October 31, 2017
We continue the mothing story. A group of us went out "mothing till midnight" last week along the Skyline Gardens trail. This was my first time doing this, so I was just there to learn and see the sights. We set up four lights between the Steam Trains entrance and the first grassy nose with the old bench.
Overall, we saw over 50 species of insects. Most of these were moths. Moths are very common in California, but we rarely see them because they are active at night. They are closely related to butterflies, and their caterpillars have very specific food plants, just like butterflies. California has about 400 species of butterflies, and about 3,000 species of moths; in other words, ten moths for every butterfly!
The great thing about mothing is that the insects will fly up to the sheet, land, and sit still - for a very long time. So you can get right up to them and look closely with your hand lens, or take pictures. They don't fly away, like daytime insects. What attracts them to the UV light? Nobody really knows.
Many moths that night were small brown ciphers, and others were large and astounding. Here's a sampling of some of them (special thanks to Ken-ichi, Cat, and Alan for the photos/videos):
Let's start out with the Brown-lined Looper, Neoalcis californiaria:
We saw quite a few of these; they are about two inches across.
This next one is Edward's Glassy Wing, Pseudohemihyalea edwardsii:
This is a really showy creature, about two inches long with these wings more than that broad. With a fuzzy, red body, and a fuzzy, yellow head, and clear wings, this was one of the prizes of the night.
Now there's more to this story. Their caterpillars feed on oak leaves. And these caterpillars are sometimes parasitized (egg laid which becomes larva that slowly eats the caterpillar) by a large, devlish-looking fly who feeds on Coyote Bush flowers. This fly is called the Spiny Tachinid Fly (Paradejeania rutilioides) and here's a picture of one feeding on a flower of Coyote Bush:
Now that we know what to look for, we should see these at Skylline; we've definitely got the Coyote Bush. So that's a real circle of life, and thanks to Ken-ichi for sharing about this (and this fly photo, too).
OK, back to moths; here is a sweetheart called Pale Beauty:
The color is like a shiny, greenish oyster shell.
Here is Bryolymnia viridata, one of the so-called lichen moths:
Don't they look just like lichen? Just stunning! This one grows as a cutworm (in the soil). Think twice before you go to dispatch your next cutworm.
There were other creatures attracted to the lights. Here we have a large, native Katydid, the California Anglewing, Microcentrum californicum:
This one was about three inches long. He or she moved with the measured, dignified steps and grace of high royalty; and stayed with us much of the evening. This one just had a presence. Maybe it was the moon, or the crickets in the trees, or the balmy night air. I confess, I was smitten. The others thought I was kidding when I mused about a proposal .... oh, well, maybe another life.
Then, we have the monster of the evening. Around 11:30, in flies this beast with the drone of a model airplane. Meet Toe-Biter:
This creature is nearly four inches long and an inch-and-a-half wide, with huge, antler-like claws. They are aquatic insects of the order Hemiptera (True Bugs) and they normally eat small fish, frogs, and little snakes. They have a wicked sharp proboscis that pierces and liquifies prey. They are found in ponds, and the name Toe-biter comes from swimmers and waders who have been, shall we say, unfortunate. The more official common name is Giant Water Bug.
Here's Ken-ichi actually holding this one upside down, with legs madly flailing:
Toe-biter kept flying up and landing on our pants and shirts, and Ken-ichi would come to the rescue and pull the horrid creature off. Behind him is the sheet where the insects land.
And, here's one more trip to the monster file, a short video of our Toe-biter (thanks to Alan); it shows the creature crawling and undulating the head part up and down, super creepy. This video is not for children. x4QX5L5w
We'll close out the journey to the dark side with this little cutie-pie moth, Caloptilia diversilobiella:
This one is about half an inch long, and stands up on stilt legs about as thick as spider silk. Apparently, this is a true-blue California Native mothlet. Now what do their larvae eat? Look again at the species name. Any guesses? Here's another clue:
Yes, Poison Oak!! The larvae of little Caloptilia are leaf miners and they feed on Poison Oak leaves. Leaf miners are caterpillars who eat the plant tissue between the upper and lower surface of a leaf. In this 'leaves of three', which I gathered near where we found the moth, you can see the work of many leaf miners. The reddish-brown tip of the upper leaf is leaf miner evidence. And, the small, brown circular blotches on the leaves are also leaf miner traces. Who ever noticed that before on Poison Oak? This moth is a member of the Blotch leaf miners, so maybe, maybe ..... maybe this little moth emerged from one of these leaves.
Who will ever know?
Happy trails - sweet dreams,