One of the more rewarding aspects of photographing/collecting Lepidoptera is the occasional discovery of a species new to an area (and/or well outside it’s known range). Such is the case with Spiny Oakworm Moth (Anisota stigma). Or is it the Manitoba Oakworm Moth (A. manitobensis)? Both of them belong to the Lepidopteran Family Saturnidae (discussed in the previous blog post) which we are adding to our website later this spring.
Back in 2005 (July 15 to be exact) Barbara and Loren Padelford discovered and photographed an interesting moth at Smith Falls State Park which was determined to be a Manitoba Oakworm Moth which had not yet been found in Nebraska. This was quite a discovery as according to the Moth Photographers Group website the nearest record of this moth to Nebraska was in southern Manitoba, some 600 miles distant.
In researching the genus Anisota we discovered a record of a sibling species (A. stigma) from Brown County (probably the Niobrara Valley Preserve) by Roy Beckemeyer on July 22, 1998. This was also quite a find as the other nearest records were from eastern Iowa or Oklahoma, both also roughly 600 miles distant. At this point I thought maybe I should look at the moths I had collected over the years from the Niobrara Valley Preserve to identify at a later date. Lo and behold there was another Anisota (which looked like A. stigma), also from Brown County in 1998 (July 2).
At this point we sent pics of my Niobrara Valley Preserve and the Padelford’s Smith Falls specimens to Dr. James Tuttle (North American Saturnid Moth expert). He was quite surprised to find either species in Nebraska but was of the opinion that the NVP specimen was A.stigma. He was also on the fence as to whether these are two species or one and suggested DNA analysis might be needed to make a clear determination (if that was indeed possible). To that end I donated my specimen to the UNL collection where it is available for future research. There have been no records of these moths for nearly 20 years, although this might be the result of not looking for them.
Finding these moths in north-central Nebraska was surprising in that there are no records nearby. On the other hand, it is somewhat surprising (to me anyway) that there are no other records for the state even though the larval stage of both “species” feed on oaks which are widespread across eastern Nebraska. So, look back through your old moth pictures and collections. Maybe there are more “treasures” there waiting to be discovered. Let us know what you find at email@example.com.
This is one of the moth groups we will be adding to our website later this spring.
Moths in the Lepidopteran Family Saturniidae are commonly called silkworm moths although the moth used by the Chinese to make silk is actually a member of a closely related family (Bombycidae). Nonetheless many Saturniid Moths spin cases of silk in which they pupate. There are about 2,300 members of the Family worldwide, just about 100 in North America and 12 recorded from Nebraska.
Rarely common, these moths run the gamut of being some of the largest (Cecropia and Polyphemus Moths) most conspicuous moths to being fairly small and innocuous. Most, if not all, lack functioning mouthparts and do not feed as adults, subsisting on the energy they “brought with them” from the larval stage. Thus, their adult lifespan is fairly short and when their energy reserves are depleted they expire. The sole function of adults then becomes propagating the species.
To this end females emit pheromones to attract males which have large feathery antennae to detect said pheromones and follow them to their source, the female. Larvae feed on trees or shrubs with some species being host specific and others being generalists.
While there are a few late summer records the larger species are generally restricted to a single spring-early summer brood annually while some of the smaller members of this group are capable of producing multiple generations. This group overwinters as pupae.
More on some of the amazing moths we will be featuring on our website will follow in the coming days.
I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season. We have great news for 2023!! Through the Watchable Wildlife Program, Nebraska Game and Parks has funded an expansion of our Nebraska Lepidoptera website that will enable us to cover species from three of the more conspicuous and/or identifiable moth groups found in our state. These groups are the Families Sphingidae (Sphinx, Hawk or Hummingbird Moths), and Saturnidae (Silkworm Moths) and the Underwing moths (Genus Catocala in the Erebidae Family). Joining Jonathan Nikkila and myself (Neil Dankert) in this endeavor is Steve Spomer from the Entomology Department at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. While I have focused on butterfly distributions over the years Steve has been compiling records for Sphinx and Underwing Moths. Without his collaboration inclusion of these unique moth groups would not have been possible.
We think that the addition of these moth groups will add to viewers enjoyment of our Lepidoptera fauna and increase opportunities for participation in citizen science. Additional posts about these moth groups will be coming in the near future. Stay tuned.
