The most extraordinary caterpillar marched its way across my back patio the other day. With spiky hair all around, a bright red head, and four white globules on its back, it caught everyone’s attention as it traversed the blue seat cushion. I pulled up the Seek app on my phone to capture its image and found it was a White-marked tussock moth, which metamorphoses into a fully un-extraordinary adult with drab gray and brown coloration. An amazing transformation indeed.
The Butterflies and Moths of North America notes that over 1,500 species of moths can be found in Wisconsin. While my visiting tussock moth is not listed on their Moths of Wisconsin checklist, there are several other tussock moths mentioned among the six families of native Wisconsin moths.
While moths tend to take a back seat to their more colorful butterfly cousins (both are in the insect order of Lepidoptera), there is greater diversity in moth species than butterflies. In North America, there are around 11,000 known species of moths, and 700 species of butterflies.
Because moths tend to be nocturnal, the important role they play as pollinators is often overlooked. Wisconsin Pollinators notes that “moths are especially important as pollinators because they are active in the evening or overnight, which means flowers that do not open until later in the day or overnight have a chance to be pollinated.”
- Perhaps one of the most well-known and liked moth found in our area is the day-flying Sphinx moth. They are often mistaken for hummingbirds as they sip nectar and move between flowers in a manner similar to the Ruby-throated hummingbird. The larvae, also known as hornworms because of the stiff horn on their rear end, do not create a cocoon. They simply burrow into the soil or leaf litter to pupate and often spend the winter in this form.
- Another local fan-favorite is the Luna moth, known for its striking pale green color and its impressive 4-inch wing span (although it does not top the 10-inch wing span of the world’s largest moth, the Atlas moth). Luna moths start as voracious larvae that eat a variety of leaves, including hickory, walnut, birch or sumac. Once they emerge from their cocoon, their only job is to mate and lay eggs – the adults do not even have mouthparts.
- Did you know the non-native and invasive moth that wreaks havoc on local oak forests (although it’s known to decimate just about any deciduous hardwood species) is getting a name change? The formerly named Gypsy moth is now known as the Spongy moth. This change came about in 2021 when the Entomological Society of America recognized the racist and harmful connotation associated with the term gypsy.
- Got a caterpillar in your backyard? Check out the Wisconsin Caterpillar Identification Guide to find out which species is paying you a visit
- The UW Madison Insect Diagnostic Lab will identify any insect you catch or snap a picture of
- Compare your own photo to those on Insect Identification for the Casual Observer
- More interested in butterflies? Check out Wisconsin Butterflies
National Moth Week is July 23rd through 31st!
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News from Nature Net Members
|Nature Net member Rooted has received a $250,000 grant from CUNA Mutual Group Foundation! At the beginning of the pandemic Rooted began focusing on community food security, and this funding will help them expand and continue to meet the need for fresh, local food. Congratulations on all the good work!||This spring the Arboretum partnered with a UW-Madison Life Sciences Communication class on Social Media Analytics. The students and Arboretum staff both got to learn from each other about environmental education, social media, and storytelling. At the end of the class the students created two Instagram posts for the Arboretum!||The Olbrich Home Garden Tour came to Oregon earlier this month. This year’s theme was “Native Plants. Natural Wonders,” and highlighted private gardens and the Anderson Farm County Park prairie and forest restorations. Knowledgeable volunteers and an app created for the tour provided further information to guests about native plants.|
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Betsy Parker, Nature Net Director
Laura Whitt, Nature Net Intern