Sunday, August 17, 2014


Snowberry Clearwing Moth
Although yesterday was Pet/Butterfly Day at Creasey Mahan Nature Preserve, my favorite finds were two moths which can be seen during the day. The clearwing moth flies and moves just like hummingbirds. Like them, they can remain suspended in the air in front of a flower while they unfurl their long tongues and insert them in flowers to sip their nectar. They even emit an audible hum like hummingbirds. I've seen them called both hummingbird and bumble bee moths, since they mimic those two fliers.
Snowberry Clearwing Moth
Hummingbird moths are rather plump; the tip of their tail opens into a fan. They are usually of a rich reddish brown color, at least in part. Like all Lepidoptera their wings are covered by scales; some species lose many of the scales from patches on their wings, so they are called clearwing hummingbird moths. Like most moths they have a very long tongue which they carry rolled under their chins and that they use to reach the nectar of long-necked flowers. Such nectar is inaccessible to many other flower visitors, so it seems that these flowers prefer long tongued pollinators and try to keep the others away. 
Bumblebee Moth vs Bumblebee

The adult Bumblebee Moth will feed on their larval food plants, honeysuckle and snowberry, for nectar. They also will get nectar from milkweed, Monardella, and some thistles. Monardella is an excellent garden plant for butterflies as well as Moths. It has perennial and annual forms from white to purple flowers. It also has a fresh minty scent. The one I saw was feeding on butterfly bush.
Luna Moth
This Luna moth was found on the side of the Field House, near the big security light that shines all night.  Although rarely seen due to their very brief (1 week) adult lives, Luna Moths are considered common in some areas, but uncommon in others. As with all Saturniidae, the adults do not eat or have mouths. They emerge as adults solely to mate, and as such, only live approximately one week. They are more commonly seen at night.
Luna moth male - large antennae
They have huge wingspans of 3 - 4 inches. The males are distinguished from the females by their larger and wider antennae, all the better to detect the pheromones of the female. Luna Moth caterpillars are lime green with orange spots running down both sides.  The  caterpillars feed on several types of trees, including, alder, beeches, cherries, hazelnut, hickories, pecan, persimmon, sweet gum, and willows. The caterpillar molts five times before settling on a host plant where they spin their cocoon.male Luna Moths release a chemical at night which attracts males. Adults die shortly after mating or laying eggs.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Gold on the Wing

Everyone loves the bright yellow American Goldfinch, right? They molt twice a year, unlike most birds, so the outstanding male changes from sunshine yellow to a dull greenish-yellow, just like the female, for the winter months. That's why it seems that they've all gone away, although they stick around Kentucky all year.
I used to put out a separate feeder filled with nyger thistle for them, but they would never eat it. I even bought a new feeder and new thistle, thinking it had gone bad, but they still ignored it. They do enjoy sunflower seeds though.
I've seen a great increase in Goldfinches in our yard since we started planting zinnias and native wildflowers though. Goldfinches are seed eaters, of course. Most seed eating birds will also catch insects for their chicks, to give them extra protein and perhaps calcium. Goldfinches, however, have adapted to a completely vegetarian diet, feeding only seeds to their chicks. They also nest latter in the summer, when a good supply of seeds are available. If a Cowbird lays her egg in their nest, the chick doesn't live long because it can't survive on a diet of only seeds.
I love watching them sway on the zinnia stems in the wind, as they pull off the petals to reach the tiny little zinnia seeds at the base of the flower. The little yellow ring at the top is the true flower of zinnias, and grows higher as the season progresses, leaving seeds at the bottom.
They also like the tiny seeds in black-eyed Susans, coneflowers, bee balm, and cup plants, so I don't dead head these plants when they finish blooming.
Although they aren't native plants, zinnias are quickly becoming one of my favorite flowers. They are brightly colored, and attract colorful birds and insects. Even Hummingbirds come to drink the nectar from them, which really surprised me, since they don't have the traditional long neck I expect hummers to favor.