Sunday, 18 July 2010

Lake Forest Park 13th June 2010

Spilosoma virginica - Yellow Woollybear Tiger Moth

A bit of white sticking out from the underside of a Mycelis muralis leaf turned out to be this - photographed with camera on the ground pointing up.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Mount Pilchuck

Hiked up to the sub-alpine zone the next day (through some old growth hemlock-fir forest, very nice but still a snowfield above about 1000m) and was able to find one more moth: the day flying Western White-ribboned Carpet - Mesoleuca gratulata below the snow line amongst Rubus. Bugguide's description is very appropriate "GRATULATA: from the Latin "gratulatus" (to express joy or gratification at the sight of); the first yearly sighting of these pretty and conspicuous day-flying moths is gratifying because it is a sure sign of spring in the west"

Wilderness mothing

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Packed out my new 15W blacklight and 12V battery on a bivouac trip to Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest on Thursday night. Miles from nearest road where cougars and bears roam - thought I might see a couple of new moths. This was the view from my hammock spot about 500m up on the valley-side.

Ectropis crepuscularia - Small Engrailed

Cladara limitaria - Mottled Grey Carpet much less green than the individual that turned up at the house early May.
Venusia sp. (pearsalli or obsoleta - differentiation is beyond me and would seem to require DNA analysis)

Eupithecia sp.
Triphosa haesitata
The light worked, in spite of persistent drizzle, bringing in a couple of dozen moths. Alas, it was the usual suspects - various grey-brown geometers, and little diversity, all recorded in Seattle some weeks earlier but tailing off now: Western Carpet, Tissue Moth, a Venusia, one or possibly two Eupithecia species and the Small Engrailed. But this was interesting in itself. Spring has been slow coming and at this altitude many of the understorey herbs flowering in the Puget trough late April, early May were just out now.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Lake Forest Park 16th June 2010

A few more native species have turned up at the house including Pale Beauty, Campaea perlata, Dark Marbled Carpet, Dysstroma citrata and Pale-marked Angle, Macaria signaria. Also a rather nice greenish pug which may prove impossible to identify. (22/6/2010 - this turned up again and was in fact 'Green Pug' - Pasaphila rectangulata, another European species! According to bugguide it was only introduced in 1970.)

Campaea perlata - Pale Beauty

Dysstroma citrata - more typically dark than the Vancouver Island specimen

Macaria signaria - this is a subspecies (dispunctata) of the moth known as Dusky Peacock in the UK (subsp. signaria)

Wednesday, 16 June 2010


Arriving back in Seattle the moth season was announced by a single Large Yellow Underwing settled on the light by the front door! The next day it was joined by a Small Magpie (Eurrhypara hortulata), another 'weedy' Eurasian species which seems to thrive in suburban woody edges with plenty of nettles. According to bugguide its distribution in the US is, as yet, 'patchy and not well known'.

Small Magpie - Eurrhypara hortulata 8th June 2010

Next to show up was the familiar White Shouldered House Moth (Endrosis sarcitrella) - Zsofi found it in the house. The history of this urban moth in the New World is slightly mysterious. First recorded in California in 1902 and now present along the Pacific coast and in Nevada's towns it also has populations in in Illinois and the Northeast US. As in the UK, it is not generally recorded in natural habitats and seldom far from human habitation, so it seems likely that this is an early introduced species.

White Shouldered House Moth - Endrosis sarcitrella 8th June 2010

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Vancouver Island 6th June 2010

Port Renfrew, British Columbia
Not Washington at all, but not far away, in fact I could see Washington from here:
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Saturday was the first warm, dry day in what seems a long time, which was fortuitous because we were on a boat off Victoria doing the ecotourism bit, taking shaky photographs of Orca fins. An awesome sight and a privilege but an experience with which I was not totally comfortable - paying to be shown wildlife safari-style. Still I was reassured that a substantial cut of our fare would go to a marine conservation and research fund. Anyway, the following night we were staying in a lodge in the woods and there was a definite sense of moths in the air. Well into June, but this was the first night I could really say this. It was warmish and still, with some cloud cover. And dark, unlike Seattle.

