Thursday, August 6, 2015

Moth magnet!

The place where I work is a moth magnet. Every late summer and fall, there are various moths that rest on the front porch or near it.

This morning, this very large moth, OMG, 6 inches across, was sitting on the ground, vibrating. Not sure what that's about!

Anyway just look. Oooooooh!

This guy with the big eye-spots (that's what they call them; I didn't make it up.) (I'll let you know when I make stuff up!) is called a Polyphemous moth, a kind of silk moth.

The lime green Luna moth is in the same family; they are both Saturniidae.

This is the caterpillar, an image from the Internet. The cats are big eaters! Seriously, they have to turn into that BIG MOTH!

The caterpillar can eat 86,000 times its weight at emergence in a little less than two months. But the result is amazing, right?

They eat birch, willow, oak, maple, hickory, beech, honey locust, walnut, elm and other tree leaves, so they are going to be found near heavily wooded areas. We have lots of woods near here. The caterpillars are inconspicuous at first, but at the fourth and fifth molts, then they get this bright green color. After coccooning up and becoming a moth, its eating days are mainly over.

Adults of this family of moths have only partial mouths, and they do not eat and only live as adults for less than one week. Sex is the name of the game, baybee. Find mates, have sex, lay eggs!

This particular moth was resting but also vibrating. As it turns out, these silk moths are so large that they must warm their flight muscles for a minute or two before they can fly. They do this by shivering, and after a few moments, they fly off.

Next picture:

I know you can't see this Lined Sphinx Moth very well, but he's striking at rest. In flight he's even more so! Fat-bodied, rosy hindwings, and hovers like a dragonfly at his flowers of choice. He floats around similar to a hummingbird, just quieter.

I told you it was mothy up here!

Painted lady, the butterfly, not the Victorian house

So, apparently, the Painted Ladies like the coneflowers, too, like the sulphurs do.

The genus name for these little beauties is "Vanessa." They are only 2-3 1/2 inches, but they are quite eye-catching.

They always have the upper corners of their wings in black-and-white, then the rest in orange and black/brown and a tan-colored fuzzy body.

I don't know the terms for all their body parts, but your local butterfly and moth nerd will know. Or any identification guide. There are great books at your library!

This butterfly is also very widespread, but unlike the clouded sulphur, it is international. It's found everywhere except Antarctica and South America.

It migrates, too, like the monarch. It migrates from North Africa and the Mediterranean to Britain in May and June, but they aren't seen on the return trip from Britain to North Africa, because they fly so high. For many years it was a mystery as to when and how they got back south, but it was due to their flying altitude.

There are some Painted Ladies which migrate in California, from one region to another, but their migrations are more erratic, depending on weather (El Nino!) and what is growing at a given time, which varies.

Another reason PLs have such good populations is because they feed from a large array of flowers; over 300 species are known to be dinner for them. They get the biggest smorgasbord!

A party of clouded sulphurs

Clouded sulphur butterflies are found all over the North American continent except for Mexico, northern parts of eastern Canada and the Gulf and Pacific coasts. It is widespread and common and even ranges north to the Arctic Ocean in Yukon.

These folk were avid for the cup plant flowers, the yellow ones. There were times that four of them were on a flower head, but I only got shots of three at a time.

They nectar on several milkweeds, butterfly bush, several coneflowers (as you can see), alfalfa, dandelion, clover species and a verbena. They lay their eggs on ground plum, a couple of vetches, soy beans, alfalfa, clovers, and black locust. There are three to five hatchings of them per year, depending on conditions and location. Three in the Arctic, and five in the southern reaches of its range ... So I'm thinking no wonder we always see these innocuous beauties!

Clearly they like other species to nectar upon, since the one they grouped up on is a Silphium perfoliatum, which was not mentioned as a nectar flower.

A photo I haven't gotten yet is the fluttering, apparently twinkling, clouds of them above the red clover on the spur road. But it is a shoulderless two-lane, and I'm less inclined to stop and shoot photos than I might otherwise be. But it's a sight to see.

Another place it's easily seen is at puddles, mud or wet soil, as the sulphur is an avid mudpuddler. These shots were in my driveway, many hours after a rain. Clearly there was moisture there. They can also be seen in clover fields or along roadsides. The growth of forage-crop production for livestock across North America has greatly expanded the range and numbers of this butterfly.

This is the dorsal view. Most of my photos are of the folded/ventral view.

Male clouded sulphur

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Mullein is packed head to toe with goodness

This taller plant is a lead plant, somewhat past blooming, and a the shorter one in the foreground is a mullein plant that has escaped mowing in our front yard.

The reason I did it is to give you a good idea how small a first-year mullein plant can be, and how easy to miss.

The lead plant is only hip-tall, and the grass is unnecessarily tall. But besides the obvious benefits of not mowing, I also often get to find plants that I normally mow. This mullein got mowed five or six times before I neglected the yard enough to see it.

So what?

This is what. Most of the time, mullein's flowers and leaves are what's used herbally, but you can use the first-year plant if you have extra plants around and you need a little help with your back staying in place. You have to give the plant up completely because you need the root.

Mullein root tincture is some amazing stuff. Search for Jim McDonald's post about it. Seriously, it's worth it.

The point? This is the size to look for when you're looking for YOUR mullein plant to tincture.

Don't you feel better now?