Moths and Butterflies in the Gardens

 

I did my first mothing for this year on Monday night.  I didn’t see many moths – it’s still cool at night, and still very early in the year for many species.  But I did see a few interesting ones.

These first two are species that can’t survive our cold winters, so they migrate here in the spring from areas that are farther south.

This is a Bilobed Looper.

And this is a Celery Looper.  This one wouldn’t hold still, but I like the way it looks when it vibrates its wings.

Finally it settled down on the sheet, and I got a better photo.

The caterpillars of both these moths are crop pests, but not bad ones.  They don’t usually cause enough damage to create real problems for farmers.  The southerly winds have been bringing them up from the south for the last week or so – I’ve been seeing a lot of them both here and at the farm.

This moth is called a Forage Looper – it does spend the winter here.  Its caterpillars feed on several weedy plants as well as alfalfa and clover.  Like the other two loopers, it’s usually not a bad problem for farmers.

 

The most common butterflies in the gardens right now are also migrants from the south.  Red Admirals.  These photos are from the farm, not 1666.  The 1666 Red Admirals were moving too fast, and I couldn’t get any pictures.

Red Admirals have been arriving in Minnesota for at least a month.  I saw my first one at the farm on March 30th.  Populations of these butterflies fluctuate dramatically from year to year.  This year seems to be a big one.

Their caterpillars eat the leaves of nettles. Most people don’t have nettles in their gardens, so I went looking around in the woods to see if the butterflies would be able to find plants to lay their eggs on.  I found several nice patches of nettles along the old trolley tracks, and I even found some growing in our prairie.  So if you see nettle plants in the prairie, look closely and you may see tiny caterpillars nibbling on the leaves.

Here’s a picture of a nettle plant – so you know what it looks like.  Don’t touch!  The tiny hairs on the stems and leaves have a chemical in them that stings.

 

This shows a Red Admiral egg on a nettle leaf.  The eggs are very small – about the size of a pencil point.

This is a picture I took in 2005, at the farm.  That was another big year for Red Admirals.  It’s a nettle leaf covered with Red Admiral caterpillars.

 

If you see my UV lights out near the woods at night, come by and visit.  I’m hoping to attract some interesting moths this summer.

Marcie O’Connor
May 10, 2012