March is not a great month for butterfly enthusiasts. At this time of the year the seasons transition from winter to spring. As such, temperatures remain are cool and nectar is often hard to come by. This translates into few butterflies flitting across our backyards. However, there is any number of moths that can be seen this month. One of these fascinating creatures is the white-headed prominent (Symmerista albafrons).
During March this small (wingspan 1 19/64-1 47/64 inches) moth is commonly flying about backyards across the state. This is especially true if its host plants (oaks) are growing nearby.
Finding one is not difficult at all. Instead of stumbling around in the dark looking for it, it will come to you. Let me explain. This moth is attracted to outside lights. Therefore, it is most often seen perched on the side of a house beneath outside lights that are glowing in the dark. If you spot one, the first thing you will notice is that its wings are folded over its back. This will permit you to see a distinctive toothed, white spot running down the edge of its folded wings. Since this month is extremely tame, it will allow you to view it from a close range. In fact, it will often permit you to touch it.
I find it amazing that the white-headed prominent can be seen on chilly spring evenings. Recently, I found on perched below an outside garage light when the temperature was only 55˚F.
If you are a butterfly enthusiast, you should explore the world of moths. The diversity of moths than can be seen in a backyard is astounding. In fact, far more different species of moths inhabit your yard than butterflies.
If you want to venture into the amazing world of moths, this evening before you sit down to watch your favorite television show, turn on the outside garage lights. Then when your program pauses for a commercial, walk outside and see if your lights have attracted any moths. If some moths have been drawn to the lights, don’t be surprised if one of them is a white-headed prominent.
Great information, Terry! I’m sure that moths can really be interesting to explore if one devotes a little time.
One year I set up a critter cam for what all comes through our yard here in Berkeley, CA, at night, an inexpensive one running on batteries and that whole bank of batteries went dead too soon each effort, owing to night moths! Every second, a night moth. Then I found out that night moths are major pollinators! This is my first year ever in 4 decades of leaving all the autumn leaves on the ground in our front yard, something I’ve wanted to do because it is said given such it will yield night moths. I’d like to know more about that! And, how will I know it happened? Also, what kinds of night moths could come from this effort?
Rachel, Thank you for your response. I wish I could provide you with information regarding what night moths you might expect in your yard. The reason for this I am not familiar with the moths of California. With that in mind, However, as you well know the value of leaving leaves litter is well known. What species will benefit from your efforts is going to be greatly influenced by the tree species in your yard. Many moths and butterflies overwinter on the leaves that fall directly below their host tree. I would suggest you also plant pale night-blooming plants that emit a light aroma. One of the best references you can find on many facets moth management are contained in a free publication that be downloaded from the Xerces Society (Nesting and Overwintering Habitats of Pollinators and Other Beneficial Insects). If I come across any info specic to your needs, I will certainly let you know. —- Terry