June 06, 2022
Melissa has the habit of keeping the door open to the back porch when she is working to allow Zena access to the deck. This results in other visitors coming in as well as Zena going out. Last week we had two House sparrows (Passer domesticus) that decided to check out the succulents that fill the porch. I became aware of the birds when Zena became frantic and wanted outside. When I walked out one of the birds flew out the door on its own, but the other franticly thrashed against the screen. I went inside to get my butterfly net to coax the bird outside, but I did not close the door completely and it flew into the house. I did get it back to the porch, but it flew behind some items stored in the corner and I could not get it to move. I finally gave up knowing it would eventually get out on its own. That was when I noticed an interesting moth near the ceiling that I do not recall having ever seen.
When I looked online, I found the eight-spotted forester (Alypia octomaculata), is a moth of the family Noctuidae found in the eastern part of the US and in parts of Canada and Mexico. The wingspan of the adult moth is 1–1½ inches (30–37 mm). Adult foresters have butterfly-like traits, meaning they fly during the day, drink from flowers, and have antennae that are thickened at the tips. While the overall color is black, the forewings have two pale yellow spots, and the hindwings have two white spots. The body is mostly black, but the front and middle pairs of legs have patches of bright orange hairs. The flight is fast and darting and the black and white pattern creates a flickering effect like a strobe light. Forester larvae are whitish lavender, with each segment having several narrow, black transverse lines and one wide orange band. There are small black tubercles on the body, white spots in the abdominal area, and an orange head. The moth flies from April to June in one generation in the north, while in the south it has two generations, one April to June and the other in August.
The adult moth emerges in late spring to mate and the eggs are laid on grape shoots and leaves. The larvae hatch and will feed until it reaches full growth in early summer. The mature larvae drop to the ground and pupate in tunnels they construct just beneath the soil surface. The next generation of moths emerge and lay eggs again in late summer. There may be two generations, a partial second generation, or only one generation depending on the climate. Both the wild grape (Vitis vinifera) and the Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) serve as alternate hosts. Although commercial vineyards do not generally suffer severe damage from the moth larvae, small areas of a vineyard may have concentrated infestations and defoliation. Damage is most severe along the perimeters of vineyards and near bushes, woods, or weedy areas where the wild alternatives grow. The moth resting on my porch was a long way from habitat or food.
THOUGHTS: When I was young it was easy to differentiate between a butterfly and a moth. A butterfly had smooth wings and bodies and a moth was fuzzy. I also thought butterflies were good (pollination) and moths were bad (eat clothes). Both butterflies and moths are important pollinators and are a plentiful food supply for birds and people. Caterpillars are packed with protein and healthy fats, and research shows 100 grams of the insects provides more than 100% of daily requirements of vital minerals like potassium, calcium, zinc, and iron. Both are members of order Lepidoptera, but butterflies belong to the suborder (Rhopalocera – “club-antennae”) while moth antennae are quite varied (Heterocera -“varied-antennae”) and lack the club. My fuzzy classification was not even mentioned. A butterfly and a moth are similar and provide the similar benefits, yet as a child I thought one was good and the other bad. Like people, we need to understand who and what someone is, not just whether they make us feel fuzzy. Act for all. Change is coming and it starts with you.