Happy Friday, Moth Maniacs!!! We hope you’re having a great Friday. This week we took a giant step backwards as temperatures fell below freezing again, and we had snow in April!!! This is a setback for the start of the bug season here, because not only are the maturing butterflies forced back into hibernation, but their caterpillar’s food plants are also delayed from sprouting leaves. This kind of delay forces some species to lose a generation in late autumn. It’s depressing for those of us who have been looking forward to this year’s insect season. That’s why we hope this week’s Friday Flyers will put you in a good mood and fill you with anticipation for the summer. This week we’re featuring a group of very brightly colored moths that are surprisingly abundant…even in your own back yard! So now without any further ado, say hello to the Underwing Moths.
Underwing Moths are members of the Noctuiid moth family, the largest family of moths. There are Underwings and their close relatives on every continent except Antarctica. There are many tropical species, but there are a surprising number in North America too. And unlike most groups, the North American species are as brightly colored as their tropical cousins. Most of the classic North American Underwing Moths belong to the genus Catocola. The species range in size from about 1 ½ inches to over 3 inches in wingspan. They all have stout bodies with very strong wing muscles, and threadlike antennae. But their most striking characteristic is the contrast between their forewings and their hind wings. The forewings are various shades of grey, brown, or black, with cryptic patterns that resemble tree bark. The hind wings are usually spectacularly “showy” with stripes and patches of yellow, orange, pink, and red, on a very dark background. When at rest, Underwing Moths sit with their forewings flat and horizontal covering their hind wings, usually in a characteristic “arrowhead” shape. When disturbed, they momentarily reveal their brightly colored hind wings, fly away very rapidly, and land on another close by tree, only to disappear as their cryptic forewings again cover their colorful hind wings. We have posted several composite photos today. All of the photographed specimens can be seen at various times during the summer…in our own back yards!!! But you won’t see them unless you know how to find them. So here are a few tricks to help you.
First, like most moths, Underwings are attracted to lights AT NIGHT. But for real success, you need lights with some ultraviolet content. Regular light bulbs probably won’t attract very many. The best lights for finding moths are ultraviolet “black lights” or the very bright mercury vapor lights that are often used as street lights or to illuminate buildings. The Underwings won’t necessarily fly directly to the lights. They will usually land near the perimeter of the lighted area on a textured surface like a tree trunk or the wood siding on a house. You’ll usually find several species, but the assortment changes as the summer progresses.
The second method to attract them is to use bait AT NIGHT. Remember, these moths are night flyers. The best bait is a mixture of rotting bananas, brown sugar, molasses, and even a little beer mixed in. The beer helps the other ingredients to ferment, and usually bait that is a day or two old works the best. The method is to “paint” the mixture onto tree trunks, and periodically check them. The more trees you paint the better. But be sure to paint them at “eye level”. Otherwise it makes observing them too difficult.
For those of you who don’t like to be out at night, there is a daytime method that is often successful. This method is called “tapping”. The idea is to tap on tree trunks with a strong stick to scare the moths into flying. When one files, you watch where it lands, and then slowly and carefully approach it at its new location. This method is best used in a fairly dense forested area, one with mature trees. We know people who have seen ten or more species in an afternoon using this technique. It’s fun. And even if you don’t see any moths, you’ll see many other things on the trail, and you’ll get some exercise too! One very important caution here. Be sure there are no wasp nests in the trees you are tapping!!!
So there you have it. There are many collectors and photographers who specialize in Underwing Moths. They are so beautiful and variable. When you see a well organized collection, it’s very impressive. If you would like to add some Underwing moths to your collection, we’d be happy to help you get started. Our Wonders Of Nature department is a great place to get some ideas. See you on the trail!
And don’t forget to visit the Friday Flyers archive on our website. You can now refer to all of the past editions complete with all the photos, in a stable, permanent, non-shifting, non-facebook format. We hope you’ll visit our website and check it out at:
We hope you enjoyed this week’s edition of Friday Flyers. We love sharing our interest in butterflies and insects with you. Please enjoy the photos we have posted with this week’s edition, and be sure to see all the previous pictures in our Friday Flyers album. Remember to “like” our Wonders Of Nature page, and be sure to pass it along to all your Facebook Friends. We hope you’ll visit our Wonders Of Nature department soon, and we look forward to seeing you.