Monday, June 4, 2012

Moth Identification

This pretty little moth followed me into the house.  At first glance it was like most tan moths, but looking closer it had a beautiful design, almost like the grain of wood.  Moths are usually hard to identify, but I found this in Butterflies and Moths of Missouri.  It is a Common Lytrosis- Lytrosis unitaria

The caterpillars of the Geometridae family includes loopers, inchworms and spanworms.  Their "looping" gait is recognized by every kid who has had any exposure to woods or trees.  I can remember as a child, measuring various species, looking for the ones that were actual "inch" worms.

Look at one of these caterpillars and you will note that there are legs in front and back but none in the middle.  The front prolegs, usually one pair but occasionally 2-3 pair, grasp a surface when they are extended.  They then bring up the rear pair and attach so the front end is free to explore for a new foothold.
  
Caterpillar- Tom Murray pbase.com
Geometrids are common in woodlands where they are a staple in the diet of birds of the forest.  Because of this, most of these caterpillars and moths have evolved many effective forms of crypsis, disguised as twigs or green leaf petioles.  I don't know about a bird, but this one would really challenge me.
Lepidoptera can present you with a great opportunity for "citizen science."  After identifying this moth, I looked it up on Butterflies and Moths of North America and found that, although common, it hadn't been reported previously in Christian County.  The process of reporting is simple.  Go to "Identify".  After registering (free) you can submit a picture and information about your location.   An expert will confirm the ID and your find will then be registered on their map.

In this case, they reviewed the pictures and location, confirmed the identification, and registered the site on the map for the Common Lytrosis.  The report is now at this BAMONA site.  Click on the map and zoom in to see where other regional sightings have been confirmed.

Why bother?  Because there aren't enough professional trained entomologists to keep up with all the species of Lepidoptera.  Amateur naturalists like us provide more eyes and can survey a much greater territory than academics alone.  This information has become even more important in measuring the effects of climate change.

British Argus- ukbutterflies.co.uk
In a report from the journal Science, the British Argus butterfly from Great Britain demonstrates the movement of an indicator species.  Once rare, it has gradually moved North with climate change, and there found "a veritable banquet" awaiting it.  Its move to avoid the heat has doubled its range and protected it from threatened status.  It is now a common sight in fields.
"Biologists expect climate change to create winners and losers in species. Stanford University biologist Terry Root, who was not part of this study, estimated that for every winner like the brown Argus there are three loser species, like the cuckoo bird in Europe. Hill agreed that it is probably a three-to-one ratio of climate change losers to winners."
If you see a butterfly or moth that is unfamiliar to you, take the time to look it up and then report it if it is unreported.  BAMONA is waiting for you.

* Picture is by Tom Murray, contributing Editor at bugguide.net.  Another view by Sam Jaffe is at Pbase.com

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