Right on schedule, I got my first bumper night of moths Friday. The day was incredibly warm, probably the warmest we’ve had so far this spring, with temperatures reaching 22 oC (72 oF) in the sun at mid-afternoon. I’ve found the afternoon “in-the-sun” temperatures to be a fairly good gauge of how active the sheet will be that evening. Over the last couple of weeks, my busiest nights have been on days where the sunshine temperature has been mid- to high teens (Celsius; 60+ F).
While I had been getting mostly sallows, pinions and phigalias to that point, the warm weather at the end of the week started to bring out some of the more colourful springtime fliers. This early in the season, the predominant colour is brown or gray, so when a green moth shows up on the sheet, it really catches your eye.
There are a few species of green moth, scattered across a number of genera. Possibly the greenest, and certainly the most striking for its size and long tails, is the Luna Moth, Actias luna, which we won’t be seeing till the summer up here, though in southern parts of its range it does fly in the spring.
Second to the Luna, though, might be the above, a moth called The Joker, Feralia jocosa, also known by the less-interesting name of Jocose Sallow. Pretty much the entire group of Feralia are some shade of green, with the exception of a brown morph Joker. All of the Feralias eat a variety of conifers as caterpillars, and so are usually associated with mixed or coniferous forests, but can be reasonably common in appropriate habitat.
The Joker is a northern species, not found much south of Wisconsin, as is Comstock’s Sallow, Feralia comstocki. However, the above species, the Major Sallow, Feralia major, ranges all the way south to Florida and Texas. While easily identifiable as a Feralia based on the colour and shape, the Major Sallow is unique from the others in its patterning, a dark, often speckled saddle that spans its forewings.
The Major Sallow can be somewhat variable in the extent of the black markings. Both of the above are from our yard over the last few days. However, the saddle is always evident, more or less.
This moth delighted me when I discovered it on my sheet, it just had such a fun vibe to it. It has the equally fun name of The Scribbler, Cladara atroliturata. Like the Joker, this species too comes in two morphs – a green,-white-and-black, and a gray,-white-and-black. This, of course, is the green morph, though I did also see a few gray morphs at the sheet. The old Covell guide lists the species as “locally common” through its range from Newfoundland to Kentucky, though I’m not sure what causes the locality since its food preferences are nothing special – maples, birches, alders and willows.
While the other three moths have all been a mint green, this last one is an olive green, and only mottled with the colour rather than entirely so. It can be tricky to see unless you’re in good light and peer closely. A lot of moths are like that, superficially drab with a quick glance, but much more complex when you look more carefully. This one is a Grote’s Sallow, Copivaleria grotei, a fairly common species in the spring through much of the east, associated with ash trees.