Sweetheart Underwing Moth

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While recently hiking through a forest in southern Illinois, I noticed this cool creature blending in with the bark of a tree. I occasionally also find this relatively large moth in my yard.

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“Underwing Moth” is a common name for a diverse group of moths with distinctive wing patterns. There are more than 200 species of underwings, the majority occurring in eastern North America.

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While at rest, the well-camouflaged forewings’ various shades of gray and brown allow the insect to blend in with its surroundings. Most underwing moths are active at night and spend the day resting upside down.

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When frightened, it exposes its underwings. It is thought that their bright colors, arranged in roughly concentric markings, resemble the eyes of a predatory animal, and this may confuse whatever wants to eat the moth for a few seconds, while it makes a hasty retreat.

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The Sweetheart Underwing Moth’s habitat is forested areas. It is particularly common in Cottonwood (which their caterpillars feed on) stands along rivers, creeks and in urban areas.

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I always enjoy coming across this impressive invertebrate whether it be out-of-state or in my own backyard.

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Zebra Swallowtail

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This a butterfly that I see more-often-than-not when visiting Carter Caves, Kentucky.

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Its distinctive wing shape and long wing tails make it easy to identify; its black-and-white-striped pattern is reminiscent of a zebra.

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The main reason I don’t see Zebra Swallowtails very much on northeast Ohio (where I live) is that their caterpillars feed on Pawpaw (a southern tree) leaves, and are rarely found far from these trees.

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The adult butterflies feed on flower nectar and minerals from damp soil. They frequently congregate with other butterflies – in this case, a Red-spotted Purple. This behavior is known as “puddling.”

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The tongue of the Zebra Swallowtail is much shorter than other swallowtail butterflies, so they are attracted to shorter, flatter flowers rather than long, tube-shaped blooms.

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This is a “classic” American insect that I enjoy seeing when I am out and about.

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Painted Lady

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I often see this butterfly in my travels, as well as in my backyard. My larest encounter was at Point Reyes National Seashore in California. This insect it is the most widely distributed butterfly in the world.

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Males perch and patrol during the afternoon for receptive females. In the western United States males usually perch on shrubs on hilltops, while in my home state of Ohio, males position themselves on bare ground in open areas.

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This is sometimes called the “Thistle Butterfly,” because thistle plants are its favorite nectar plant for food. It is also one of the Painted Lady caterpillar’s favorite food plants. What probably owes the global abundance of this creature is that thistle are common and invasive plants.

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This butterfly is an irruptive migrant, meaning that it migrates independent of any seasonal or geographic patterns. It can cover a lot of ground, up to 100 miles per day at speeds of nearly 30 miles per hour.

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They are a favorite subject of study in elementary school classrooms, and often the caterpillars can be ordered in “grow kits” where they can be raised and after they transform into adults are released.

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Though the Painted Lady is one of the most familiar butterflies in the world, found on nearly all continents and in all climates, it’s still nice to come across them, wherever I may happen to be.

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Omnivorous Leafroller Moth

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Sometimes you don’t have to go far to find cool things in nature. This creature was on the side of my house, just a few feet from the door. This moth is easily identified by its strongly bell-shaped outline. Its golden brown to dark brown and wing color can vary greatly. It is found in most of eastern North America.

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Its larvae’s favorite food is the leaves, flowers and developing berries of grapes. They may also consume goldenrod, various berries, willow, cherry and other deciduous trees. The caterpillars form feeding shelters by spinning silk webs around young leaves and rolling them together. Single leaves may also be rolled into tight cylinders.

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This species is rather large for a moth in its particular family (Tortricidae), but rather small compared to other moths. It measures less than an inch long.

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It remarkable camouflage and cool shape made encountering this insect a neat experience.

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Silver-spotted Skipper

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This is Ohio’s largest skipper. It is long-winged and brown, with band of yellow-orange rectangular spots on forewings and unique, silver-white patch at center of hindwings.

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These butterflies are named for their quick, darting flight habits. Most skippers have antenna tips modified into narrow hook-like projections.

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The Silver-spotted Skipper is found throughout most of the United States and into southern Canada. In the West, it is more restricted to mountainous areas.

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The odd-looking caterpillar has an enlarged head capsule and a pronounced neck collar, making it look a bit like a cartoon alien. When disturbed, the caterpillars regurgitate a greenish, bitter-tasting, defensive chemical.

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Silver-spotted Skippers frequent edges of forests, swamps, brushy areas, and other open areas where nectar plants are found. We often have them visit our deck garden. Adults have long “tongues” and feed on nectar from a variety of flowers.

