By John Gerwin
I love serendipity, especially when it involves nature. One of my former field technicians, who worked for me for four different seasons, still lives and works in Raleigh (and pet sits for us now and then). Sarah and Kathy are in a book club together, and Kathy had asked her if she would help pull some ivy vines. So the other day, Sarah drove over very early in the morning, and was rather excited as she came in, exclaiming “Come see this adorable moth on my car!” So we did, and indeed, it was adorable, and then some. Adorable is a good word because this moth was clinging to a door, her car door, and had done so while Sarah drove from her house near Cameron Village to ours. Sarah proudly announced: “I drove really slow so it wouldn’t get blown off.” Now, that’s a good field tech! (But can you imagine the look from a police officer when hearing THAT explanation…..?).
When a moth, (or butterfly), emerges from its pupa and gets it wings stretched and ready, the animal is “fresh” and looks its best. Over time, scales will be scraped off, the wing edges become a bit tattered, perhaps a bird has taken a chunk of wing out, and such an individual looks rather ‘weathered’. The moth on Sarah’s car door had clearly emerged recently, as it looked spectacular.
The images show an Oakworm Moth, a fairly common “species.” This individual is a female (and the “head” shot reminds me of something from Alice in Wonderland). Upon checking a couple good Internet sources, I found there is some intriguing uncertainty about what we call the taxonomy, and “relatedness,” of this and other similar species. As we develop more sophisticated tools to study nature, and how species have evolved, our idea of what constitutes a “species” has evolved as well.
I couldn’t quite tell how many species of “oakworm” moths are in our area, but it looked like 3. They are in the genus Anisota. The one pictured appears to be the Spiny Oakworm type. I conferred with 1 entomologist with the Natural Heritage program, and this is the species he thinks it is. He also relayed that this species prefers a drier oak-hickory forest, which would include Post Oak. Post Oak is a common oak around Raleigh, at least in Avent West and nearby neighborhoods.
Oakworm Moth larvae feed on a variety of oak species. Adults are seen in our area primarily from late June through August. An interesting behavior is that other Oakworm males fly during the day; whereas the Spiny will fly at night, and thus is generally the only Oakworm that is attracted to lights. Females will fly day or night but are often seen during the day, when mating typically occurs. Another interesting tidbit is that this moth is also a “silkworm moth.” So, it is related to the Luna, Cecropia and Polyphemus moths; and helps explain the “no mouth” look – indeed, it has no mouth parts for feeding. Silkworm moths do not feed as adults. As adults, they live about a week during which time they mate, the females lay eggs, and that’s it.
THIS JUST IN! Gerwin found a larva getting ready to pupate…cool, huh?