WDEL Blog: Eclectic Hobbies with Allan Loudell

The Big Silkmoths are out!: Great time for observing Butterflies & Moths

All the big "showy" Silk moths have emerged in the Mid-Atlantic region about now.

But you still have to LOOK for them, typically outside well-illuminated convenience stores and service stations in isolated woodland locations. Silk moths often perch vertically - like many butterflies - so a casual observer can miss them, despite their size.

Conversely, some Silk moths rest with their upper wings covering their more eye-catching lower wings. For example, Io moths cover up the big "eyes" on their lower wings. If you disturb them, they'll quickly display those lower wings. This is a defense mechanism. In the dark, potential prey might mistake those "eyes" for those of a larger animal.

Of all the Silk moths in our area, I regard the Luna moth as the most widespread, even in suburban and city locations.
It may be making something of a comeback. That is very good news. Even people generally disinterested - or even fearful - of most insects usually appreciate the subtle mint green beauty of the Lunas.

I've already mentioned Io moths. I've also seen the Tulip Tree Silk moth several times around Northeast, Maryland, and the massive Polyphemus moth in Pennsylvania. And the smaller Rosy Maple moth at many locations.

Where to look?

If you're in a suburban environment, don't rule out the possibility of a Silk moth in your own yard. Once, when sprinkling the back yard one afternoon, a Luna suddenly flew out. From afar in direct sunlight, it looked whitish, and it took me a couple of seconds to identify it. I didn't expect to see a Luna in my yard in Bear!

Run a fluorescent light in your backyard at the top of a big white sheet one night. You might be surprised by what you find. Warm muggy overcast nights are usually best. And, don't overlook some of the smaller moths. Yes, many are drab: "LBJ's -- Little Brown Jobs", as both birders and lepidopterists say. But some are quite colorful, and many - even the brown ones - display intricate patterns.

Convenience stores & service stations near Lums Pond State Park, and around Northeast, Maryland, yield many species of moths at sunrise. I always check out the Delaware rest stop north of Smyrna... even later in the day.

On the butterfly front, I have YET to see a Monarch this year, although I've seen the butterfly which closely resembles it -- the Viceroy.

Spicebush & Eastern Tiger Swallowtails can be found at all our state parks; the Black-form Eastern Tiger females are emerging.

You can see dozens of Zebra Swallowtails at Elk Neck State Park in Cecil County, Maryland - one of the epicenters for Zebra Swallowtails in the eastern U.S.

The Great Spangled Fritillary - which some novices can mistake for a Monarch from a distance - is flying at White Clay Creek State Park, Delaware and the White Clay Creek Preserve in Pennsylvania.

I've seen the somewhat endangered Bronze Copper in wetlands southwest of Delaware City, near the C & D Canal.

A visit to the higher-elevation game lands north of Ricketts Glen State Park in northern Pennsylvania yielded such Northern species as the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Atlantis Fritillary, Harris' Checkerspot, white-banded, Red-spotted Admirals (what many butterfliers still call 'White Admirals'); Northern Pearly-Eye; and the Common Ringlet.

Postscript: After posting this blog...
I was fueling my car at the Shell station on Route 273 east of Route 1. I wasn't particularly looking for moths. But there, just behind my car, I noticed a fresh Tulip-Tree Silk moth.

This location is not far from a forested area, but with stores in most other directions, this is not particularly a magnet for big moths. You never know!

Posted at 5:44am on June 16, 2010 by Allan Loudell

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