It’s National Moth Week! So let’s learn a little more about them.
Moth or butterfly?
Moths and butterflies are members of the order Lepidoptera (Greek for scale and wing). Most butterflies have club-shaped antennae – a thin stem with a ball at the end – whereas moths usually (but not always) have feathery antennae like the luna moth above. Moths often have fuzzy, short bodies compared to the more slender, smoother body of butterflies.
Are all moths small and brown?
Many moths are small and brown, tan or white. But many are much fancier; in fact you may have mistaken some colorful ones for butterflies. Sometimes the colors are hidden while the moth is at rest, but revealed when in flight, like the tiger moth. The silk moths are spectacular in size and color – such as the Luna moth above.
A bird dropping moth (Eudryas sp.) Photo by T. Weldy, NYNHP
Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginana). photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP
How many different kinds of moths are in NY State?
There are over 1,000 moth species in the state. A single State Park can harbor dozens to hundreds of different species of moths. Larger parks and those with rare habitats are great examples of places that support a diversity of different species of moths. To date, scientists have identified about 90 species in Watkins Glen and Taughannock State Parks, over 300 species in Minnewaska State Park Preserve, and nearly 500 species of moths each at Hither Hills and Napeague State Parks!
Where and how do you find moths?
Most moths fly at night. The easiest place to see moths is at a porch light or around the lights of campground buildings. For better viewing hang a sheet or light colored cloth up with a light next to it. The moths will land on the sheet (see below) so you can get a close up look without even touching them. Other moths prefer daytime or can be seen resting during the day.
Why are those moths in boxes?
A lot of moths are difficult to identify. So scientists collect and preserve specimens in order to look at them closely to identify them. Collections are also important as a permanent record of what species were found at a site. Each specimen is labeled with location, date, and species name. Then the specimens are placed in ‘safe storage’ in a museum such as the New York State Museum or a university collection where they can be used for other research or study.
These are some of the moths found in hemlock forests in the Finger Lakes State Parks. The top row shows some of the ornately patterned tiger moths. Photo by J. Lundgren, NYNHP
NY Natural Heritage Program zoologists prepare and preserve moth specimens from surveys in State Parks (OPRHP). Experts identify these specimens and each specimen is labeled with the name, date, and location. Photos by J. Lundgren, NYNHP
Experts identify these specimens and each specimen is labeled with the name, date, and location. Photos by J. Lundgren, NYNHP
Are there rare moths in State Parks?
Yes! For example, four rare moth species have been found in Minnewaska State Park Preserve and over 30 rare moth species have been documented in Napeague and Hither Hills State Parks on Long Island. Some have fun names like fawn brown dart (Euxoa pleuritica), pink star moth (Derrima stellate), chocolate renia (Renia nemorali) and black-bordered lemon moth (Marimatha nigrofimbria). Most areas of the state have not even been surveyed for moths, so there is much more to learn. Currently, over 100 species of moths have been identified as rare in the state. See the NYNHP Rare animal list for the listing of New York’s rare moths.
A rare noctuid moth (Apamea burgessi) Photo by H. McGuiness
Quiz answer: The woolly bear caterpillar (Pyrrharctia isabella) becomes the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella). Moths are one of the few groups that have different names for different life stages of the same animal. This is one reason why scientific names are important; from the common names we might think this caterpillar and moth were not related.
Post by Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program
New York State Parks is abuzz with excitement for pollinators. From June 20-26, we celebrate both National Pollinator Week and New York State Pollinator Awareness Week. Our local bees, butterflies, moths, birds and other pollinators are to thank for most of the food we eat, as well as for many of the trees and flowers we enjoy every day. As these animals go from flower to flower to drink nectar, they accidentally carry sticky pollen from the anthers to the stigma, the male and female parts of flowers. This fertilizes the eggs, which grow into seeds and fruits that we enjoy.
