|California Sister (Adelpha californica)|
When I was a young kid, before my angst-ridden teenage years, I was always excited by the sight of a butterfly, and naturally, if I saw one I attempted to capture it (unsuccessfully, however). Being mostly harmless creatures (with the exception of the stinging hairs of some caterpillars and adult moths, and a few species of moths in the genus Calyptra with piercing mouthparts), and often large and brightly colored, it is no surprise that butterflies and some moths are some of the most adored of all insects, and perhaps of all pollinators. Usually this appreciation is directed towards the butterflies (Papilionoidea), though there are also many brightly colored moths that garner our attention. In any case, butterflies are representative of one of few groups of insects that aren't arbitrarily feared.
|Mossy Swallow Moth (Feralia februalis)|
Moths and butterflies make up the order Lepidoptera, which literally translates to scaled wing (from the ancient Greek λεπίς (lepís, “scale”) and πτερόν (pterón, “wing”). This name is in view of the fact that the wings of all lepidopterans are covered in many small scales that overlap. Many have scales of various colors that together form cohesive patterns. The patterns are sometimes brightly colored, either as warnings or perhaps as a means of attracting a mate, or they are dull and help them blend in with their environment to avoid being eaten. Most but not all butterflies feed on nectar as part of their diets, as do many moths, though there are some moths which do not eat as adults (some don't even have functional mouthparts or digestive systems) and are in the adult stage only long enough to mate.
Unidentified caterpillar on Arctostaphylos viscida, a host plant to many species of Lepidoptera.
One thing most lepidopterans have in common is the larvae are plant feeders, occasionally feeding on a specific group of plants or even only on a single species. While they are in this life stage they are vulnerable to attacks from predatory vertebrates like birds or by predatory wasps and other arthropods. Parasitoid wasps often use caterpillars as hosts for their offspring. Egg(s) of parasitoid wasps are laid nearby, on, or in the caterpillar by means of an ovipositor. The wasp larvae then burrow their way through the insides of the caterpillar, eating as they go, until they are ready to exit and pupate. Though I have not seen this, many gardeners have often encountered the tomato hornworm (Manduca spp.) with dozens of small white braconid wasp cocoons on its exterior. At that point, the caterpillar is greatly weakened and will likely be unable to pupate, then die. There are also hyperparasitoid wasps which parasitize the parasitoids already within a caterpillar, possibly saving the caterpillar from being eaten alive.
|An adult caddisfly, Dicosmoecus sp. (Trichoptera)|
Butterflies are believed to have evolved from moths over fifty million years ago, and the first butterfly fossils are from the Eocene. Moths have been around a lot longer, the earliest fossils date to at least 190 million years old. The earliest lepidopterans are thought to have evolved from caddisflies (order Trichoptera) which have membranous wings instead of scaled wings. There are around 165,000 estimated species of Lepidoptera in the world, ~13,700 of which are true butterflies while the rest are fairly considered moths.
Edwards' Glassy-wing Moth (Pseudohemihyalea edwardsii)
Wing color does little to help determine whether it is a moth or a butterfly, though the position of the wings at rest can be diagnostic. Most butterflies hold their wings flat together when they land while moths can either hold them to the sides, or wrapped against their bodies (as you'll see in photos below). Wing position isn't always reliably diagnostic, since there are exceptions in both moths and butterflies (i.e. Geometridae or Hesperiidae, respectively) which do not conform. Another key difference, though not readily apparent, is that while all butterflies eat as adults, many moths only eat in the larval stage and may not even have functional mouthparts or digestive systems as adults. This discounts many moths as pollinators, but they are still valuable as a food source to countless vertebrates such as songbirds and even bears.
|Milkweeds are important host plants for many butterflies and moths. Asclepias cordifolia, or heartleaf milkweed, is native to California and Oregon and a host plant for monarchs (Danaus plexippus, Danainae).|
Adults of many moths and caterpillars feed on nectar from flowers and are widely regarded as pollinators. However, many moths do not feed at all as adults, and of the species that do there are many other sources of nutrition that they utilize as adults. Some adults feed on honeydew or tree sap (i.e. the Mourning Cloak, Nymphalis antiopa, which prefers sap from oak trees). Many butterflies are attracted to rotting fruit and mud. Others, particularly males of both moths and butterflies, feed on fluids taken from feces or even carrion. Salts found in carrion, feces, and sweat are useful for the adult males, and usually not found in nectar. To read about creating habitat for moths and butterflies, I highly recommend the book Gardening for Butterflies: How You Can Attract and Protect Beautiful, Beneficial Insects written by the Xerxes Society (Timber Press 2016). I wrote a review for Gardening for Butterflies for the Native Plant Society of Oregon, read it here.
