Great Egret

Great Egret

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Night-time wildlife in the back yard

Late last week I came across an interesting bit of information: it was National Moth Week. It went from July  22-31. The information came from an insect blogger from the USA, so I presume it was recognized in that country only. Nevertheless, I decided to participate on my own.

Years ago, when I was working at Rondeau Provincial Park, I tried sugaring for moths. This entailed mixing up a solution of stale beer, sugar and overly ripe fruit (a banana worked really well) and spreading it on the trunk of a tree. As the darkness set in, moths would be attracted. The highlights for those times were the underwing moths (Catocala species), a large group of medium-sized moths that looked quite drab until they opened their wings to reveal a bright pink or white upper surface of the hind wings. I was moderately successful in attracting some of the Catocalas, but more successful in attracting some of the numerous raccoons! In the classic work "The Moth Book: A guide to the Moths of North America" by W. J. Holland, the author gives a fascinating, descriptive account of sugaring for moths. It was one of the main ways old time collectors found moths to add to their collections or to learn about the moth fauna of a particular area.

For this exercise, however, I dug out my black-light tube, set it up in the back yard to reflect on a suspended white sheet, and see what arrived. The black light was on for slightly more than three hours, beginning at about 9:30 p.m. Some of the insects were photographed on the white sheet, some were on the aluminum ladder on which the black-light was suspended and some were photographed on the blacklight itself (the ones with the blue mesh).

Warm, cloudless nights with little or no wind are ideal, and it was like that the night I chose. Given the relative dryness of the year to date, I wasn't sure what to expect, especially since butterflies were noticeably in lower numbers this year.

(Note: Identification for some species that follow is somewhat tentative, but based on the best references I had to use. References mainly included:
-Insects: their natural history and diversity (Stephen A. Marshall)
-Peterson Field Guide to Moths (Beadle and Leckie)
-Beetles of Eastern North America ( A. V. Evans)
-Field Guide to Grasshoppers, Katydids and Crickets of the United States (Capinera, Scott and Walker)

It wasn't long before the first insects appeared. A medium sized beetle showed up almost immediately and stayed the entire time.

Pole Borer

Other beetles (Coleoptera) were reasonably abundant. Many were so small I didn't even bother trying to photograph them, but others were large enough and cooperative enough to give me a fighting chance.
Multicolored Asian Lady Beetle

Striped Cucumber Beetle

Some bugs (Hemiptera...told by the way the wings folded) were there as well. I haven't figured out this first one yet.
Aster Leafhopper

Leafhopper sp.

Quite unexpected was this damselfly, a male Fragile Forktail. Our yard is a long way from any water, but apparently this species does wander a lot.

Perhaps the strangest creature of the evening was this Mantid Fly (Dicromantsipa sayi).

At least three types of Orthoptera came by, but I only got photos of two.
Northern Ground Cricket

Slender Meadow Katydid
But the intended targets for this venture, being National Moth Week, were the moths. There were quite a few, but many were very tiny and difficult to photograph. Some of the larger ones, those over one cm long, included the following:
Double-banded Grass Veneer

Elegant Grass Veneer

Three-parted Epiblema

Unidentified as yet

Gypsy Moth (male)
 Gypsy Moths can create havoc in forests, especially oak forests. They were extremely damaging back in the 1980s, defoliating large areas of forest. The female looks quite different, being almost pure white with a few black specks, and seldom comes to lights.
Common Tan Wave
The Ailanthus Moth is not a problem species to my knowledge. It is particular to the Tree-of-heaven (Ailanthus altissima), an aggressive and invasive non-native tree species that does really well in places such as abandoned parking lots.
Ailanthus Moth
I will be setting out the black light again one of these evenings.

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