Friday, July 15, 2005

Another Mother's Day and Night

Ilia Underwing [Catocala ilia]
Photo by Lee Stinchcombe

On Wednesday [7/13/05] the Moth tree was a hotbed of lepidopteran activity. When the non-maternal Mothers arrived a little after sunset, large moths, mostly the colorful Underwings, were already arriving at the numerous spots of dark, oozing sap. This is what attracts them, and as far as I know it is the only such tree in the park. [I've looked.] Near Cleopatra's Needle a bit north of Turtle Pond there is another old Oak, possibly another English Oak, that does on occasion release some insect-attracting sap in small areas near the base of the tree. But nothing remotely like the Moth Tree.

Thanks to an amazingly powerful little flashlight I bought on Wednesday afternoon, [It's called a Surefire and uses lithium batteries rather than flashlight batteries] we were able to see clearly to the very top of the tree. At various places higher than we've ever seen before we could see more moths dining on sap, arriving, departing, imbibing.

Most of the moths were of one species, the Ilia Underwing. There was one much smaller Underwing that flashed bright red when it opened its forewings. It was too high to photograph and so we could only make an educated guess that it was a Girlfriend Underwing. That is our method of identifying these days: using a macro lens we take a digital photo of the moth. Then we can peacefully compare the photo with the pictures in the Field Guide to Moths.

The Field Guide to Moths, by the way, is the major impediment to Mothing as a popular hobby. There is only one Field Guide, a part of the Peterson series. It isn't very easy to use because its illustrations are all images of mounted dead moths that frequently don't resemble living moths as they appear on a tree or a sheet. And finally, this inadequate, unsatisfactory book is OUT OF PRINT. We used to be able to buy old copies of the Field Guide to Moths at a reasonable price on used books sites on the Internet. Then the book dealers must have discovered that the book is out of print. Enter the Law of Supply and Demand. Now the prices are always in three figures. For a crummy old paperback!

The photo above was taken by Lee Stinchcombe. She couldn't get a photo of our single Mystery Moth of the evening because it was too high to photograph. So she drew a sketch of it. Help! Anybody know this moth? I've been searching all day on various Moth sites online and haven't found it.