From spring into fall, leopards stalk our backyards. I am not talking about the feline variety. I am referring to the giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scribonia).
However, like the predator, that roams the wilds of Asia and Africa, the giant leopard moth also has spots. The spots on its wings vary from black to blue. Some spots might even have white centers. Once you see one, you will have no problem understanding why we call it the leopard moth. Nevertheless, I think you will agree with me that it would have been more appropriate to name it the Dalmatian moth.
The female leopard moth is smaller than the male. Males have a wingspan of 3.6 inches whereas the female’s wingspan is only 2.25 inches.
The leopard moth has a variety of host plants including male, cherry, willow, sunflower, cabbage.
If you want to see one of these handsome moths, the best strategy you can employ is to have the moth come to you. Fortunately, leopard moths are attracted to lights. Armed with that tidbit of information, just pull up a lawn chair near an outside light and wait. (Lights with shorter wavelengths work best.) If there is a giant leopard moth nearby there is a good chance it will appear.
When a leopard moth finally shows up chances are will be a male. For some reason, females do not visit lights as often as the males.
As you might expect, some folks will attract more leopard moths than others will. I have never been able to attract more than one leopard moth at a time to my lights, nevertheless, some homeowners report seeing upwards of a dozen or more.
This week I made an exciting find. While walking from my office to the house, I just happened to look down and spotted a woolly bear caterpillar curled up in the gravel. This was the first woolly bear I have seen this year.
The woolly bear is the caterpillar of the Isabella tiger moth (Pyrrharctia isabella). Stiff bristles cloak the caterpillar’s body giving it a fuzzy appearance. A rusty band extends across the midsection of the insect. Black bristles cover the front and rear portions of the insect.
When I spotted to fuzzy caterpillar, it brought back fond memories of my childhood. Back then, it was commonly believed the width of the rusty band can be used to predict the weather. According to popular folklore when the rusty band is wide, we are in for a mild winter. Conversely, when it is narrow we will have to suffer through a severe winter.
Entomologists tell us that the width of the rusty band is controlled by the age of the caterpillar and not the impending weather. As the caterpillar ages it goes through a series of molts. With each molt, the black bristles that comprise two black bands are progressively replaced with rusty bristles. Consequently, the width of the rusty band is broadest when the caterpillar molts for the last time.
From the looks of the caterpillar I found, if the woolly bear can actually predict the weather, the winter in my neck of the woods should not be too severe.
If you find a woolly bear crawling across your lawn or driveway, make a note of the width of its rusty band. Then next spring pull out the note and see if the woolly bear’s prediction was right or wrong.
I suspect that most folks that enjoy birding would like to make the trek to Texas’ High Island to witness the spring songbird migration. If you catch conditions just right, in a single day, you can get up close and personal to 30 species of warblers and literally scores of vireos tanagers and other birds. While this small island is the one of the very best places to see spring migrations, if you have the right habitat, you can see a kaleidoscope of songbirds from March into May pass through your own yard.
As migratory songbirds move northward, they make a number of stops before they reach their breeding grounds. These bits of critical habitat are referred to as stopover areas. Songbirds rest and refuel at these locations. Backyards offering the birds the proper food, water, and cover can serve as stopover sites.
The vast majority of migratory songbirds rarely visit feeders stocked with seeds and suet. However, can you attract them if you offer them the foods that will help fuel their spring migration flights. By far, the most important foods eaten by spring migrants are insects. However, the bulk of the insects consumed by the birds are the larvae of moths and butterflies (commonly referred to as caterpillars).
Most of these caterpillars feed on tree leaves. Therefore, if one or more of the trees that serve as hosts for moths and butterflies is growing in your yard, the better are your chances of attracting spring migrants.
When it comes to hosting moths and butterflies not all trees are created equal. The worst trees are introduced ornamentals. Some of these trees do not host any moths and butterflies. Studies have shown ornamentals produce 35 times less caterpillar biomass than native trees.
Here is a short list of some of the native trees that host the most species of moths and butterflies. The numbers of species of moths and butterflies that each tree hosts are found in parentheses. This list was developed by Dr. Doug Tallamy.
In Georgia, oaks (557) serve as host plants for more butterflies and moths than any other group of trees. Other important hosts to lepidopterans are cherries (456), willows (455), birches (411), poplars (367) crabapples (308), maples (297), alders (255), hickories (235), elms (215), pines (201), hawthorns (168), beeches (127), dogwoods (118), and sweetgum (35).
Should you find that none of these trees are in your yard, if you want to have your yard serve as a spring songbird stopover site, consider planting one or more trees found on this list. The small investment in time and labor this requires will pay huge dividends for decades to come.
If you already have one or more of the caterpillar producers growing in your yard, from now into May, periodically scan the tree foliage for migrants. How long the migrants stay is largely dependent on the amount of food they find. If your trees don’t harbor many caterpillars, migrants might stay and feed for only a day. Conversely, if caterpillars are abundant, migrants may linger for three or more days before moving on.
If you are lucky, one morning you may walk outside and see your trees alive with a dozen or more warblers gleaning insects for your trees’ foliage. While you might see far more species at High Island, the fact that you spotted these birds in your yard will make the experience extra special.
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.
Many members of our backyard wildlife community are rarely seen simply because they are creatures of the night. One such nocturnal animal is the giant leopard moth (Hypercompe scibonia).
