A couple of surprisingly difficult-to-ID moths

2016 January 6

These two moths were photographed a couple of months apart, and have little to do with one another other than the fact that:
1. I only got photographs of each from one angle, and
2. They both turned out to be surprisingly difficult for me to identify, in spite of having what looked like clear and distinctive features.

The first one is a white moth with black spots, posing with its wings held up over its back like a butterfly, rather than flat or folded as is more typical for moths. It was at our porch light on May 18, 2015

So why did I think it was a moth? Well, first of all, it was flying at night and was drawn to a light, which are both very non-butterfly-like traits. It also has threadlike antennae without a bulge at the end, where all the butterflies and skippers I’ve seen have antennae with a bulb at the tip.

So I looked and I looked for this, and couldn’t find it anywhere. Until, finally, as the result of a Google image search, I found this page about the Spring Azure butterfly species complex. And before you say, “Ha! You were wrong! It was a butterfly after all!”, I’d like to point out that my specimen here is not, in fact, a Spring Azure. But way down at the bottom of the page, there is one lone picture of a specimen labeled as the Bluish Spring Moth, with a note that it is commonly confused with the Spring Azures. And in the text, it gives the species name! Now we are getting somewhere!

The Bluish Spring Moth, Lomographa semiclarata, is evidently a very deceptive moth. Sometimes it rests with its wings up like mine, here, and sometimes it rests with them flat like other moths do. And when it rests flat, it is a gray, nondescript moth that looks nothing like my specimen. Tricky, tricky! Its caterpillar is a green inchworm with a red head and yellow spots running down its back, and nobody seems to want to talk about what it eats.

The second specimen is another white moth, only this time with black stripes and a gold band along the wing edges, and it came to our porch light later in the summer (August 4, 2015). I thought it was very pretty, and figured that the ID would be a Piece. Of. Cake. Ha!

I looked through the book “Moths of Eastern North America”. I searched BugGuide. I searched the Moth Photographers’ Group. I did Google Image Searches of the whole Internet. Nothing. Nada. Zip. And then I posted it to BugGuide, and just now got an email message that someone had something to say about it, but when I tried to go to BugGuide to read what they said, the site had gone down! Yargh!

It’s like someone does not want me to know what this pretty little moth is![1]

OK, never mind. BugGuide is back up, and John and Jane Balaban say that it looks like the Chestnut-Marked Pondweed Moth, Parapoynx badiusalis. It is considered one of the “Crambid Snout Moths”, in spite of not having a discernable snout. Its caterpillars evidently eat aquatic pondweeds , so it is specifically found near ponds. This would make it one of those “locally common” species, where they might be quite plentiful in the immediate vicinity of a pond, but practically unknown elsewhere.

And now that I know the name, it turns out to be in the Peterson Guide to Moths after all (the page it was on was sticking slightly to the previous page, and so I wasn’t seeing it as I flipped through). It, and its relatives, are the “aquatic crambids”, moths whose caterpillars are actually aquatic! Some of these caterpillars get oxygen from the water through filamentous gills, others by trapping air bubbles as a plastron, or by exchanging gases with the water directly through their skins. So, they will tend to either be very close to the surface (where the oxygen levels are highest), or in fast-flowing, well-oxygenated water.

[1] What, are time travellers coming back to thwart my efforts to ID it, because if I ever post what it is it will somehow lead to World War III or something?[2] Is this some cruel practical joke? Is it a side effect of a word challenge in the course of playing Scrabble with God? Or am I just being needlessly paranoid? Yes, that seems rather more likely.

[2] That would be an example of the Butterfly Effect (only with a moth).

2 Responses
  1. Carole permalink
    January 6, 2016

    You deserve a detective badge.
    Thought you might enjoy this piece on a dinosaur age beetle http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/artful-amoeba/this-immaculately-preserved-beetle-walked-with-the-dinosaurs/?WT.mc_id=SA_WR_20160106

  2. barb quenzi permalink
    January 8, 2016

    really enjoyed this post, lovely moths. like the idea of doing flowers also.

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