I have compiled all the moths and butterflies I have photographed this year and arranged them in the only way that made sense to me: taxonomically (in other words, by scientific classification). This is not all the lepidopterans in my area, merely the ones I have both seen and had the opportunity to photograph. It may come as a surprise to some that butterflies and skippers are simply a branch of this classification, merely a specialized group of moth descendants. That being said, I have decided to place butterflies at the bottom of this report. If one is highly averted to moths for some reason, they may scroll to the bottom. I, however, think moths have a lot to be appreciated, from their intricate (if occasionally dull) patterns, to their obscure lifestyles, their importance in the food web is not fully understood and they may ultimately have more to offer than butterflies. Please, enjoy.
The many-plumed moths are named for their wings which are composed of feather-like rigid spines from which flexible plumes radiate. This gives them a characteristic appearance. Larvae feed on honeysuckle (i.e. Lonicera hispidula) and snowberry (i.e. Symphoricarpos hesperius), both of which are present in my area in Southwestern Oregon (Rogue Valley).
|Alucita sp. (January)|
This family is best known for the tent caterpillars, Malacosoma californicum in the western US and M. americanum in the east. Tent caterpillars build protective webs in the limbs of their tree or shrub hosts, though they aren't the only moths to do so. The fall webworms, Hyphantria cunea (Erebidae), builds similar silken nests in summer and fall while tent caterpillars make their nests in spring. In either case, the gregarious caterpillars defoliate the area within their protective webbing. Other moths in the Lasiocampidae are solitary in the larval stage.
|Tolype distincta (September)|
Tolype distincta is native to coniferous forests in the Pacific Northwest. Caterpillars feed on various conifers such as madrone (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and other Pinaceae, as well as having been documented on non-coniferous trees and shrubs bigpod ceanothus (Ceanothus megacarpus), mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), and canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis). Adults are nocturnal and active in late summer and fall. They are drawn to lights, the individual in my photo was under a porch light the following day trying unsuccessfully to blend in with the cedar siding.
The Erebidae, whose name has roots in Greek and Latin meaning "darkness" or "evening" reflecting when they are active, are a group of often colorful moths. This group contains some interesting members including the piercing moths (Scoliopteryginae pierce fruit to imbibe the juice, Calpinae pierce fruit for the juice as well as the skin of some mammals to feed on blood). Some members of the Erebidae have even been proven to make a sound used to deter or confuse bats, one of their primary predators. The bright colors and patterns of some species are thought to deter sight based predators such as birds, a signal that they may be toxic or distasteful.
|Pseudohemihyalea edwardsii (September)|
|Pseudohemihyalea edwardsii has translucent wings which give it the name Edwards' Glassy-wing (September)|
Pseudohemihyalea edwardsii appears to host exclusively on oak trees. Documented hosts include the species coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia), canyon live oak (Quercus chrysolepis), valley oak (Quercus lobata), and I would expect other species of oak as well within their range. P. edwardsii is found from Washington, through Oregon and California, and Arizona.
Owlet moths, cutworms, and armyworms are the common of this large family. Owlet moth refers to the hairy bodies of some species which are reminiscent of baby owls. Cutworm or armyworm refers to the voracious and destructive appetites of some species which have sometimes been considered serious agricultural threats. Most are nocturnal and are attracted to lights, except the subfamily Agaristinae which are day flying.