The giant leopard moth did not earn its name because it a ferocious hunter like the leopard that roams the wilds of Africa and Asia. It is called the leopard moth because its white wings are covered with leopard like spots that vary from black to blue.
Male leopard moths are larger than females. The wingspan of the males measure some 3.6 inches, whereas the wingspan of females average about 2.25″
If you decide to embark on an expedition into your backyard one night in search of the giant leopard moth, your quest would probably not be successful. It seems that the best way to find a giant leopard moth is to look for it hanging on the outside walls of your home beneath a security lights. It seems these large handsome insects are attracted to lights. However, if you find one or more leopard moths, they will probably be males. Females do not visit lights nearly as often as the males. Some people have reported finding upwards of dozen giant leopard moths near light. However, I have never found more than one at a time in my neck of the woods.
If you begin checking your security lights for giant leopard moths, you will notice that many other moths are drawn in by the lights. This will give some appreciation of the amazing diversity of moths that inhabit your yard. In fact, it is safe to say; far more moths live in your backyard than butterflies.
I would like to introduce you to the green cloverworm moth (Hypena scabra). It is one of your backyard moth neighbors that you might encounter anytime throughout the year. This is especially if you live in South Georgia. In some portions of North Georgia, you might see this month only from March through November. I live in Middle Georgia, and I have seen it in all seasons.
This drab, triangular-shaped, long-snouted moth measures around an inch (25mm-35mm) in length.
Although it can be seen during daylight hours, you are most apt to it fluttering about your porch light. In fact, during the winter it is sometimes the moth commonly seen around outside lights.
The green cloverworm moth uses a variety of host plants including, strawberry, ragweed, and false indigo along with trees such as elm, hackberry, poplar, willow, and birch.
The Grancy Graybeard, also known as the fringe tree, grandfather graybeard, snow flower tree, old man’s beard and a number of other colorful names is a perfect addition to both large and small yards across the state.
The grancy graybeard is one of the last flowering trees to bloom each spring in the Peach State.For the past couple of weeks, my wife and I have been enjoying both the tree’s strikingly beautiful blossoms and aroma produced by a myriad of flowers.
This small native tree grows only ten to thirty feet tall.I personally have never seen one more than fifteen feet tall.
Before the tree’s oblong leaves appear, a riot of snow-white flowers erupt on its bare branches.This startlingly beautiful floral show is created by literally thousands of slender flowers (up to an inch long and 1/16th of an inch wide).Oddly, the male flowers are larger than the female blooms.
If that isn’t enough to catch your attention, the delicate, sweet, clean perfume given off by these flowers will.When in full bloom, the delicate sweet scent of the blossoms will waft many yards away from the tree.
These unique blooms attract nectar feeders such as small beetles, bees and others.
Later in the year female trees, bear a crop of blackish-blue fruit that are gobbled up by mockingbirds, cardinals, blue jays and other wildlife.
In addition, this demure tree is a host plant for both rustic and laurel sphinx moths.
This tree requires little, if any care.Although it does best in moist, rich soils, once established it will grow in dry areas too.The tree’s ability to live in both partial shade and full sun is another plus.
With that in mind, I hope you will consider adding it to your landscape.This tree is definitely a keeper.
One of the prettiest insects that can currently be seen in your garden is an extremely small moth named the ailanthus webworm moth (Atteva aurea).
This mite is less than a half inch long and has a wingspan of roughly an inch. However, what it lacks in size, it more than makes up in beauty. This slender orange moth is distinctively marked with four bands. Each band is comprised of tiny irregular black-bordered, light-yellow squares.
Since this day-flying moth produces several generations (flights) a year, you are likely to see it visiting your flowers from spring through fall. I spot them in autumn more than at any other time of the year. Currently, I am most often find this little jewel feeding on goldenrod.
Although this moth is native to South Florida, it has expanded its range throughout most of the United States. This range expansion was brought about by the introduction of the tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). This import from china has been widely planted in both urban and suburban areas across the country. Sadly, this import has proven to be highly invasive. As a result, it has become naturalized in Georgia and elsewhere.
It seems that the ailanthus webworm moth’s main host plant is the paradisetree (Simarouba glauca). However, as it turns out, ailanthus webworm moths adopted the tree of heaven as host plant. This allowed the tiny moth to follow the tree of heaven across America.
Did you know that the sweetgum tree is a host plant for more than 30 species of butterflies and moths? This list of butterflies and moths that lay their eggs on sweet gum includes the large and beautiful luna and promethea moths.
Answer: Most of us have found a butterfly and moth in our homes. When this occurs, we are faced with the problem of trying to catch and release the insect without harming it.
Over the years I have tried a number of techniques. However, in far too many cases I ended up accidentally injuring or killing the animal I was trying to save. After much trial and error I have found two devices that consistently work the best for me.
Small, inexpensive butterfly nets can often be found in the toy department of our favorite store. Using such a net, you don’t have to risk injuring yourself or the insect even if it lands on the ceiling or high on a wall.
If the insect perches on a wall within arm’s reach, it can be caught in a clear glass. Simply approach the insect very slowly and place the open end of the glass over it. Then slightly raise the rim of the glass and gently slip a thick piece of paper under the rim. When the paper touches the legs of the insect it will usually take flight. When this happens continue sliding the paper all the way under the glass. Once you have captured the moth or butterfly, hold onto the glass with one hand and the paper with the other as you carry it outside for release.