So I took a stroll before bed with torch and net. Almost immediately I found a large noctuid settled by an electric light on the facing planks of the lodge. I must admit to being somewhat disappointed to see on closer inspection that it was a Large Yellow Underwing. Not that I have anything against Noctua pronuba per se (they are sometimes much maligned by UK moth-ers) - a handsome moth - it's just that I was hoping for something native to Pacific Northwest Forests rather than a species which can be recorded in its hundreds in an English suburban garden. I came across it last year in Seattle so knew it was present on the Pacific coast. What surprised, and alarmed, me is that the LYU is not, as you might expect, a long established introduction that came with Euroamerican colonisation of the west, along with the many Eurasian weeds which are rife here. According to Powell and Opler it was first recorded  in 1979 having been accidentally introduced to Nova Scotia . In just thirty years it has become established from California (and Mexico?) to Alaska. You have to be impressed by its fecundity and versatility. I wonder how much its spread has been aided by the well established network of European-like weedy, garden, agricultural and suburban habitat available to the moth or whether it would have invaded the rich semi-natural habitats of the Pacific just as well without them.

Noctua pronuba - a 'weedy species' which, in the opinion of Lafontaine (eminent Canadian lepidopterist), will soon occur throughout the non-desert habitats of the west.

Continuing away from the garden-ish area around the lodge down an unpaved road through regrowing Red cedar and Douglas fir woodland with Salal and bunchberry dogwood and Twinflower in the understorey I found these and some salamanders in a small pool by the trackway. And - at last - not just greyish geometrids...

Dargida procinctus - Olive Green Cutworm. A beauty but I can't find much out about it except that there are several flights throughout the year and that the larvae feed on Phalaris arundinacea.

Dysstroma citrana - Dark marbled carpet. Seemed to me very light but I am sure that is what it is. The same species as the British 'Dark marbled carpet' but for some reason Chloroclysta is used as the genus name in Europe and Dysstroma here.

 Another Xanthorhoe sp. and one not seen before, probably pontiaria.

Acronicta grisea - found this one on the 'skeeter screen' back at the lodge. Larvae feed on foliage of several broadleaved trees. Known as the 'Gray Dagger' it is a relative of the British 'Grey Dagger', Acronicta psi, in this mainly holarctic genus of some 175 species (Powell & Opler).

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Victoria, British Columbia 5th June 2010

These caterpillars were everywhere in Victoria on Saturday - they seemed to be falling from the sky. I believe it is the larva of a Lasiocampid, Malacosoma californicum (blue pigmentation is rare in caterpillars and apparently characteristic of Malacosoma), which I suppose might be termed the 'California Lackey'. Here it is known as the Western tent Caterpillar though; it spends its early instars gregariously in large tented colonies spun amongst the branches of broadleaved trees. At maturity the caterpillars 'become solitary' and wander off in search of pupation sites. This is presumably what the numerous pavement and parking lot specimens we saw, often far from vegetation, were doing. This individual wandered onto Zsofi's clothing, which did not please her, but provided me with an opportunity to carry it off and surreptitiously photograph it.

useful websites:
Caterpillars of Pacific Northwest Forests and Woodlands by Jeffrey C. Miller (USGS site)
Butterflies and Moths of Southern Vancouver Island by Jeremy B. Tatum

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Barberry Geometer?

On the whole, not many moths seen in May, and most of them were difficult to identify geometrids. Only 2 Noctuids (of the same species), and the occasional micro. It has been cold and wet much of the time. After many near mothless nights I was glad to find these two 'new' species on the outside wall on May 29th. I am saying the first is a barberry geometer, a common moth in these parts so the books say. I guess its larvae eat Oregon grape of which there is plenty around. However, to my eyes it is awfully similar to the Tissue moth differing only in minor features in terms of wing pattern at least... The discal spot - which I persuaded myself existed on this one - is the clincher. I may change my mind.

Barberry Geometer - Coryphista meadii

unknown (one of a growing list of unkown Geometer photos). I think it is somewhere in the Caberini but not even certain of that.

Two nights ago, there was also a species of pug I haven't seen here before, brownish, quite large at an inch wingspan. If it comes back I will try to photograph and id.

Friday, 21 May 2010

The Nameless

This was a nice surprise last night - the first Noctuid I have seen in almost a month. A sort of Clint Eastwood among the Pinions, seen here enjoying a drink from a damp salmonberry leaf after its temporary confinement while I attempted to name it. Like our Lithophane species it flies late in the year, hibernates, and flies again in spring. (Of 65 species in this Holarctic genus half a dozen are found in the UK and 44 in North America according to Powell and Opler).

Lithophane innominata - The Nameless Pinion - 19/5/2010 Lake Forest Park, attracted to houselights

Two other moths came and must also be nameless for now. One is another Hydriomena sp. (or possibly the same as below). The smaller (it has a wingspan of about 20mm), plainer species shown here has, I think, visited at least 3 times before this month. Frustratingly, I do not know what it is. Possibly a species of Venusia...

