Master Naturalist Class finds a Sweetheart

Sweetheart Underwing Moth that is. July 23 I had an opportunity to blacklight with the latest class of NE Master Naturalists at Cedar Point Biological Station (which is located below Lake McConaughy in Keith County). Our lights attracted insects belonging to 37 insect Families from 11 Orders (sorry for the taxonomy jargon). Among our more interesting finds were a Sweetheart Underwing Moth (Catacola amatrix), a Jaguar Flower Moth (Schinia jaguarina), multiple Owlflies, 10 Lined Scarab Beetles (Polyphylla decemlineata) and Pygotid flies.

Sweetheart Underwing – photo by Mark Brogie, Creighton, Knox Co, 9-2-2019

Larvae of the Sweetheart Underwing feed on cottonwood tree leaves. Most records of adults are from August and September.

Jaguar Flower Moth – photo by Babs and Loren Padelford, Chadron State Park, Dawes County, 7-17-2015

Flower Moths are so named because of the habit of laying eggs on or near flowers, upon which the larvae then feed. Most Flower Moth species are host specific, feeding on a narrow group of plants. The Jaguar Flower Moth’s larvae are reported to feed on Psoralea sp. (scurfpeas). Adults are found near prairie areas (with scurfpeas) from May to October with numbers peaking in July.

Owlflies are a seldom observed group of insects related to antlions. Both adults and larvae are predacious. Larvae differ from ant lion larvae in that they do not dig pits but instead lie in ambush on the soil surface waiting for prey to come within striking distance.

A couple of other interesting insects that were attracted to our lights were 10 Lined Scarab Beetles and their nemesis, Pygotid flies. The 10 Lined Scarabs are colorful beetles that have the ability to produce an audible hiss when handled or disturbed. Larvae feed on tree roots and may take several years to mature and emerge. Adults feed on plants but are generally less destructive than larvae. Newly emerged females release a pheromone which males detect and follow by using sensory organs their specialized antennae.

Pygotid flies are nocturnal flies that parasitize scarab beetles. In the dark of night they intercept the scarabs in mid flight and lay an egg in between the beetles abdominal segments. Once the egg hatches the larvae burrows into the beetle and begin to feed on their live prey. At some point the beetle dies, the fly maggot finishes it’s feast, pupates and emerges as an adult to resume hunting scarab beetles. There is peril at every turn if you’re an insect.

Congratulations to the class of 2021 Master Naturalists!!

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