP, the white PM line is completely lined by black on the basal side and by brown on the distal edge. On DRM, the peppering of black scales in the post-PM line area can be light to heavy, generally rendering the PM line less distinct.

Both species have a terminal row of black dots which may be separate or coalesce into a black terminal line.

A caveat to this whole account is that we have not yet had any specimens from the Austin area checked for genitalic or DNA confirmation of the identity we’re placing on them. Local moth-ers are encouraged to collect a few of these and preserve them so we might send them off to a qualified expert for such determinations.

Posted on April 18, 2023 10:58 PM by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 5 comments | Leave a comment

March 20, 2023

Inaugural Texas moth festival – Mega Moth Mission

I’m excited to announce a moth festival at the National Butterfly Center (NBC) in Mission, Texas, a 100-acre private nature reserve in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (LRGV). The festival will take place over the 2023 Labor Day Weekend, Sep 1-4. The website at the end of this post contains all the details, but I can summarize the happenings here.

As you might expect from a diverse biological area like the LRGV, moth and other nocturnal insect species numbers are quite high. At the same time, the area is very under-mothed, which opens the door for exciting discoveries. Ten or more moth sheets and numerous bait logs will be set up at NBC during Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Additionally, a close-by sister property with different habitat, Pixie Preserve, will be available for mothing on Sunday night.

But wait, there’s more! Guest speakers, including Chuck Sexton (@gcwarbler), a moth expert in central Texas and a top mentor for me, and Kate Farkas (@k8thegr8), who is a royal in the caterpillar and host plant knowledge world. Night hike, bird walk, photography workshop, butterflies, keynote speaker’s dinner, native plants for moths, caterpillar workshop…

Please attend and help make this event a success so it can be an annual occurrence!

Mega Moth Mission

Posted on March 20, 2023 11:36 AM by jcochran706 jcochran706 | 1 comment | Leave a comment

February 16, 2023

February 10, 2023

Native Host Plants for Texas Moths presentation – Feb 16, 2023

Last night I was delighted to catch the Native Plant Society of Texas (Williamson County Chapter) sponsored presentation, Native Host Plants for Texas Moths, by Jim and Lynne Weber. Jim and Lynne are accomplished naturalists living in the central Texas region who have published several books that include their wonderful wildlife photography. Their excellent talk covered examples of nectar and host plants, as well as details on interactions between moths and those plants. I have to say though, as a wanna-be photographer, my favorite parts were the stunning pictures they showed of caterpillars and adult moths.

Those of you who are members of Travis Audubon likely received an email that you can attend the same interactive Zoom presentation with Jim and Lynne on Thu, Feb 16, 7-8 PM. I highly encourage your participation. It’s unclear to me if you have to be a member of Travis Audubon to join the talk, but I’ve included an announcement link below that is on the Travis Audubon website.

Posted on February 10, 2023 08:32 PM by jcochran706 jcochran706 | 1 comment | Leave a comment

December 20, 2022

Assembly Moth (Samea ecclesialis), not anymore…

Recently while doing some identifications of Moths of Greater Austin, TX, I ran across a taxonomic update for Assembly Moth (Samea ecclesialis). Apparently Samea ecclesialis does not occur north of Mexico and all moths previously “correctly” identified as such are really Stained-glass Moth (Samea castellalis). In fact, if you search for Samea ecclesialis at the Moth Photographers Group site, you’ll hit on Samea castellalis.

From the MPG link above: “Samea ecclesialis is not found north of Mexico and males lack large abdominal tufts.”

If you’re wondering about the “abdominal tufts” you can see them on the male Stained-glass Moth at the link below. They look like a black band on one of the last segments of the moth’s abdomen, close to the tail.

The female moth does not have these abdominal tufts.

Some of you have already noted this name update, as I did find 9 Stained-glass Moth reports for the Greater Austin area. However, many moth observers in Texas and elsewhere in the USA, like me about an hour ago, may still be in the dark.

The current numbers of Assembly Moth observations in iNaturalist are: USA – 1433, Texas – 794, and Greater Austin, TX – 121.

The current numbers of Stained-glass Moth observations in iNaturalist are: USA – 321, Texas – 39, and Greater Austin, TX – 9.