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Sagebrush Steppe - brown wave among clouds of blues

We ventured east of the Cascade mountains again on Sunday to Umtanum Creek, Kittitas county. This area is technically rain shadow desert environment and now is a good time to visit - before it gets too hot and the vegetation is not yet parched. It was still pretty hot on Sunday. Photographed hundreds of plants, many in flower, saw my first Western Bluebird. Many rattlesnakes. Just the one moth.

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Sagebrush steppe or desert habitat in the valley of the Umtanum Creek, west of Yakima Canyon. Prairie Lupins and Balsamroot (the yellow flower) are in bloom.

The Umtanum Creek (left) is mosaiked with sagebrush steppe & rocky grassland around the lower talus slopes of the valley, woody riparian scrub and groves of aspen and cottonwood trees on its floor.
In spite of the abundance of unseen before wildlife was pleased to find a moth on this trip. Clouds of blues (I think these are mostly Boisduval's Blue Plebejus icarioides) were congregating around the creek (rushing, presumably from high altitude snow-melt) and sipping moisture from the small patches of damp silt at its margins (left, the photo also shows some rather bedraggled Equisetum arvense but Equisetum laevigatum was also present - this is the smooth stalked scouring rush - which seems a somewhat oxymoronic name). The mesic zone in this landscape is very narrow and walking along the creek feels like visiting a ribbon oasis in a wilderness of dry basalt rock and sagebrush. We also saw a number of Checkerspots and a yellowish bird-size butterfly which I couldn't get close enough to photograph or identify. The small moth, which was also sipping water from the silt, is the Dark-ribboned Wave (Leptostales rubromarginaria) - the only western member of a Geometrid genus - endemic to the new world - of about 55 species.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

More spring Geometrids

Triphosa haesitata - Tissue Moth - 8/5/2010 Lake Forest Park

Hydriomena sp. - 8/5/2010 Lake Forest Park

Xanthorhoe defensaria - 11/5/2010 Lake Forest Park

Still little moth activity over the last few days. The odd spring flying geometrid settles by the outside lights, and not every night. Still, they are not all easy to identify... The top one is a Tissue Moth, which is a congener of the British 'Tissue' (Triphosa dubitata). It is a very handsome insect not really done justice by this photo. They fly in summer, overwinter as adults and fly again in spring. I recorded this species here on 21st August when last in the States. Like dubitata, the larvae feed on Rhamnaceae.
Next is a species of Highflyer (Hydriomena) but I have not been able to determine species. Possibly H. irata but there are 56 North American species plus an estimated 10 undescribed in the West (as opposed to 3 in the U.K.) There are a few photographs online of specimens with almost identical markings but the captions all refer to Hydriomena sp. Pictures of named species in the books and websites I see look different.
Third is Xanthorhoe defensaria. Probably. Xanthorhoe is another fairly speciose genus with many similar species.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Still cold... dusting of moss green scales on mottled grey carpet

Cladara sp. - Lake Forest Park 7/5/2010

Yesterday and today the sun has broken through the cloud, quite warm in the afternoons and a few more butterflies about. Still very cold at night, but this morning, one 'new' species to admire by the outside lights. I believe it is Cladara limitaria - the Mottled Gray Carpet but it may be another of the three species in this American genus.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

And one of last year's Boarmiinids...

Brown-lined Looper - Neoalcis californiaria (Geometridae) - Lake Forest Park 31/8/2009, attracted to outside lights.

Another very chilly night and no moths except a Sabulodes aegrotata which we found the night before last and has been resting on the window frame since. Catching up with photographs taken in the summer, this is of the same Boarmiini tribe as the two below. Like Melanolophia the larvae feed on Douglas Fir and various other conifers. On that topic, the Douglas Fir branch I had been keeping in the garden with Silver-Spotted Tiger larvae feeding on it has today disappeared - no doubt 'tidied away' by someone.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Disentangling spring Geometrids

Small Engrailed - Ectropis crepuscularia (Geometridae), Lake Forest Park 28/4/2010
Western Carpet or Green-striped Forest Looper - Melanolophia imitata (Geometridae), Lake Forest Park 1/5/2010
After initial perplexity have separated and tentatively named these two similar moths (both attracted to outside house lights) as above with the help of some good internet resources. The distinguishing features are that the Wester Carpet has a small blackish discal spot on the forewing, a more prominently scalloped post-median line - especially at the trailing edge and a sub-terminal line consisting of black spots (in Ectropis the ST line is better likened to a row of tooth marks). Both species are rather variable but the darkest wing marking on Ectropis crepuscularia is said to be the blackish area along the post-median line near the centre of the forewing. May yet revise this identification if I get to see more individuals.

