Posts Tagged ‘moth’

The night shift

October 5, 2013
globe.w

© Beatriz Moisset

When the sun goes down and flowers fold their petals for the day pollinators pack their bags and go to sleep. A new set of flowers steps in after sunset and a new array of customers takes to the air in search of nectar and pollen: the night shift.

The flowers that attract nocturnal pollinators don’t need flashy colors. They are white or pale colored instead, easier to be seen in the dark. They produce strong aromas that appeal to their visitors’ keen sense of smell. Nocturnal creatures such as moths and bats and a few exceptional bees are among the night flower visitors.

Sphinx moth

Hawk moth

Very few flowers bloom in the dead of night. More often they open at dawn or dusk, when twilight makes the job of their pollinators a little easier. Think of morning glories, moon flowers, 5 o’clock blossoms or evening primroses. If you have some of these in your garden you may be fortunate enough to see their guests.

A very striking visitor of many evening blooms is a large moth, the pink-spotted hawk moth. It bears an elegant muted pattern of cream and dark brown, highlighted by pink spots along its sides and on its wings. It arrives silently at its goal after sunset, unfolds its long tongue and sips nectar while suspended in air like a hummingbird. The next evening it will appear once again at the appointed time and collect its reward from the open blossoms. You can observe it almost daily as long as the flowers keep blooming.

Some people fear and hate moths even more than they hate other insects. There are even those who consider them messengers of death. This is unfortunate. I wish that they could overcome their unfounded fears enough to appreciate these moths’ graceful beauty and their role in the garden as the partners of evening bloomers.

© Beatriz Moisset, 2013

Ailanthus Web-worm Moth

June 1, 2011

Ailanthus webworm moth on goldenrod

The ailanthus web-worm moth is another day flying moth. It has a pretty pattern of orange, black and white and keeps the wings folded, so that it looks like a little cigar and may be mistaken by a beetle. It is small, the wing span can range between 1.5/8 and 2.2/8”. It has become more abundant and widespread in recent years because its caterpillar used to feed on a tree common in Florida, the paradise tree. When the tree of heaven or Ailanthus altissima, was introduced from China the caterpillar adapted to this new species. Now it is found in many states where this tree is used as an ornamental. The caterpillars stay in groups and build webbed nests.

Ailanthus webworm moth on snake root

Habitat. Meadows, gardens, forest edges

Season. March to November, most common between August and September

Flowers. Many kinds, members of the aster family, such as goldenrod, also milkweeds

Back to guide

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors

Pollinators and other flower visitors. A field guide for young people

March 26, 2011

Insect flower visitors of many sorts

Flowers are visited by a great variety of insects, and some spiders too. Some of these insect visitors are very beneficial to the flower. They carry pollen from flower to flower performing pollination. This is what the plant needs to make seeds and thus make new plants and new flowers.
The list of flower visitors is extremely long and some of the insects are impossible to tell apart by sight only, so this guide doesn’t attempt to cover them all. I will just merely highlight some of the most common flower visitors, in particular those that pollinate flowers. You will be able to recognize some of them or, at least, you will know what group they belong to.

What do pollinators look like?

Insects have three body sections, called head, thorax and abdomen. The head carries the eyes, the mouth parts and antennae. The thorax is made of three segments and carries three pairs of legs and generally either two pairs or only one pair of wings. The abdomen is made of a series of segments.

What kind of pollinating insect is that?

Different groups of insects vary on the shape of the head, thorax and abdomen. Of special importance are the variations on the kinds of wings. Future blog entries will cover four main types of flower visitors: 1. bees and wasps, 2. flies, 3. butterflies and moths and 4. beetles.

Bee, hairy, pollen combs

Wasp, hairless, “wasp waist”

Bees and wasps have two pairs of membranous wings, they look like saran wrap. The main differences between bees and wasps are that wasps usually have a narrow waist (the separation between the thorax and abdomen) and are less hairy than bees. Female bees usually have a means to carry pollen, the so called pollen baskets or pollen combs, either on their back legs or on the underside of their abdomens. Sometimes these baskets are loaded with pollen.