So… if you happen to read this and want to update your Samea observations, go for it. Or, I’ll try to update identifications as I have time.

Additional reading: (Jack’s wakeup call) (Good discussion on update)

And confusingly, you can find reference to Samea ecclesialis as the Stained-glass Moth.

Posted on December 20, 2022 10:03 PM by jcochran706 jcochran706 | 9 comments | Leave a comment

November 28, 2022

Moth Photographers Group tips

Jack mentioned Moth Photographers' Group in a previous post. I recently wrote a journal entry which outlines some tips for using MPG. I'm cross-posting a link to that offering here:

Posted on November 28, 2022 12:48 PM by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 1 comment | Leave a comment

August 28, 2022

Moth Identification Resources

One of the things I struggled with when I first got into this “sport” of mothing was trying to identify what I photographed. Fortunately, the Computer Vision of iNaturalist provides helpful suggestions that in many cases are right on for the correct identification. But not always. Reasons for inaccurate suggestions include the large number of central Texas moths that still need to be added to the iNaturalist computer vision model, look-alike species that are hard to distinguish by photographs alone, sexual dimorphism in some moths, and variability within the same species of moth. These difficulties aside, there are moth identification resources available outside of iNaturalist that can be quite helpful. This post is for listing some of those resources, rather than how to best make use of them. That will be done in later posts. In the meantime, click on the links below the resource descriptions and take a few test drives.

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Southeastern North America (paperback book of digitally manipulated color photographs, Peterson Identification System with text and arrows for key field marks, moth size, range maps that include central Texas, flight period charts, host plant information, helpful moth appearance/anatomy terms and illustrations)

Moth Photographers Group (collection of moth photos and range maps, reviewable plate series of moths by family, searchable by state or general geographic location, some caterpillar photos, detailed identification features/warnings for some moths)

BugGuide (collection of moth and other bug photos, searchable by state, ID request through photo submission, host plant information when known)

New computer vision model (iNaturalist’s Blog)

Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Southeastern North America

Moth Photographers Group


P.S. I’m still struggling to identify moths! But I hope I'm getting better…

Posted on August 28, 2022 08:19 PM by jcochran706 jcochran706 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

July 22, 2022

National Moth Week: July 23-31, 2022

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the first day (night?) of National Moth Week (NMW), which runs from July 23-31. I’m sure we’ll have a few moth enthusiasts from the Greater Austin area turning on porch lights, hanging sheets, shining UV lights, etc., in hopes of attracting some winged photographic subjects. I’ll brave the central Texas heat to see if I can find a few at my house.

NMW has a website where you can read about the background of the event, meet the team behind the event, and get tips on how to “find” moths. In addition, there is an Events Map for public and private mothing efforts across the world. Texas is well represented on that map, but it looks like Greenland could use some help if anyone has time to visit there.

National Moth Week partners with iNaturalist to record observations during the event. You can “Join Project” at the link below.

Happy mothing everyone!

Posted on July 22, 2022 06:25 PM by jcochran706 jcochran706 | 4 comments | Leave a comment

July 18, 2022

Welcome to Moths of Greater Austin, TX

Welcome to Moths of Greater Austin, TX, an iNaturalist Collection Project to collate moth observations in the Greater Austin, TX region defined by iNaturalist, which includes Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Hayes, Travis, and Williamson counties. The project administrators are Jack Cochran (jcochran706) and Chuck Sexton (gcwarbler). You can read more detailed Bios on our iNaturalist profile pages, but the relevant part here is that we are both moth enthusiasts.

In addition to collecting the Greater Austin moth observations in one place for review, other goals for the project include:

Increasing enthusiasm for observing moths by discussing various techniques to attract and photograph them.

Helping with identification of moths. With approximately 1800 species of moths in the Greater Austin area, putting a name on a moth can be challenging, especially when some are very similar. We’ll provide a list of resources, and tips and tricks, to make the task a bit easier.

Using the project observations to support updates to the proposed “Checklist of the Moths of Central Texas”. More information on the checklist is located at the link below.

Good mothing!

Posted on July 18, 2022 06:39 PM by jcochran706 jcochran706 | 1 comment | Leave a comment