name that moth

As the weather warms up over the next few weeks, night-flying moths will become a common sight around the lamps and windows of our place. We don’t do anything special to attract moths and, in fact, we don’t leave exterior lights on too much. However, even with this small amount of light, each evening a few moths may be found perched on the gray bricks by the front door. I photograph most of them and file the photos until I have time to track down some IDs. According to the latest edition of “Moths of Eastern North America” by Charles Covell Jr., there are 11,230 species of Lepidoptera in that part of North America lying north of Mexico – and of that number, only about 760 are butterflies. That makes for a lot of moths and also suggests that the chance of being able to properly identify every moth is rather slim.

Rather than knock myself out over IDs, I use my own rather eccentric system for keeping track of moths until I pin down their scientific names. I simply come up with name that will help me to describe and remember a moth until I happen across the correct name. For example, I’ve named the above moth, photographed at 11:20 p.m. on April 19, 2006, the Nike of Samothrace because its shimmering, translucent wings reminds me of the filmy gown worn by the wonderful Nike of Samothrace. Click on the above image to see a larger version of this moth. Plain though it may seem, it’s really quite stunning.

My given names are not always so highbrow. A black moth with white polkadotted wings might be named “Domino”, while the one below receives the moniker “Arizona” for its resemblance to a southwest landscape.

When I find myself with a bit of time, I start going through collections of moth photos online or in books. Always very helpful is the Canadian Biodiversity Information Facility’s The Moths of Canada collection which contains the scanned images of moth specimens in the Canadian National Collection of Insects. More recent, and particularly helpful is the website of the Moth Photographers Group which features archived plates of “living moth” photos submitted by many photographers from across North America. Just yesterday, while looking at MPG plates for an ID for the top moth in this post, I came across an ID for one of last year’s unidentified moths which had reminded me of one of the Karyatid columnar statues from the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, for the neatly pleated “fabric” of its wings (see below). It turns out that it’s probably the Lesser Wainscot Moth (Aletia oxygala) which is moth #10436 from the Living Moth Plate set #55.3F — see third line down. I think I prefer my “Karyatid” over the “Lesser Wainscot” common name of this moth. To my way of thinking, it seems a little more aesthetically pleasing to name a moth after a Greek statue rather than a mundane architectural detail — don’t you think? (-:

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3 Responses to “name that moth”

  1. Aydin Says:

    I have all but given up any hope of identifying the moths I photograph. But thanks for the link to the Moth Photographers Group. I will spend some time at their site.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Aydin – moths have to be among some of the most difficult creatures to ID, although some might say mollusks are quite difficult too. I do find the Moth Photographers Group photos rather helpful as the images show moths as they appear when alive. Between the flattened appearance and the washed out coloration, the typical specimen collection shots look so unlike the living moths that they aren’t too much much help.

  3. Juliabohemian Says:

    The top one is an armyworm moth. I get them all the time by my house.