|Feralia februalis (February)|
Known as mossy swallows, the genus Feralia is native to much of the United States. Feralia februalis is found from late winter to early spring in mixed coniferous woodlands in the Pacific Northwest, often in association with oaks. Their primary host plant is Oregon white oak (Quercus garryana) in Oregon, though they have also been documented on blue oak (Q. douglasii). In California they have been reported to use other plants as hosts such as California buckeye (Aesculus californica), readheart mountain lilac (Ceanothus spinosus), mountain mahogany (Cercocarpus betuloides), hollyleaf cherry (Prunus ilicifolia), and blue elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. caerulea). At least two other species of Feralia are native to Oregon, F. comstocki and F. deceptiva, which feed exclusively on Douglas-fir, Pseudotsuga menziesii.
|Feltia jaculifera, attracted to lights at night, yet are active both day and night. (September)|
Cutworms are considered pests by both gardeners and farmers alike. Envision a beaver gnawing away at the base of a tree and you may understand their method of feeding. Larvae are usually active on or in the soil, often emerging at night to feed and hiding during the day. Feltia jaculifera feeds on a wide variety of plant hosts, many native to its range and a few non natives of agricultural importance. The closely related F. subterranea, however, is a pest of a dozen or more plants of agricultural importance including beets, carrots, asparagus, peas, potatoes, and corn among others.
Feltia jaculifera feeds on nectar as an adult, and may very well provide beneficial pollination services. This species has been observed feeding primarily on plants in the Asteraceae, including Joe Pye weed (Eutrochium purpureum), green-headed coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata), nodding beggarticks (Bidens cernua), smooth beggarticks (B. laevis), and Canada goldenrod (Solidago elongata), although there are surely others of importance to this species as nectar plants. Various solitary ichneumon wasps are documented as using various species of Feltia as hosts, namely Ceratogastra ornata, Campoletis flavicincta, Enicospilus merdarius, and Spilichneumon superbus.
|Autographa californica nectaring on a zinnia (October)|
The genus Autographa is represented in the West by a handful of species. Some of which have seemingly limited preferences of host plants, while A. ampla and A. californica utilize many species of plants in many families as hosts. Host plants in the families Asteraceae, Fabaceae, Lamiaceae seem to be most commonly used. Trees are also often used as hosts, namely alders (Alnus spp.) and willows (Salix spp.), but also balsam poplar (Populus balsamifera), quaking aspen (P. tremuloides), birch (Betula papyrifera), chokecherry (Prunus virginiana), and viburnum (Viburnum spp.).
|Autographa californica with wing damage, possibly from a bird or another predator. (October)|
Autographica californica is a common species often regarded as a pest. Caterpillars of this species are known to feed on a wide variety of agriculturally important crops, though they are also abundant in woodlands and forests. Adults are mostly nocturnal, but may come out in the day to feed on nectar. The aren't picky about where their nectar comes from, and may in fact contribute to the pollination of some plants. A. californica is one of few pollinators to be documented visiting Triteleia laxa, a bulb native to California and Oregon. The braconid wasp Meteorus autographae uses Autographa spp. as hosts in the Eastern US.
The plume moths are closely related to the Alucitoidea, or many-plumed moths. Both have wings that apparently lack scales, but are rather adorned with feather-like plumes. The easiest way to differentiate between the two is how they hold their wings when they land. Many-plumed moths hold their plumes out like a fan, while pterophorid moths make a distinct "T" shape. Both are nocturnal, but may be found clinging to walls during the day. There are rumors that plume moths bite, and although it has never been substantiated there is a chance possibility that some have proboscises capable of piercing human skin (most likely male moths, but this is purely non-expert conjecture).
|Pterophorid moth investigating a daffodil (March)|
Plume moths visit a wide range of plants to use as hosts, the vast majority are in the Asteraceae, or sunflower family. They have also been documented using hosts in other families, such as California horkelia (Horkelia californica: Rosaceae), twinberry honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata: Caprifoliaceae), and coyote mint (Monardella villosa: Lamiaceae). They also feed on nectar as adults. For three years I have observed pterophorids meticulously visiting the florets of Muscari spp., or grape hyacinths, in the spring at night. They have also been documented visiting yarrow (Achillea millefolium: Asteraceae), which happens to be one of their host plants.