Recently Steve Spomer (UNL) came in contact with an amazing moth enthusiast in Cedar County. It turns out that Eric Strehlow had a childhood interest in insects that was rekindled around 15 years ago. Since that time he has been hugely successful in developing and refining bait traps to attract moths in the oak woodlands along the Missouri River. He reports that on occasion he has lured in upward of fifty underwing moths in a night. In the course of running these bait traps he also has attracted some woodland butterfly species. In addition to finding Northern Pearly Eye and Goatweed butterflies he’s also found California Tortoise Shells and Compton’s Tortoise Shells, the latter two being very rare in the state. All of these are Cedar County records.
Compton’s Tortoise Shells are northern in distribution where they inhabit deciduous woodlands. The species is thought to be a stray in Nebraska as there are only five records over the past 120+ years. A truly exceptional find!
California Tortoise Shells are another butterfly that rarely strays into Nebraska, this time from the west where it is also found in/near woodlands. Another fantastic find with Cedar County being one of only four counties where it has been found. It was found in Sioux and Scotts Bluff Counties earlier this summer but Eric found them in his bait traps in Cedar County both this year when he found several and last year (2021) when five showed up in his traps.
While not as rare Northern Pearly Eye and Goatweed butterflies are both good finds (click the links above). Finding Eric was a stroke of luck. He will have an amazing amount of data to share. If you are aware of anyone in your area that may have an interest in butterflies and moths please have them get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A couple more October county records to report: On October 16 Colin Croft photographed a Crescent butterfly in the Wildcat Hills of southern Scotts Bluff County. We forwarded the photograph to Steve Spomer at UNL who shared it with other experts and identified it as a Mylitta Crescent (Phyciodes mylitta). Scotts Bluff County is only the fifth county in the state where the Mylitta Crescent has been found (it is primarily western in distribution). It is ranked as an S1, Tier 2 species in the Nebraska Natural Heritage Program administered by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Then on October 20 Jim Reiser took time out from catching (and releasing) fish in Boyd County to observe a Marine Blue (Leptotes marina) where it had not previously been reported. Which answers my question as to how far north this southern stray made it this past summer. At least to the South Dakota border. That makes 17 county records in Nebraska for this butterfly in 2022. Now I’m curious as to whether this influx is a one year phenomenon or will be part of a longer trend.
After a couple of frosts and a light freeze the weather has been great here in central Nebraska. Most of the nectar sources and butterflies are gone but a few of each are still hanging on. Perhaps we can record a county record in November!! Let us know if you see anything you consider noteworthy at email@example.com.
Although most of Nebraska has seen a frost a few hardier plants and butterflies are still hanging on for our viewing pleasure. So the following sightings might not be the last county records for 2022.
On October 11 Lori Tomes spotted a Marine Blue (Leptotes marina) in Fremont which was a Dodge County record. This breeding stray (various legumes are host plants) had a very good year here in Nebraska. It was found in 16 counties where it had not previously been reported. Many thanks to Lori and the numerous other contributors!
Then on October 22 when I was rubbing elbows with members of the Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union (bird enthusiasts) at Schramm State Recreation Area in Sarpy County we noticed several diminutive (hence the name) Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis) butterflies on an aster still in bloom. Loren Padelford was kind (and skilled) enough to capture some images of this tiny butterfly. It is a stray in our state, seldom reported possibly due to its small size. It can breed here but does not survive our winters. These two individuals were likely offspring of eggs laid on Lamb’s Quarters (Chenopodium album) in the area as the chance of two fresh Pygmy Blues straying onto the same aster on the same day must be extremely small.
While the chances for new finds diminish daily be alert to whatever is still on the wing if only to savor their presence before winter sets in. As always, if you see anything unusual let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org
Since our last post on Marine Blues (Leptotes marina) a week ago observers have come through with sightings from eight additional new counties. Diane Miller found them on alfalfa in Boone and Madison counties, Joanne Langabee and Holly Hoffreiter recorded the species while doing a butterfly survey at Homestead National Monument east of Beatrice in Gage County. Sarah Bailey and Deb & Scott Miller observed them in their yards in Aurora (Hamilton County) as did Melissa Pohl in Seward County. After picking up Junk Jaunt treasures Saturday in Cairo for Jennifer (the better half) I spent a pleasurable afternoon driving the back roads of Howard, Merrick and Nance Counties where Marine Blues were present on alfalfa when it could be found in bloom. Many thanks to all contributors!!
