Thu. Dec 7th, 2023
5 common moths and how to identify them

Today’s blog comes from Murphys Point Provincial Park Deputy Superintendent Mark Read.

With increasing interest in some of the smaller wild animals found in our provincial parks, moths are quickly becoming the new stars of the parks!

In fact, when looking at Ontario Parks’ iNaturalist project, five native species can be found among some of the most frequently observed wildlife species across our park network.

Here are 5 of the most common moth species found in Ontario parks:

Pale beauty (led bells)

green moth

With its subtle green shading and white edges to stronger green lines on both pairs of wings, Pale Beauty is easy to identify.

The Pale Beauty is quite large with a wingspan of 3-5 cm. This species is commonly found hanging around park buildings in the afternoon and early morning.

The peak times to see it are June and August, although they can be found from May to October.

The caterpillars feed on a wide variety of deciduous trees.

Hickory tussock moth (Lophocampa caryae)

orange moth

The Hickory Tussock Moth is a boldly patterned species typically seen from May to July, with most observations made in June.

The larvae, however, are most frequently seen in August and September.

The caterpillars pupate in the fall and spend the winter wrapped in insulating leaf litter before the cycle begins again the following year. Since the hairs can cause skin irritation in some people, it is best to leave these caterpillars alone!

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black and white hairy caterpillar

Caterpillars of this species also feed on a wide range of deciduous trees, but their favorites are walnut trees. In fact, the second part of its scientific name “plays” refers to this fact.

Painted lichen moth (fucose hypoprepia)

orange and black moth

This little gem measures just 1.5cm from head to tail, but packs a punch with its bold orange-yellow striped pattern and slate gray base.

A similar species called the scarlet-winged lichen moth has (wait for it) bright scarlet stripes instead.

Following the clues provided by these common names, caterpillars feed primarily on lichens (and moss) that grow on trees.

Adults are attracted to lights in small numbers and are most frequently seen in July and August.

They are presumed to have a single brood, although there is still much to learn about this particular family of moths. Sharing your observations on iNaturalist can help shed light on this little-understood species!

blind sphinx (blinded paonias)

moth specimen

Sphinx moths are a visitor favorite. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and the Blind Sphinx is by far the most common.

The specimen above shows subtle hints of purple/violet, but it isn’t long before it disappears, leaving a cryptically camouflaged individual that is difficult to spot against leaf litter or tree bark.

Interestingly, when threatened, many sphinx moths spread their wings to reveal striking “eyespots” on the hindwing that are thought to deter predators.

green caterpillar

The caterpillars are also impressive and feed on a variety of hardwoods such as linden and hophornbeam. Adults are most frequently seen in late June and July; caterpillars in August and September.

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Moon Moth (Actias moon)

green moth

Most commonly seen during June, the lime green moon moth is one of the largest species in North America, with a wingspan of 11 to 18 cm!

Like the Blind Sphinx, adults do not have mouthparts and therefore do not feed. This limits the duration of their adult life to a few days, during which time they must find a mate and lay eggs.

Males have particularly large antennae that are used to detect pheromones produced by females. It is estimated that males can detect females from a distance of several kilometers. However, the long journey is fraught with danger and research suggests that the long, twisted tail is thought to inhibit the bats’ ability to detect them.

There are so many wonderful moths!

To learn more about the moths (and other wildlife) found in Ontario parks, visit our iNaturalist project.

Even better, consider sharing your own observations, as this will increase our knowledge of what is out there.

Do you need an intensive course in iNaturalist? Look at this blog.