Garden Tiger Moth

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While hiking at Point Reyes National Seashore, I came across a few of these really cool looking caterpillars. The Garden Tiger Moth lives in the northern United States, Canada and Europe.

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Like the Woolly Bear (the caterpillar of the Isabella Tiger Moth) from my home state of Ohio, this “punk rock” looking caterpillar prefers cool climates with temperate seasonality, since they overwinter.

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Tiger Moths tend to have conspicuous patterns on their wings that serve as a warning to predators, indicating the moth’s poisonous body fluids. Its caterpillar’s hairs act as a deterrent to birds and provide some protection against parasitic flies and wasps.

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This species resides in a number of habitats, including gardens, damp meadows, fens, riverbanks, sand dunes and open woodland. Because of the caterpillar’s generalist diet, it is not constrained to where it lives by needing a specific host plant.

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Like other Tiger Moths, the adult Garden Tiger Moth exudes a yellow smelly liquid from a gland at the back of its head as a deterrent to predators. This insect’s bold colors are ideal for frightening predators – as the moth normally hides its hindwings under its less colorful forewings when resting.

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Nevada Admiral

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This cool creature has a very limited range and I’ve only been lucky enough to encounter it a few times. The Nevada Admiral occurs only in the Spring Mountains in southern Nevada.

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This insect belongs to a large family known as the Brushfooted Butterflies, which are distinguished by their reduced brush-like forelegs that are curled up and not functional for walking. It’s bold black and white pattern make for a distinctive “look,” with white bands replacing the orange bands of the Red Admiral found in my home state of Ohio.

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The Nevada Admiral’s habitat is deciduous forests, streamsides in coniferous forests, aspen groves, as well as small towns and suburbs. Like the Red Admiral, male Nevada Admirals often perch in a specific spot, waiting for females to come into their territory and chasing out other males.

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Adults feed on tree sap, carrion and flower nectar, while their larva consume mostly aspen, cottonwood and willow leaves. It was neat to see these strikingly marked inhabitants on Mount Charleston when I visited the Silver State.

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Virgin Tiger Moth

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While looking under pieces of plywood on an open field in search of snakes, I came upon the pupa of a moth. I took it home and set it up in a little terrarium. A few months later the moth emerged.

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The Virgin Tiger Moth is a member of a large group of sometimes dramatically patterned moths who whose fuzzy offspring are called “wooly bears” or “wooly worms.”

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Tiger Moths are unusual among moths because they have tymbal organs, which can be used to produce ultrasonic sound. These ultrasonic emanations are thought to startle bats, warn bats to stay away, or to “jam” their bat radar.

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The Virgin Tiger Moth is found in woodland and wetland edges, clearings and fields east of the Rocky Mountains, though it’s uncommon in the far South.

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Its caterpillars eat bedstraw, clover, lettuce, plantains and other low-growing herbaceous plants. They are often seen in the Fall crossing roads as they look for sheltered areas to overwinter.

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In the Spring the caterpillars become active again and begin feeding. After a few weeks they form a pupa and in late Spring or early Summer they will emerge as adults.

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The striking stained glass-looking forewings along with the bright underwings, used to scare off predators, make encountering one of these fine insects a memorable experience.

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Chalcedon Checkerspot

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I sometimes come across this colorful and very cool little butterfly while on my visits to California. It it relatively small, with a wingspan of less than two inches.

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It is a highly variable species, with the wing upper surface being black to dark brown and a characteristic yellow and red checkerspot pattern.

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The Chalcedon Checkerspot is widespread in the western mountains from Mexico to Alaska and ranges west to the Pacific Coast. It is a habitat generalist, though I most often see it in open fields.

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It can also be found in streamsides, forest clearings, sagebrush flats, desert hills and alpine areas. Males often remain perched on their caterpillar host plants, like Monkey Flower, as a strategy to encounter females.

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This is an enjoyable creature to see on my visits to the Golden State.

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Clouded Sulphur

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This is often the last butterfly of the year that I see, sometimes here in Ohio as late as mid-November. I also come across them pretty consistently on my visits to southern Illinois in October.

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The Clouded Sulphur may be encountered in fields, lawns, alfalfa or clover fields, meadows and roadsides. Swarms of these butterflies often congregate at mud puddles. Their range covers most of North America.

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Unlike some other late-flying species, the Clouded Sulphur does not hibernate over the winter as an adult. On the upper sides of its wings, males have a solid black border, while the females have yellow spots in their borders (unfortunately, this butterfly rarely lands with its wings open).

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The word “butterfly” probably originated because of the yellow color of European sulphurs. The Clouded Sulphur has seasonal color variations that range from a white to yellow.

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To me seeing this insect is a sure sign of Autumn, as it often visits Fall-flowering plants like New England Aster.

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Queen

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While hiking in the Mojave Desert, I sometimes come across this fine creature in the vicinity of cattle watering troughs or natural springs where there is green plant life in the surrounding area.

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This insect is part of the subfamily Danainae, known as the Milkweed Butterfly Group. It is a close relative to the Monarch Butterfly, though it tends to be more chestnut in color, rather than orange. It is also more solidly colored and only faintly veined.

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Like those of Monarchs, the caterpillars of Queens feed on several different species of poisonous milkweed. The caterpillars acquire the milkweed toxins, and as a result both they and the adult butterflies are rather poisonous.

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Birds will avoid these orange (or rust), black and white butterflies and any other butterflies with similar markings like the deceptive, non-poisonous Viceroy.

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Queens have a wingspan of almost four inches and can be found in open, sunny areas including fields, deserts, roadsides, pastures, dunes, washes and waterways in the southern United States.

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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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