I admit to a fair amount of moth envy. A little backstory: Joseph Connors, Texas Master Naturalist, macro photographer, spider and moth expert and Webmaster for the South Texas Border Chapter, on November 12, 2016, at 1.05 p.m., photographed a coffee-loving pyrausta moth (Pyrausta tyralis) on a blooming crucita (Chromolaena odorata). I was sent his moth photo a couple of years ago to design a flyer for the chapter’s September 2019 monthly meeting.
The year Joseph photographed the coffee lover, 2016, was prior to his activity in the iNaturalist data base. He has subsequently observed and documented the coffee moth, and it can be seen in his iNaturalist observations at the following link – you’ll see why I express a bit of longing to behold this colorful moth myself: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/59911572
Not only was I enamored with the name of the moth, but Joseph’s presentation gave me a cursory interest in moths and an idea that incubated until the early months of the pandemic when mothing became my new side hobby.
As many of you are aware, National Moth Week 2022 has come and gone, ending the last day of July. Going into moth week, some of us enthusiasts were concerned, as we’d been experiencing lower than normal numbers of moths and species variety this year.
Because of the lower numbers in my own yard, I began experimenting by moving my moth sheet/black light set up to different areas around the property. The results weren’t encouraging so I got the bright idea to split the set up. Instead of two black lights on the one moth sheet, I put up an impromptu sheet over the courtyard wall, stabilized it with bricks and attached the lighting mechanism to a stake in front of the sheet.
I got another idea when I passed a display in a store that was offering white plastic tablecloths for one dollar. I cadged my husband’s remaining shop lamp, with promises not to wreck it, set up a small folding table at the edge of a mesquite canopy and anchored the flimsy tablecloth with bricks and duct tape – a set-up that was successful during a portion of 2020. The larger moth sheet was propped against the side of the house about 15 feet from the table – with the precious shop lamp where it was least likely to experience damage; the shade limited the light projection, but it attracted moths successfully, nonetheless.
The week started out great, with so many moth species, but it rapidly calmed down by the third night – except for legions of gnats, flies, mosquitoes, bees, flying ants, hopping hoppers, clicking beetles and other winged things flying at my face. I wasn’t seeing many of the larger moths that I’ve attracted in the past. Mostly I was getting moths about a half inch in size to smaller than a dry grain of rice. I was getting pretty moths and good variety, but where were the usual moths? Moths an inch or larger, like the arty zebras, the giant leopards, the dimorphic tosales, the granites, the faint-spotted palthis (the moth shaped like a stealth bomber). For that matter, where are the caterpillars this year? My yard seems devoid of any, where in the past, I’ve had giant leopard cats devouring a miscellany of vegetation.
About mid-week, I put a plea out to the universe for a repeat visit from a magenta and yellow moth that had come my way sometime during 2021. A moth identified as a chickweed geometer (Haematopis grataria). I was also mentally hoping for something cool, like Joseph’s coffee-loving pryrausta, although I couldn’t recall what it looked like.
And then it happened! The morning of the last day I had a moth I’d never seen before. It was magenta and yellow, but it wasn’t the chickweed geometer. iNaturalist identified my new find with the first choice as coffee-loving pyrausta! I was ecstatic. At 6:48 a.m., I tapped out an e-mail to Joseph saying, “Woo Hoooo! I finally got the Coffee moth you had a couple of years ago!” He replied with an “Awesome.”
And then later, another e-mail from Joseph saying, “Looks like you still have to keep looking for coffee. It seems you got an even better moth! Only 1 observation of it in the RGV before.”
I rushed to the computer and looked up my observation. Raspberry Wave Leptostales laevitaria. The other documented observation in the iNaturalist database was on March 23, 2018, at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge.
Just as a matter of interest, the coffee-loving pyrausta moth is listed as a common day flying Pyralid, although it can come to lights. It has an historical range of southeastern U.S. and has been found in all the islands of the Florida Keys. It also has been recorded from New York to Illinois and from Florida to Arizona and Mexico to Venezuela and on the West Indies. It seems the larvae feed on wild coffee, a shrub native to Florida, and Dahlia species. I like BugGuide for more information on this moth, if you’re interested: Family Crambidae, subfamily Pyraustinae https://bugguide.net/node/view/26387
The day after the close of the moth week observation period, August 1, I struck the sets and reestablished the big moth sheet with two black lights and kept it propped along the side of the house. At 9:10 p.m., the universe again rewarded me: a cool moth I’d never seen before was alone on the sheet. I initially miss-identified it as a half-yellow moth. A local expert helped me with the correct identification: Pyrausta augustalis; as with the coffee-loving pyrausta, it, too, is in the Crambidae family.
Before I leave this fascinating and colorful world of moths, Urban Ecologist John Brush, at McAllen’s Quinta Mazatlán, and friend of our Texas Master Naturalist chapters, has created a project at iNaturalist specifically for moths of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. It is a collection project to easily access observations of the non-butterfly Lepidoptera from the region. Log onto your iNaturalist account to join the project. Click on the project link and then in the search box, type in Moths of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. View the project leader board here:
https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/moths-of-the-lower-rio-grande-valley or check out the many regional species already documented at this link:
View the Map of Observations with the worldwide moth week statistics here:
Tell us about your rewarding moth experiences from National Moth Week 2022!