While Marine Blues have now been found in over half of Nebraska’s counties, large blocks of counties remain where intrepid explorers can document new finds. Get ’em now before the cold weather shuts the season down and contact us at email@example.com
While most other butterflies have passed their peak numbers, the same cannot be said for Marine Blues. This past weekend five observers reported Marine Blues from six counties where they had not been previously reported. Colin Croft found one in Banner County in the far southern reaches of Wildcat Hills SRA. Jonathan Nikkila found them at Davis Creek campground in Valley County and the Scotia Chalk Mine in Greeley County on aster and goldenrod. Neil and Jen Dankert ventured south across the Platte River and found them on alfalfa in Phelps and Kearney Counties while Diane Miller found them in Platte County (also on alfalfa).
For many years this was a rare to uncommon butterfly in Nebraska. But this year and last they have become almost common. They are permanent residents farther south but are breeding (on various legumes) strays in our area. Time will tell if these population surges are a passing occurrence or if they are going to be regularly common here in late summers.
There is still time to find more county records for this species before colder temps shut insect life down for the year. They are likely more numerous in more southerly counties but could be found anywhere in Nebraska. Look for small blues with a wavy pattern on their ventral hind wings. Check the map below to see what counties still need records. Let us know what you find at firstname.lastname@example.org
This skipper is most abundant in the southeastern United States with Nebraska records being at the northwestern most edge of its range. So it is always a treat to find them in Nebraska where it goes unreported most years. The Nebraska Natural Heritage Program has this species listed as S2, indicating that they consider it to be imperiled our state. Joanne Langabee has been seeing an occasional Zabulon Skipper for the past couple of weeks in the Omaha area where it had been found numerous times over the past 100+ years. But on August 23 Lori Tomes found a male Zabulon Skipper,Lon (formerly Poanes) zabulon, in Saunders County where it had not previously been reported. Saunders is the 17th county where this butterfly has been found with the majority (13) of them being in the eastern edge of the state, the other four being York, Hall, Buffalo and Furnas Counties. It has been found several times in Buffalo County with sightings being decades apart. Doug Long also found one in Holbrook (Furmas County) in 2004.
Thanks to Lori for sharing her finding and pics. This year appears to be one of the few and far between opportunities to observe/report this butterfly. It prefers moister open woodlands and woodland borders. Your chances of seeing this butterfly increase the farther east you are but records into the southcentral areas of the state means observers should be aware in other areas as well. If you you sight one (or more) let us know at email@example.com.
In June and July this summer Crane Meadows staff, Mark Brogie (one of our resident moth experts) and numerous volunteers (with funding from Nebraska Game and Parks) surveyed for moths at several locations on Crane Trust property which is located south of the Alda I-80 interchange. A brief description of their work can be found at Blog Posts : News & Events : Crane Trust : Marvelous Moths!. Results of their research were made public at a Conservation Nebraska gathering Tuesday (August 9) night at the Crane Trust center south of Alda. There we found that, in that short time span, over 200 different moths species were found including 12 species that had not previously been reported from the state. A complete listing of their finds (along with illustrations) can be found at https://www.inaturalist.org/people/cranetrust and hitting the “observations” tab.
In addition, Erinnyis ello, a “tropical” sphinx moth, was found during the study. While, as a stray and not environmentally significant, it is certainly a “curiosity”, with Hall County being the fifth county from which it has been recorded, the others being Buffalo, Cass, Morrill and Lancaster.
Between the Crane Trust’s new records, 2021’s new records and additional recent Mark Brogie finds, nearly 30 species have been added to the newly updated downloadable moths of Nebraska spreadsheet which includes multiple links to maps and illustrations. In addition a “Common Names” column has been added to hopefully make the spreadsheet more user friendly. This being said a great many of the 1414 species do not have a “common name” or have multiple common names. It is what it is. The link to the downloadable spreadsheet can be found after clicking the “Nebraska Butterfly and Moth Species” tab on this sites homepage.