Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Andrée Sanborn sent some lovely photos of moths; her notes are indented. BE SURE TO SEE THE WORLD’S CUTEST MOTH, about halfway down. Andrée’s other social-media sites are here:

The notes:

These are some moths from last summer. Descriptions/commentary are on the top of the photos. While I love nearly all bugs, moths fascinate me because every plant that I have run across has at least one of its own species of moth that it hosts. There must be a profound comment about evolution that goes with that observation, but I don’t have the vocabulary to express it.  I hope I haven’t messed up any of the IDs of these guys. Also, I probably sent too many, but feel I have not sent enough of the highlights of the past summer.

Below is a Sicya macularia — Sharp-lined Yellow – Hodges#6912 (NE VT, July 2017). This guy had disappeared on me inside the house the night before, but appeared on the bathroom mirror the next morning. Luckily, I was wearing a very dark shirt, so I got the effect I was trying for: seeing both sides of the moth at once.

Next: Great Tiger Moth – Hodges#8166 (Arctia caja). We saw exactly two individuals this summer and the species is a lifer [JAC: a species seen for the first time; so called because it’s put on one’s “life list”].  This moth inspired me to immediately buy a portable light box for bug collecting days at school. The second photo was my first photo in the new light box.

Below:  Large Maple Spanworm – Hodges#6982 (Prochoerodes lineola) Northeast Vermont; August 18, 2017. I love these beauties. [JAC: this is surely a leaf mimic.]

Pepper & Salt Geometer – Hodges#6640 (Biston betularia), which I call my Darwin moth because of industrial melanism and the history of this moth in science (see here if you are not familiar with the fascinating stories).

Black-rimmed Prominent – Hodges#7922 (Pheosia rimosa); Northeast Vermont; August 28, 2017

 Below: A caterpillar of the Milkweed Tussock Moth – Hodges#8238 (Euchaetes egle). Milkweed is special for many species, not just Monarchs. I have found milkweed-specific moths, butterflies, aphids, beetles, true bugs, and weevils on milkweed. Our school has 11 acres of woods and field with a couple of great patches of milkweed, and the kids brought me a pile of these caterpillars so we could raise them.

Maple Spanworm – Hodges#6797 (Ennomos magnaria); Northeast Vermont; September 20, 2017. One of our favorites, but whenever we see it, it is shaking its wings very vigorously as it sits; this may be because of the cold. It holds itself at rest curled like an autumn leaf. The 2nd photo is in a butterfly net that we use for catch-and-release for the ornery and fidgety.


Below: The Cutest Moth Ever. Larch Tolype – Hodges#7673 (Tolype laricis); Northeast Vermont; August 19-20, 2017. We very seldom see these, and when we do it is every 3-4 years, and only one individual. They are very tiny, so I’m grateful that I was vigilant this night. By the way, this is one of the few moths that play dead when you touch them. It is quite a scare to think that you were responsible for a creature’s death. It is quite a relief when they miraculously revive. However, moths playing dead make great photographic subjects.


Below: a Pale Beauty – Hodges#6796 (Campaea perlata). These come in white, green, yellow and all shades of these colors.

Below:  Yarrow Plume Moth – Hodges#6107 (Gillmeria pallidactyla); Northeast Vermont; June 7, 2016. This photo is from 2016 because it is my best shot of this species. On Black-eyed Susan. This moth was special because it actually stood still for portraits, probably because of the warmth of the sun on it. They are also attracted to lights. I was thrilled to get it in the daytime.

Rosy Rustic – Hodges#9514 (Hydraecia micacea); August 27, 2017. These also come in pink (rose) and are not native. Introduced from Europe into Canada in the 1900s.

Twin-spotted Sphinx – Hodges#7821 (Smerinthus jamaicensis); Northeast Vermont; July 29, 2017. Found cold in the early morning, so it posed quietly while shaking warmth into its wings.

