If you’re just getting started with moths, probably most of your attention will be focused on your blacklights at night. After all, that’s when the moths are flying, isn’t it? Well, yes – most of them. But not all of them. There are many diurnal species of moths that can be seen while out hiking, much like butterflies. At any time of year you can usually find some by kicking through the grasses in a meadow or road edge, or checking out the flowers in a field or garden. In the summer most of these will be little grass moths, but you will sometimes stumble across less common species.
One of the earliest diurnal moths to be on the wing is this one, known as The Infant, Archiearis infans. They’re small moths, not much larger than a quarter, and can be easily overlooked unless they’re disturbed and caused to fly. When in flight it’s easy to mistake them for small butterflies. They have a lilting, zig-zaggy flight that’s reminiscent of a butterfly, and the bright orange of their hindwings catches the observer’s eye and brings to mind a checkerspot or other small orange butterfly. In flight, you would be forgiven for not realizing it’s a moth. The only reason one would know it’s not, besides knowing to look for it, is that the butterflies that are on the wing this early are all larger species.
If you’re lucky enough to see it come to rest, however, there are a few clues that give it away as a moth. The first and most obvious is the antennae – they are straight and tapered at the tips, without the clubs that butterflies have. The wings are long and narrow compared to the broad wings of butterflies. Also, it rests with its wings angled backwards, parallel with its abdomen, rather than to the sides, perpendicular to its body. And finally, its thorax is unusually hairy, more than you would see on a butterfly.
I spotted six of these along the edges of our country road this afternoon, soaking up the warm spring sunshine. Of course, I only noticed them after they’d been disturbed and were fluttering away. This photo is of an individual from last spring. The Infant feeds on birch trees, and is usually found near to birch stands, often in sunny clearings or along the forest edge of open areas.