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I enjoy seeing these summertime creatures both at home and while out hiking.

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Hummingbird Moth

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One of the coolest insect pollinators are Hummingbird Moths. They fly and move just like hummingbirds. They can remain suspended in the air in front of a flower while they unfurl their long tongue to sip nectar.

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To add to the illusion, Hummingbird Moths are rather plump and the tips of their tails open into a fan. They even emit an audible hum like hummingbirds.

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Honeysuckles are one of the favored plants of both the adults and the caterpillars. This moth seemed particularly fond of Bee Balm.

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Moths that are freshly emerged from their cocoons have solid-colored wings, nearly black in appearance. With first flight, their flapping wings cause most of the scales to fall off, especially near the center of each wing. The end result is wings that are nearly scale-less and therefore look clear.

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This insect belongs to a group known as is Sphinx Moths. This name came about from the habit the caterpillars have of rearing up (and looking sphinx-like) when threatened.

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Nature has many clever disguises and this is one of my favorites – a moth that mimics a bird.

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Cecropia Moth

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Last month a female Cecropia Moth emerged from underneath my neighbor’s deck; it spent Fall and Winter there in a cocoon.

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The very next night a male stopped by to mate. This is North America’s largest native moth – females with wingspans of six inches or more have been documented.

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This spectacular insect is prized by collectors and nature lovers alike for its large size and extremely showy appearance. Their caterpillars feed on leaves (mainly Maple) throughout the summer. The adult moths don’t eat at all and rarely live longer than a week.

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The adults’ sole function is to mate and produce a crop of eggs. In order to find a mate, male Cecropia moths use their extraordinary senses. A female moth produces chemicals called pheromones, which the male can detect from over a mile away.

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I haven’t seen one of these awesome insects since my childhood, so it was a thrill to get reacquainted with them.

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Pandora Sphinx Moth

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While on a hike several weeks ago, I came across this cool caterpillar. It’s the larva of a Pandora Sphinx, a type of Hawk Moth. These large caterpillars feed on the leaves of Grape and Virginia Creeper.

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This caterpillar is known to retract its first two body segments, the first being its head, into the third segment when disturbed.

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The Hawk Moths are also referred to as Sphinx Moths because the large caterpillars of most species often rear up their front ends in mock defense when disturbed, resembling a “Sphinx.”

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I took the caterpillar home and fed it grape leaves from my backyard. Eventually is turned into the this pupa and buried itself in the dirt at the bottom of its terrarium.

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After several weeks of patiently waiting, the adult moth emerged.

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As an adult, like many Hawk Moths, the Pandora Sphinx can be seen at night hovering about flowers in the tobacco family. It was awesome to encounter this crazy looking caterpillar and see it transform.

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Giant Leopard Moth

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Walking through Brecksville Reservation, just a few minutes from my home, I noticed this stunning creature resting on a log.

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This species has a wingspan of 3 inches. The wings of this moth are a high contrast bright white with a pattern of black spots, some solid and some hollow.

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This is the first adult I’ve ever seen, though I am familiar with their caterpillars, which have black bristles and orange colored bands between their segments.

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Although they are called “leopard moths” these insects belong to the family known as “tiger moths.”  There are thousands of species in this group, many with equally vivid markings.

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It was an awesome experience to come across this spectacular insect known from its amazing coloration and impressive size.

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Viceroy

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This insect is commonly known as “Viceroy” because it is similar, but smaller than the two other butterflies it resembles — the Queen and the Monarch. However, it is only distantly related to these species.

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The Viceroy belongs to a group called the “Brush-footed Butterflies,” which have four functional legs and two very small front legs which are not used for standing on. These legs are more for “tasting” than walking.

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This butterfly occurs in moist open or shrubby areas such as lakes, swamp edges, willow thickets, valley bottoms, wet meadows and agricultural and rural areas.

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Last month I found this Viceroy caterpillar. In all life stages of life, the Viceroy mimics something. The eggs resemble parasitic insect galls that affect plants. The caterpillars and chrysalis’ resemble bird droppings. And the adult resembles the poisonous Monarch Butterfly.

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I set the caterpillar up in a small terrarium and fed it willow leaves.

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One day at about 10:00AM, I noticed the caterpillar hanging upside down, preparing to transform into its next stage in life.

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By 3:00PM on the same day the caterpillar had formed its chrysalis. It stayed that way for a week before emerging as an adult butterfly.

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Here is the Viceroy about to be released.

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Ever wonder what it’s like to fly for the first time?

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