One of the ways you can show appreciation for these fantastic pollinators is to get out to natural areas in State Parks and enjoy the native flora. You can also explore native plant gardens and learn more about using native plant species in your own backyard to attract pollinators. Last year we paid homage to a few of our favorite New York pollinators. This year, let’s have a closer look at some of the plants and the pollinators that visit them.
Just as pollinators come in all shapes and sizes, so too do the native plants that they enjoy. Different plants attract different types of pollinators. Look for all kinds of flowers in the woods, wetlands, meadows, gardens or orchards and you are apt to see some pollinators at work. Below are some of the native pollinators and flora found in State Parks, with photos from the NY Natural Heritage Program. NYNHP works in partnership with State Parks (OPRHP) to assess and conduct inventories of natural areas in state parks and helps to protect habitats that support common and rare species alike, including these important pollinators.
Whether you are a hiker, gardener, farmer, or food-lover you can enjoy and support our local pollinators! Maintaining natural areas, meadows or gardens with a variety of plants can help to sustain all the life stages of a wide range of insects from bees to butterflies.
If you are interested in creating a backyard oasis for native pollinators, look for plants that are native to your area of the state and, if possible, grown near where you live. Consider planting different types of flowers; gardens with an array of flowers blooming at different times provide food for a variety of pollinators throughout the season. Look for white, yellow or blue flowers to attract bees. Red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds (bees don’t even see red). Butterflies prefer bright flowers, particularly reds, oranges, and purple (like fall asters). Moths are attracted to white, purple, or pink flowers with strong, sweet scents, especially those emitting a scent at night. See resources below on pollinators and native plants in your area.
State Parks is celebrating pollinators at these events across the state:
Clay Pit Ponds State Park – Time Tuesdays, June 21 @ 10am
Learn about our native pollinators by making crafts, playing games, and socializing with other toddlers! Parent or care giver is required to stay. Ages 1-3 (flexible). Please call (718) 605-3970 ext 201 for more information.
Saratoga Spa State Park – Butterfly Walk Friday, June 24 @2:00pm
Did you know restoring a habitat is like building a neighborhood? Come enjoy a light hike at the Karner Blue site and learn what butterflies live in the same neighborhood as the Karner Blue butterfly. Please wear hats and sunscreen. You may want to bring binoculars or a magnifying glass to see butterflies up close. This program is appropriate for ages 7 and up. Registration is required. Please call 518-584-2000 ext. 122. This program is free.
Thacher Nature Center – Honeybees Are Buzzin’, June 25 @ 2pm
Summertime brings flowers and a hive packed with activity! Come and learn all about honeybees as you view the colony in our indoor observation hive. See the busy workers, the specialized drones and the ever-important queen bee in action! Learn how to dance like a bee, and view the world from a bee’s perspective. Afterwards, take a walk to observe our honeybees at work in the gardens. Please register by calling 518-872-0800.
Letchworth State Park – Butterfly Beauties, June 26 @ 2pm
Study the beauty and composition of hundreds of dried butterfly specimens representing most of the world’s butterfly families. Dozens of local and New York species, as well as those found in the Niagara Parks Butterfly Conservatory, are specially noted. Butterfly structure and local natural history will be featured in two new butterfly videos. This is an excellent primer for the Butterfly Walk on July 9th. (Look for details in the upcoming summer issue of The Genesee Naturalist.) All workshops meet in the Conference Room in the Visitor Center and Regional Administration Building located in Letchworth State Park. Please call (585) 493-3680 for more information.
Ganondagan State Historic Site – Planting for Ethnobotany Workshop Saturday, August 6, 2016 @9:00am-11:00am
Participants will help plant native plants in the Green Plants Trail and the Pollinator Grassland at Ganondagan. Ages 8 and up. Registration Required. Please call (585) 924-5848 for more information.
Please note, some of the plants listed in this resource are native to the ecoregion but not to NY state. Please check the NY Flora Atlas to confirm which are native to New York before choosing your planting list.
— NY Flora Atlas – list of plants known in NY and which are native or not