As I sit here watching the snowflakes fall outside of my living room window, it is -2 oC (28 oF) outside, hardly moth weather. In fact, the weather has not been favourable for moths for over a week. Lots of rain and cool temperatures have kept much from flying. You can actually set up your lights on rainy nights, provided that the light and the trap and/or sheet are protected from rain themselves. Moths will fly on warm rainy nights. But not on cool rainy nights such as the ones we’ve been having. I have been waiting optimistically for the weather to turn around (which it’s stubbornly refusing to do), hoping for a bit of inspiration on the next subject to talk about. Since we’re still waiting, I’m digging into the photo archives from last month.
In addition to the phigalias, there are two other groups of macromoths that tend to be seen very early in spring, on the first warm nights, often before the snow has completely melted. The first are pinions, the subject of the next post. And the other is sallows. I tend to think of pinions and sallows as late-fall groups, but there are also a lot of species in those groups that overwinter as adults and appear first thing in the spring, or possibly even on unusually warm evenings during the winter.
Sallows are a somewhat varied group, but most share the characteristic of being chunky-bodied, with relatively broad, stout wings held flat over their back giving them a somewhat rectangular appearance. They generally have fuzzy thoraxes, and many have moderately-sized wing spots. All are members of the family Noctuidae, and most are part of the subfamily Xyleninae (the other major subfamily of sallows is Psaphidinae; these sallows are more three-dimensional, holding their wings more tent-like over their back).
Pinions and quakers are similar in shape to the sallows (in fact, pinions are also members of the subfamily Xyleninae, but sufficiently distinct to merit their own common name), and sallows are variable enough within the group to make a broad generalization difficult. For myself, I’ve found the best way to learn them is simply to get familiar with the general characteristics of these and similar groups, and get to know the common species. Experts on moths probably have more specific things they look for than I do.
Members of the genus Orthosia look similar to the Xyleninae, but actually belong to the subfamily Hadeninae. The Speckled Green Fruitworm Moth is a common and often abundant moth in early spring, appearing shortly after the first sallows. They overwinter as pupae, rather than adults, and so require a stretch of warm weather to trigger their emergence. The Speckled Green is an extremely variable moth, and the Orthosias in general are a tough group to separate one from another because of the variability within the species. For me, it’s enough to categorize an Orthosia as a “Speckled Green & Co.”, although moth’ers with more expertise can sort them out to species.