Thanks to these websites for an excellent set of photographs for comparison and useful notes on identifying marks:
Moth Photographers Group (particularly John Davis's Moths of the Pacific Northwest which is proving indispensable)

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Identifying North American moths - there are rather a lot

Have managed to borrow a moth book - the moth book in fact, for the western states of the USA - and will be using it to help name and inform my moth observations from this and previous visits to the U.S.A.

Moths of Western North America by Jerry A. Powell and Paul A. Opler, University of California Press, 2009

It is a very fine and serious hardback book, large format with 370 pages of text and 64 colour photographic plates showing traditionally spread specimens. There are about 2500 species illustrated and described. Prior to the arrival of this work last year the published information available on Western North American moths was either obscure and scattered or else superficial.

However, the diversity of the region's lepidoptera is so great - this work is not a compendium of the fauna or a guide to it but a detailed overview representing about 25% of the species in each of the native families (all of which are treated). It comes as a bit of a shock for someone from a small 'biologically depauperate' European island to think that this hefty and definitive looking book therefore will not cover, say, 75% of the Noctuid species flying around out there (in fact it is likely to describe most of what a casual observer will encounter because the species were selected based on being widespread, well known, more easily identifiable or of some other notable interest). The authors estimate that there are about 8000 named species of moth in the western states and provinces and at least another 3000 species for which specimens have been collected but not yet described. Worldwide there are 160,000 - 180,000 named species in the Lepidoptera and the real total could easily be more than double this.

Makes a dilettante moth-er think, but since arriving here the nights have mostly been chilly and there appear to be very few moths flying yet.

Behrensia conchiformis (Noctuidae) - Lake Forest Park 25/4/2010 found by outside light. Its local foodplant is likely to be Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus) which I have now seen for the first time as part of a natural plant community. I wonder what, if any, insects feed on the extensive gamebird cover and garden populations of this plant back home.

Larva of Silver-Spotted Tiger Moth - Lophocampa argentata (Arctiidae) - Lake Forest Park 25/4/2010 found on fallen Douglas Fir (the foodplant) branch. Other individuals also seen on wall, apparently attracted to light, and Vine Maple (Acer circinatum) foliage, presumably dropped from fir canopy above.

This is Xanthorhoe labradorensis (Geometridae) - which I suppose would be the 'Labrador Carpet', Lake Forest Park - attracted to outside light 26/4/2010. I must say, it looks a lot like a European Flame Carpet to me, and apparently some authorities have indeed classed it as a subsp. of X. designata.

Sabulodes aegrotata (Geometridae) - Omnivorous Looper, Lake Forest Park, 24/4/2010, perched on outside wall by light for at least 3 days but has now gone.

Wallace Falls State Park, Snohomish County

Wind, rain, low temperatures and no moths at the house again, last night, but the book has pinned down this photograph taken earlier in the week.

It is one of three described species of the genus Enchoria (Geometridae) which is endemic to the Pacific Coast. A day flying species from March to May - we saw it circling a sunlit gap in the Western Hemlock-Douglas Fir canopy, by Wallace River, and followed it to rest on a salmonberry leaf.

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Enchoria lacteata - Wallace Falls State Park 25/4/2010

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Lake Forest Park 24th April 2010

Here it is - the first moth of my Pacific Northwest adventure - a beautiful little early spring flying pug settled by an outside light. Actually not quite true - a small pale tortricid fluttered out from a hedge on my first walk down to the shop yesterday and there has also been a large and elegant geometrid with slightly falcate wings sitting on the wooden cladding for at least a couple of nights - but this is the first I've been able to photograph and identify (no good moth book yet but hoping to borrow one soon).

It goes by the name of Eupithecia ravocostaliata. It is common in the West and the food plant is Rhamnus purshiana - that's Cascara, the characteristic buckthorn of Pacific coast lowland forests.

More about the site - I might describe this in better detail in another post or blog. The house where I am staying is in a cul-de-sac which, at the end, meets a small creek. The creek is lined with red alder, big-leaf and vine maples and the flanking slopes extend into a few acres of second-growth coniferous forest closed in by the surrounding houses and gardens. The house has several outside lights to play with and I think there might be plenty of interesting things to see mothwise over the next two months.

The town grew up as a suburb of Seattle about 100 years ago and one of the declared tenets of its planners - according to Wikipedia - was to preserve the wooded beauty of the land (Lake Forest Park - a park, by the lake, in the forest - we are probably less than a mile from the shore of Lake Washington - at this time Lake Forest Park seems to have been pretty much the frontier of the developed land around Seattle going north into the timberlands). True to this perhaps, many of the houses -including this one - are surrounded by spire like Western red cedars, Douglas firs and Western hemlocks. They often seem upwards of 30m and some are probably in excess of 40m.