Another lifer: Oval-Based Prominent – Hodges#7919 (Peridea basitriens); Northeast Vermont; July 27, 2017

Bog Lygropia – Hodges#5250 (Lygropia rivulalis); Northeast Vermont; July 26, 2017

Lifer:  Archips dissitana – Boldly-marked Archips – Hodges#3666: Northeast Vermont; July 20, 2017. Host is balsam and white cedar, both of which we have in abundance. This moth is extremely small—less than one inch long—and I almost missed it.

Lettered Habrosyne – Hodges#6235 (Habrosyne scripta); Northeast Vermont; July 18, 2017. My husband’s favorite moth.

Late addition!

Sharp-angled Carpet – Hodges#7399 (Euphyia intermediata) on Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) (May 29, 2014). There is lichen growing on the bark (the crooked line growth) and somehow the moth just mimics it.


  1. GBJames
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:02 am | Permalink


  2. Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:07 am | Permalink


    Can Jerry comment on the evolutionary basis of the predominantly camouflage markings of moths vs. the brilliant colorful butterflies?

    • Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:15 am | Permalink

      Good question. I’m not sure that a higher percentage of moth species than of butterfly species are cryptic. But assuming they are, one could guess things like

      a. Butterflies are diurnal and need to see each other during the day for purposes of mating, whereas moths use pheromones to find each other at night and don’t need bright colors.


      b. Moths largely rest during the day and thus have to match their background; they have no advantage in being highly visible.

      c. Toxic or distasteful butterflies get an advantage by advertising their toxicity via bright coloration (leading tasty species to mimic them), but since moths are nocturnal, advertising their “badness” through color or pattern gives them no advantage.

      I’m sure there are data and speculations about this if your supposition is true, but I don’t know that literature.

  3. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:09 am | Permalink

    The mirror pic is excellent- it took me a while to understand- very clever!

    • Posted March 4, 2018 at 10:01 am | Permalink

      Thank you, Thyroid. Always wear dark color for mirror pics. 🙂

  4. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    Thank you Andrée/Prof – interesting pics & notes

    Inspired me to look up moths for the first time. So much very basic stuff I don’t know! Such as the silkworm is a moth larva, moths older than butterflies. I had no idea that nearly every **flowering** plant has an associated larva/moth species [or more than one]

    Andrée are you saying that, by your observation, even non-flowering plants have an associated larva/moth species?

    • Posted March 4, 2018 at 8:53 am | Permalink

      Lichen moths! I couldn’t think of one but asked the husband with the great memory. It’s a great question and now I want to make a list of more.

      I hope these images show. This is a Little White Lichen Moth – Hodges#8098 (Clemensia albata).

      and this is a Painted Lichen Moth-Hodges#8090 (Hypoprepia fucosa):

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted March 4, 2018 at 9:09 am | Permalink

        Thank you I took a look at the pics. Questions – always bloody questions 🙂

        [1] Should we say then “nearly every flowering plant & lichen [not a plant] hosts a moth species”?
        [2] Is there a non-flowering plant that hosts moths?
        [3] What use are lichen to moths – most moths are after nectar aren’t they? Or do lichen moths have mouth parts?

        • Posted March 4, 2018 at 9:24 am | Permalink

          I’m re-thinking. We do need clear language here. Some adult moths feed, some don’t even have mouths (like the Luna moth). Some are nectar eaters and some aren’t. And what the larvae eat may be totally different than what an adult eats. But when we say a plant hosts a moth, it means that the eggs are laid on that plant species and (usually but not always) the larvae eat that plant.

          An exception to the rule of what larvae eat: Feniseca tarquinius, a butterfly. Eggs are laid wherever there are aphids and the larvae eat the aphids. There are 2 or 3 carnivorous lepidoptera.

          I would say, offhand, that every flowering plant has a moth. The Little White Lichen moth larvae eat the lichen. I can’t find where eggs are laid. And the same with the Painted Lichen. I also can’t find whether adults eat at all.