Ants are related to wasps and resemble them in their appearance, but they have no wings. Only queens and males have wings, but they are seldom seen. Ants are also frequent flower visitors. They rarely can pollinate flowers because they don’t fly and are not likely to carry pollen a significant distance.

Fly, two wings, big eyes, very small antennae

Flies  are important pollinators too. Their wings are also membranous, like those of bees and wasps but they have only one pair instead of two. The flies that visit flowers often look like bees or wasps. They lack stingers so they are good mimics that try to fool hungry birds into thinking that they can sting. Some of the ways to tell them apart is by the eyes which are very large and by the short antennae, made of two separate parts. They are usually hairless and the legs are very thin when compared to those of bees.

Butterfly, wings with scales, knobs at end of antennae

Butterflies and moths  have wings covered by very tiny scales. If you touch them some of those scales come off and they look like dust. They have a very long tongue which they use as a drinking straw to sip nectar from flowers. When not in use they keep it rolled up under their chins.

Moth, wings with scales, antennae without knobs

Butterfly’s antennae end in little knobs, while the antennae of moths can either be feathery or like a string, but never with a knob at the end. Butterflies usually fly during the day, while moths fly at night, although a number of them fly during the day. Night flying moths tend to be rather colorless, but those that fly during the day can be as brightly colored as many butterflies.

Beetle, hardened wings

Beetles have two pairs of wings but the first set is modified and hardened into a wing case that covers and protects the second pair of wings.
You only see this second pair when the beetle is flying or getting ready to fly. This second pair is also membranous like those of bees, wasps and flies and they remain folded under the first pair.

Where can you find pollinators?

Field of goldenrods in the fall

Look for pollinators at flowers. The best flowers are native ones. Garden flowers, especially the double ones don’t attract many pollinators, so tulips or fancy roses are not very good for pollinators. Most pollinators are active when it is warm enough, when it isn’t windy and when the sun is shining. There are a few that fly when it is dark and visit night blooming flowers.

Common milkweed, flowers

Some flowers attract many visitors. Two of the best ones are: common milkweed and all the goldenrods.

Common milkweed blooms in June and early July. The plants can grow 6 feet tall. They have large oval leaves and bunch of flowers arranged like a ball. The flowers are pink and emit a very strong sweet scent.

Goldenrod

Goldenrodsbloom in the fall, from September to November, depending on where you live. There are several types of goldenrods; they all have yellow flowers arranged in rods that give the name to the plant. Their scent is not particularly strong but many insects are attracted to it or to the colorful display.

Asters and related flowers attract large numbers of pollinators.

Asters, blooming in the fall

Sunflowers and skipper

These include many daisy-like flowers such as sunflowers, black-eyed Susans, ragworts, cornflowers, as well as some plants which are not native, dandelions and thistles. The above mentioned goldenrods belong to this family, too.

Mountain mint and Queen Anne’s lace are also good attractants of a variety of flower visitors.

Bees
Honey Bee
Bumble Bees
Carpenter Bees
Halictid Bee or Sweat Bee
Mason Bees and Leaf-cutter Bees
Andrenid Bees

Wasps
Potter Wasps and Mason Wasps
Grass-carrying Wasps
Great Golden Digger Wasp
Hornets and Yellowjackets
Paper Wasps

Flies
Flower Flies or Syrphid Flies
Bee Flies
Blowflies. Lucilia

Butterflies
Monarch
Tiger Swallowtail
Hair Streaks
Pieridae Butterflies: Whites and Sulphurs
Silver Spotted Skipper

Moths
Hummingbird Moth
Hawk Moths
Ailanthus Web-worm Moth
Yellow-collared Scape Moth

Beetles
Tumbling Flower Beetles
Flower Long Horn Beetles
Soldier Beetles
Japanese Beetle
Ladybugs or Lady Beetles

Other frequent flower visitors
Ambush Bug
Crab Spider

——————————————–
Further readings
Overview of Orders of Insects
Native bees of North America
Bumble bees

 

You may purchase the electronic version:

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors