Showy Insects at the Lights

by Carl Strang

The rain stopped for a while on the night of the Hills of Gold bioblitz in Johnson County, Indiana. I set my single ultraviolet light on a hilltop, following a muddy climb up a steep logging trail. My light faced a different downslope than the nearby, more elaborate multi-light array of the Purdue beetle team led by Jeff Holland. My aim was moths, and a satisfying variety came to the sheet lit by my UV tube. Today I will share photos of some of the more spectacular insects we found.

The biggest was this tulip-tree silkmoth which came to one of the Purdue lights.

The biggest was this tulip-tree silkmoth which came to one of the Purdue lights.

Two of these beautiful, strikingly marked green moths came to my station. Their English name is appropriate: green marvel.

Two of these beautiful, strikingly marked green moths came to my station. Their English name is appropriate: green marvel.

Another eye-catcher was this one, curiously named The Hebrew.

Another eye-catcher was this one, curiously named The Hebrew.

The unadorned carpet was one of the moths commonly encountered during the day. One came to the sheet as well.

The unadorned carpet was one of the moths commonly encountered during the day. One came to the sheet as well.

The splendid palpita has attractive patches of pinkish brown on all four wings.

The splendid palpita has attractive patches of pinkish brown on all four wings.

According to its page in the BugGuide website, the brown-spotted zale actually is a species complex containing several species distinguishable only by dissection.

According to its page in the BugGuide website, the brown-spotted zale actually is a species complex containing several species distinguishable only by dissection.

That last point may well be true of many of the moths of the North American forests. This is where I need to compromise my reluctance to collect insects. There are enough instances of sibling species or cryptic species among the moths that voucher specimens are necessary. Given the growth of DNA analysis, two specimens per species per site may be the standard I will need to follow, so that one or part of one could be sacrificed to future chemical analysis. From an ecological as well as an evolutionary standpoint, the existence of these cryptic species is an interesting problem that needs to be sorted out.

Of course, many insects other than moths came to my sheet. This fish fly appears to be Chauliodes pectinicornis.

Of course, many insects other than moths came to my sheet. This fish fly appears to be Chauliodes pectinicornis.

Several fiery searchers prowled my sheet and its vicinity. These large beetles are predators that frequently attack caterpillars.

Several fiery searchers prowled my sheet and its vicinity. These large beetles are predators that frequently attack caterpillars.

Next time I will elaborate on other moths that were drawn to the lights. These illustrate a number of additional points about forest moth populations.

Hills of Gold

by Carl Strang

This year’s chapter in the bioblitz series organized by the Indiana Academy of Science was called Hills of Gold. It was on a beautiful site being assembled by the Central Indiana Land Trust, and when complete will occupy around 2 square miles in Johnson County, south of Indianapolis.

The event took place on an intermittently rainy day, as illustrated by this less than sharp image of a representative bit of forest and one of the old logging trails we used to get around the site.

The event took place on an intermittently rainy day, as illustrated by this less than sharp image of a representative bit of forest and one of the old logging trails we used to get around the site.

Usually my role in these bioblitzes is to survey singing insects, but this was too early in the season for a sufficient number of species to justify my participating. I decided to reconnect with my experience studying forest Lepidoptera ecology in the 1980’s, and took on moths as well. As I walked the forest during the day, I found many beautiful plants and animals outside my target groups that gave joy.

Green dragons always make me smile, and I ran across a magnificent cluster of them along one of the streams.

Green dragons always make me smile, and I ran across a magnificent cluster of them along one of the streams.

And who can say “no” to fire pinks? Hummingbirds sure don’t.

And who can say “no” to fire pinks? Hummingbirds sure don’t.

Violet wood sorrel is a plant I haven’t encountered very often.

Violet wood sorrel is a plant I haven’t encountered very often.

There also were insects to note outside my target groups.

This Bombus impatiens queen still had not found a nest site, and was prospecting the forest floor.

This Bombus impatiens queen still had not found a nest site, and was prospecting the forest floor.

I interrupted this female scorpionfly’s feed on an emptied caterpillar skin.

I interrupted this female scorpionfly’s feed on an emptied caterpillar skin.

Speaking of caterpillars, the first target species I found was this eastern tent caterpillar:

They already had reached the final instar and were starting to pupate.

They already had reached the final instar and were starting to pupate.

I collected only four moth species during the day. All were fairly common.

This was one of them, which I identify as the unadorned carpet, a member of the inchworm family.

This was one of them, which I identify as the unadorned carpet, a member of the inchworm family.

Many more moths came to my ultraviolet light setup that night. Stay tuned for that episode.

For the record, there was one singing insect. This was my first encounter with a wood cricket. I heard them scattered thinly all through the forest, but never succeeded in seeing one. They probably were northern wood crickets (Gryllus vernalis), but might have been southern wood crickets (G. fultoni). I made a couple good sound recordings, which I hope will allow me to make the determination.

One of them was singing from this patch of leaf litter.

One of them was singing from this patch of leaf litter.

More on that later, after I have analyzed the recordings.

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