Reddish-brown moth with gray-mottled trim

2014 October 15

Here’s another medium-sized moth at our porch light on September 8, 2013.

This one gave me quite a bit of trouble, most of the search terms I could come up with were giving me pages and pages of only broadly similar moths. I ultimately ended up using Google Image Search to try to match my photo against the BugGuide database[1], which only sort of worked but was better than the alternatives. The closest I can find is the adult Bronzed Cutworm, Nephelodes minians, which is common, found in this area, and flies as adults in September. They are also highly variable in color, so while a lot of the adults don’t look much like my specimen here, some of them have this same orange-brown patch in the center of the wings, with four pale spots near the edges and gray trim all around.

The larvae are big, fat caterpillars with a “wet” sheen. They mainly eat grasses, which sounds fairly innocuous until you remember that corn and wheat and oats and the like are all grasses. At which point we suddenly have a potential crop pest, especially considering that cutworms get their name from their tendency to gnaw off young plants at the base rather than just eating the leaves.

[1] So, the way to do this is (1) open a browser window with the picture you want to match; (2) open a second window for the Google search page, and click “image”; (3) Drag your picture over into the image search box; and then (4) at the top of the results page, where it says “describe image here”, enter “” to force it to only search the images on BugGuide. Or, obviously, you can apply it to any other site with a good insect image collection, like maybe the Moth Photographers’ Group (, or even this site ( It matches fairly broadly and you still end up with a lot of candidates to weed through, but at least it narrows things down more than using the BugGuide search tool with search strings like “brown moth”.[2]

[2] In general, the “site:” option on google tends to work much better than whatever built-in search tool a site might happen to have. The BugGuide native search tool in particular seems to have some issues. It tends to lock up if you use “moth” or “beetle” as search terms, or use more than two descriptive terms, which as you might imagine is really restrictive. The same thing applies to a lot of other sites.

2 Responses
  1. Katbird permalink
    October 15, 2014

    How big is medium sized?

  2. October 16, 2014

    Katbird: Between about a half-inch and an inch long.

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