          So I’m going to return to the original question about non-flowering plants that host leps. It’s a fascinating thing to work on. Oh, and thanks for triggering my borderline OCD. 😉

          For real, thank you.

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted March 4, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

            Borderline OCD is a good thing! Thank you for the very clear expanded explanation.

            BTW I’ve looked at the other links to your online life [top of post] & it’s good to see someone making the most of their life [death of spouse, kids grown, moving, new career, new spouse & interests]. And I was highly amused by pic of the huge ball-engrossed white lab being carried upstairs by tolerant human. 🙂

          • Christopher
            Posted March 4, 2018 at 10:11 am | Permalink

            Borderline OCD is probably a requirement for moth studies. Small, cryptic, variable, frequently similar to other species…terribly difficult to ID, in my opinion and experience. But they do reward you for all the hard work! These were fantastic photos that I hope gives people a better appreciation of these often overlooked little lovelies. But I would have to slightly disagree with the Prof about P. lineola being a leaf mimic. Seeing one or any of the similarly shaped species of geometers land on a tree and almost disappear leads me to believe they are bark mimics as much as, if not more than leaf mimics.

            • Posted March 4, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

              I’ve always thought it was a bark mimic, too. But I can see why a leaf would work. For sure, like many geometers, the cat mimics a twig.

          • Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

            Depending on the species moth larvae feed on flowering plants (Angiosperms) and non-flowering plants such as ferns (Pteridophytes) and the Gymnopsperms which include conifers and cycads. There are also moths whose larvae feed on mosses (Bryophytes) and liverworts (Hepatophytes). And we are all familiar with moth larva that eat wool and other fur. Moth larva that eat lichens are thought to be eating the algae component but some must also be eating the fungus as they accumulate lichen toxins in their bodies. The larvae of some species of Eupithecia are carnivorous at least in Hawaii.

  5. Posted March 4, 2018 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    Stunning pictures, thank you.
    I also am a great lover of moths.

    Robert Ladley.

  6. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    Very impressive! I love ’em all, along with the descriptions.
    I would very much like to see Biston betularia, aka the peppered moth, in part because of its storied demonstration of natural selection.

  7. Heather Hastie
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Wow! What wonderful pics! They are all just gorgeous. I frequently got quite mesmerised staring at the patterns. I love the subtle beauty.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted March 4, 2018 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

      I can only echo Heather Hastie’s sentiments. One does become mesmerized.

  8. PatrickQ
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    Fantastic article! The pictures are incredible, and the descriptions are fascinating. The Pale Beauty is well-named; it’s one of the most beautiful insects that I’ve ever seen. (The photo is now a background on my phone.) I was wondering whether the Horned Spanworm’s pattern matches the bark of a particular tree.

  9. Posted March 4, 2018 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Wonderful and marvelous stuff, Andree.

  10. XCellKen
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    That first moth looks alot like the Pope’s new hat

  11. Mark R.
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    These were a real treat. I also enjoyed reading the comments up-thread, furthering my appreciation of moths. BTW, I’m with your husband re. the Lettered Habrosyne. What a beauty…the intricate geometric patterns and different lustrous glittering colors are mind boggling.

  12. Linda bergan
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    I have a beautiful pic of two mating walnut sphinx moths. How could I send it to you or post it?

    • Posted March 4, 2018 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

      Just click on “research interests” at upper right of site; that takes you to a university webpage that has my email address.

  13. Cate Plys
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    Magnificent pictures, and thanks to Jerry for his explanation above re moths v butterflies.

  14. cruzrad
    Posted March 4, 2018 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    Beautiful shots of lovely creatures. Thanks!

  15. Posted March 4, 2018 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely beautiful. And the cutest moth is very cute.

  16. Posted March 5, 2018 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    I’ve never seen a “*furry*” moth before today!

  17. Posted March 8, 2018 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Amazing photos! So many moths, and they’re all stunning. Thanks for sharing!

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