Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Buck Moth

I was down in Shawnee State Forest today, which is not a bad place for a meeting. Afterwards, we noticed a few species of Lepidoptera on the wing, as afternoon temperatures rose into the 60's. Especially nice was a beautiful Sleepy Orange and even better were two Dainty Sulphurs. Both butterflies are rather rare migrants into Ohio from the south. Dainty Sulphurs are indeed minute; about as big as your thumbnail.

Most obvious were the Buck Moths, though. These interesting and large day-flying moths are boldly patterned in black and white, and are probably often thought to be rarer than they really are. Buck Moths don't emerge until mid-October or so, and are often seen into November on even moderately warm and sunny days. They are also forest moths whose caterpillars feed primarily on oaks, and adults can easily be missed as they flutter through the understory amongst falling leaves and dappled fall sunlight. We probably saw ten or so today; the most I've seen in a day.

Buck Moth, Hemileuca maia, on the side of an ash tree. They are about the size of a Viceroy butterfly. This species typically perches on trunks of trees in this manner. They are quite flashy for a moth, and the black and white coloration creates a bit of a kaleidoscope effect in flight. Every one that we saw well enough to tell was a male, likely patrolling for females. The adults don't feed and probably don't last too long. Their only purpose is to find a partner, mate, lay eggs and reproduce themselves.

Buck Moths are apparently rather local and confined to the southernmost counties in Ohio. I've only seen them in Adams and Scioto counties. I'd be interested in hearing of other observations of this moth from anyone who has seen them in Ohio.


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