Sesiid moths are known as clearwing moths because most species have wings that are clear. Most are thin and somewhat small, with white, red, or yellow stripes on a black body. Many are likely wasp mimics, a strategy that may reduce predation and allows them to be active during the day. Some resemble yellowjackets (Vespula spp.) while others resemble other types of wasps. Sesiid moths in the genus Alcathoe have black bodies with orange wings, very similar in appearance to the large tarantula hawk wasps (Pepsis spp.) which share similar distributions in the American Southwest. Larvae feed within either woody plants or within roots, and some are considered serious pests.
|Penstemonia clarkei (Inset: a male yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica)|
Penstemonia clarkei is a small moth which, as the generic epithet suggests, seeks hosts in the plant genus Penstemon or the related Keckiella. Penstemonia larvae feed within the crown of their hosts, often to the detriment of the host. Penstemonia spp. are wasp mimics (compare to the inset image of a male Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanica).
Geometrid moths are so named for the mode of locomotion of their caterpillars, also known as inchworms or loopers. "Geometridae" derives from the Greek word γεωμέτρης (geometer, or earth-measurer). Most caterpillars feed on plant foliage, and adults are typically but not always nocturnal. Adults are attracted to lights.
|Cochisea sinuaria (September)|
|Tetracis jubararia (October)|
Tetracis jubararia is a twig mimic as a caterpillar. Adults are active in late summer and fall, when they lay eggs and perish. Eggs endure winter, and hatch the following year. T. jubararia has many hosts, usually broadleaf trees, but also many shrubs. A few of the host genera include maples (Acer spp.), alders (Alnus spp.), birches (Betula spp.), dogwood (Cornus spp.), cottonwood (Populus spp.), currants (Ribes spp.), azaleas (Rhododendron spp.), willows (Salix spp.), elderberry (Sambucus spp.), snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.), and huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) among many others.
|Nemoria darwiniata (September)|
|Nemoria darwiniata (September)|
|Costaconvexa centrostrigaria (October)|
|Costaconvexa centrostrigaria (October)|
Larvae of Costaconvexa centrostrigaria feed exclusively on Polygonum species (knotweed) and also the closely related Persicaria hydropiper (formerly included in the genus Polygonum).
The family Pyralidae has some of the most diversity in life histories of all lepidopterans. Diets vary widely, from phytophagous species to species that live parasitically in ant nests (Wurthiinae spp.), predatory species (certain Phycitinae spp. prey on scale insects), or live in the nests of bees as inquilines or kleptoparasites. Some species spend their larval stage under water (Acentropinae) while others are adapted to very dry environments, such as living off of dried stored food products (some Phycitinae and Pyralinae) and are considered to be pests.
|Galleria mellonella on wax comb of Apis mellifera|
|Galleria mellonella larval silk and frass on honeybee comb|
|Galleria mellonella larval silk and frass|
Typically the best defence against wax moths is to keep strong colonies. Populous and healthy honey bee hives will fight off any intruder. Stored comb is the most susceptible to wax moths. Cold temperatures are a good preventative measure as the moths require warmth to mate and lay eggs. Immature moths go through winter as either prepupae or perhaps as eggs if they are in protected locations. That said, certain strains of BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) are effective against wax moths.
The superfamily Papilionoidea contains all of the butterflies, yet an alternative taxonomic treatment places the skippers (Hesperiidae) in a separate superfamily, Hesperioidea. Butterflies differ from the moths by a few key characteristics, and a number of other variable characteristics which can be used to support the key differences. Butterflies, unlike moths, have clubbed or hooked antennae, in other words the antennae end thicker than they began. Moths have antennae that taper to a point or are feathered in some males. Another key difference, moths have a frenulum, though not readily visible unless a moth is in hand, is a wing-coupling device that ensures the hind and forewings work in unison. Butterflies lack this feature. Other differences are variable, though may be accounted for together to make a positive identification. Butterflies are diurnal (occasionally crepuscular), yet moths are active both day and night depending on the species. Most butterflies are colorful, and most moths are dull colored. However, there are many drab butterflies and many colorful moths (particularly tropical moths). In the pupal stage, moths and butterflies differ in that moths tend to build silken cocoons while butterflies tend to build a chrysalis, often smooth with a hardened surface. This, of course, is variable as some moths also have pupal cases that are smooth and shell-like.
