By Eric Duran
All kinds of images come to mind when you think of springtime — wildflowers, butterflies, migrating birds. We get all of those in Russ Pitman Park, but we also get an array of awesome moths when the weather turns warmer.
While we think of moths as the nocturnal counterpart to butterflies, there are also many species of day flying moth. Moths are primarily nocturnal, though. They can be less picky eaters than butterflies, as caterpillars, while many butterfly caterpillars are more specific plant eaters.
The differences between which families of the insect order Lepidoptera we refer to as “moth” and those that we refer to as “butterfly” can be a bit random and confusing sometimes, but that’s a topic for another article. This month, we’re going to take a look at a few species of moth we’ve seen around our neighborhoods and in the park.
The large light green Luna Moth is arguably one of the most beautiful moths in our area. It’s in the silk moth family Saturniidae, along with the Chinese Silkmoth, the Io Moth, and the Cecropia Moth. As with all the members of this family, they only feed as caterpillars — and have no mouth parts as adults! The adults only live for about week. The fat green caterpillars feed on a variety of tree leaves; like Pecan, Hickory, Persimmon, and Sweet Gum. The elongated tails of the adult moths are believed to confuse the echo-location of predatory bats.
The Giant Leopard Moth may be better known for its large prickly black caterpillar, known as the Banded Woolly Bear. This variety of woolly bear does not have hairs that can deliver a painful sting. The caterpillars feed on a really wide variety of leaves from bushes, trees and small plants. The adult males can grow up to about 2 inches long, while the females grow to be only about an inch long. They are rather amorous moths, as their mating sessions may last up to 24 hours!
The Eight-spotted Forester is a moth which many of us may never see in our backyards, but they can be common in forests throughout the eastern U.S. These gorgeous little moths are diurnal (active during the day). The caterpillars feed on leaves of vines in the grape family, like wild grapes and Virginia creeper. The larvae can be considered a pest by some grape growers. This individual was spotted flitting through the understory in Memorial Park.
Has this brief introduction to local moths piqued your interest? We encourage you to get out and find some of these beautiful creatures yourself. Try looking on the outside of your house near your outdoor lights at night. Go for a walk in a local park with pollinator gardens or wildflowers to try and spot day flying moths.
You can also join us on one of our Park After Dark Walks. Visit https://naturediscoverycenter.org/activities/night-hike/ or call 713-667-6550 to find out more.
Duran is the staff naturalist at the Nature Discovery Center, 7112 Newcastle Dr., Bellaire.