The family Lycaenidae, which means "little butterflies" due to the small size of many species, are widespread yet contain many rare and uncommon species. Known as the hairstreaks, blues, and coppers, they often have delicate wing markings. While many species are phytophagous, there are also predatory and parasitic species. Many species have mutualistic relationships with ants, where in exchange for protection by the ants the caterpillar secretes a complex sugary substance. Some of these caterpillars move directly into the ant mound where they continue to excrete the sugary substance sought by the ants. These caterpillars within the ants nest often become parasitoids and feed on the ants within the nest! Other lycaenids switch from a plant based diet to a predatory diet of aphids being tended by ants. Lycaenids often pupate underground, often within an ant colony, and they must emerge from the mound to fully expand and dry their new wings once reaching adulthood.
|Strymon melinus (June)|
|Mating flower longhorn beetles (Strophiona tigrina, upper left) and Strymon melinus (lower right)|
|Strymon melinus (upper left) and Bombus vandykei (lower right) on Allium ampeloprasum var. ampeloprasum (July)|
The skippers, occasionally placed in their own superfamily (Hesperioidea), are typically small and short-bodied, hairy butterflies with a rapid skipping flight pattern. Many skippers are understandably confused for moths, their compact and hairy forms coupled with the position many of the skippers hold their wings. Many skippers hold their wings differently than most butterflies, instead of holding them flat together or in a flat plane many skippers hold their wings in a "V" shape. Many skippers are also comparatively plain in color, yet they still have the clubbed antennae similar to other butterflies, except skippers have a little pointed hook at the tip as well. Many skippers lay their eggs by dropping them on/near their host plant(s) one egg at a time, doing many passes to lay a sufficient number of eggs.
|Ochlodes sylvanoides (September)|
The woodland skipper is a grass skipper native to the Western US as far east as North Dakota and north from British Columbia to Saskatchewan. They are primarily active in late summer and fall, during which time they imbibe nectar, find mates, and lay eggs, all in a matter of weeks. First instar caterpillars hibernate through winter, complete their feeding in the following spring, go through summer in diapause, then build their chrysalis and pupate to emerge as adults in the fall. They seek nectar from a variety of plants, and males occasionally feed on carrion.
|Ochlodes sylvanoides (September)|
Grass skippers (Hesperiinae) use host plants in the grass family (Poaceae). The woodland skipper uses a variety of grasses and related plants as hosts, from Bermuda grass (Cynodon dactylon), canary grass (Phalaris spp., including the invasive P. arundinacea, but also Western natives P. californica and P. lemmoni), Colonial bentgrass (Agrostis capillaris), Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense), wildrye (Elymus cinereus, E. condensatus, E. trachycaulus ssp. trachycaulus, and E. triticoides), and wheatgrass (Agropyron sp.). The fact that some of these species are nonnative, even noxious, in Oregon and California speaks to the adaptivity of some butterflies due to their ability to utilize hosts they didn't coevolve with.
|Ochlodes sylvanoides (September)|
|Hesperia juba (October)|
The whites, sulphers, and yellows comprise the family Pieridae. Unsurprisingly, they come in the colors white, yellow, orange, and occasionally black and many have ultraviolet markings used in courtship. They are mostly native to the tropics though there around sixty species native to North America. Some are introduced pests of plants in the cabbage family (cabbage, mustard, etc.) and legumes.
|Pieris rapae (October)|
The brush-footed butterflies are so named because their front two legs are much reduced in size and have small brushes that may be used to enhance their ability to smell or taste. In appearance they have only four legs because they use only four legs to walk, the two front legs are kept tight against their bodies when not in use. While many feed on flower nectar, many other feed mostly or solely on tree sap, rotting fruit, dung, or carrion. Brushfoots overwinter as adults or sometimes as larvae.
|Adelpha californica (syn. A. bredowii) taking up sweat from my finger (October)|
|Adelpha californica (October)|
|Adelpha californica (October)|
With some patience, and by moving very slowly, I had coaxed this butterfly to climb onto my finger. There it remained for over ten minutes, continuously probing my finger with its propolis. I had been working that day, so it may have been lapping up sweat. Aside from sap and honeydew, the California Sister will occasionally feed on sweat or animal scat, a source of salts and other minerals not found in sap, nectar, or honeydew.
|Junonia coenia with a damaged wing (September)|
|Junonia coenia (October)|
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