Driftless Prairies: Native Habitat Restoration

Nature inspires awe!

LepidopterART

In 2017, our local librarian wanted some artwork for the library. Heidi and I put our heads together and with her fabulous artistic talent, this exhibit was born!! The following text is from the booklet at the library for self-guided tours. I have added, where the whole moth isn’t obvious in the art, the photos that were the inspiration. We are excited to have 2 other libraries interested in this exhibit. Who knew this would turn into a travelling exhibit. Thank you, Heidi, for coordinating this.

Background

Lepidoptera is an order of insects that includes moths and butterflies. The name is derived from the Greek works “lepido” (scale) and “ptera” (wings), referring to the scales that cover the wings and bodies of adults.

Although butterflies easily capture people’s attention, most Lepidopterans are moths. Of the estimated 11,000 moths found in North America, about 1,300 occur in Wisconsin.

Lepidopteran larvae are called caterpillars and have chewing mouth parts for eating vegetation. Adults have scale-covered wings and in some, their mouth parts form a tubular proboscis for sipping nectar. Some adult moths have no moth parts at all since they don’t eat during their short adult phase. Their goal is to find a mate and lay their eggs.

Biographies

Heidi Hankley

Heidi has enjoyed a lifelong interest in nature and art.  Childhood summers were spent roaming the hills around the family cottage in Iowa County and countless hours creating things at the art desk she shared with her siblings.  Heidi studied Wildlife Ecology and Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin and went on to earn a Master’s Degree from the University of Idaho focusing on Wilderness Management. As a National Park Service ranger and research assistant, she was able to spend some really wonderful years working in several of our nation’s most beautiful parks.  Today Heidi continues to explore and be inspired by the nature found around her home in the rural Blanchardville area.

 Marci Hess

Marci began studying insects as part of a larger project designed to understand wildlife living on her 46 acres of habitat. Passionate about providing living spaces for wildlife, Marci began learning about and keeping a list of the birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles using the native plants, lichens, fungi, bushes, and trees on her land. She knew good management practices required knowledge of who lived there. Four years into this research and it was time to study insects. None of her formal education prepared her for this adventure! As a lifelong learner, it was remarkable how her world expanded. And simultaneously disappointing at how little is known about 80% of the insects sharing our earth. As her research continues, so has her development of photography skills and website design; both necessary tools as sharing these discoveries are half the fun!

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We held an event at the library to talk about the exhibit. More photos of the event at the end of this blog.

The Exhibits

Forest Moths
Mixed Media, Heidi Hankley

Halysidota tessellaris, Phyllodesma americana

A Halysidota tessellaris (Banded Tussock Moth) and a Phyllodesma americana (American Lappet Moth)

Halysidota tessellaris – Banded Tussock Moth

From the Latin “tessella” (a little square stone); a tessellated pattern is one laid out in a mosaic of small square blocks and refers to the checkered pattern on the forewing. Tussock moth for the tufts of hair on the caterpillar. These hairs are the caterpillar’s defense against predators, not only while feeding on leaves but they also line their cocoon with these when overwintering. The caterpillars enjoy feeding on a variety of deciduous trees, such as birch, blueberry, elm, grape, oak, hickory, walnut, and hazel.

Phyllodesma americana – American Lappet Moth

From the Greek “phyllon” (a leaf) and “desma” (a band); refers to the leaf-mimicking shape of the wings, and the pale bands on the forewing and hindwing. It is unusual to find one of the caterpillars by visually searching their host plants, which include various woody shrubs and trees. This is another moth that overwinters as a pupa.

Scientific names are a combination of Latin and Greek. Understanding the roots of these words helps to create a picture in our minds of what those words mean. Each moth has 2 parts to their scientific name – the genus and the species.

Wavy-lined Emerald Moth, Synchlora aerata
Acrylic, Heidi Hankley

Synchlora aerata, Wavy-lined Emerald Moth

Synchlora aerata, Wavy-lined Emerald Moth

Camouflaged Looper
Mixed media, Heidi Hankley

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Camouflaged looper inchworm – all three of them!

Looper caterpillars are known generally as inchworms.  They feed on a wide variety of plants but commonly are found on asters. The common name of camouflaged looper comes from the caterpillar’s habitat of attaching flower petals and other plant bits to its back. This serves to disguise them from predators. These moths overwinter as caterpillars is in this decorated form. When it’s time to pupate, they leave their covered flower skins to form a cocoon.

Dreamers
Mixed Media Assemblage, Heidi Hankley
Hermaris thysbe – Hummingbird Clearwing Moth

Do moths and other insects sleep? Sorta kinda!  Insects enter a state of torpor. This can be likened to our sleep habits. A state of torpor is when the insects is physically and mentally at rest. Many insects will be active during a portion of a 24-hour period; whether this is daytime activity or nighttime activity depends on the insect. Most moths are nocturnal, meaning they are active during the night hours. As with all insects, this is a general statement as some moths prefer daylight hours for their activity!

Mothra
Reduction Linocut, Heidi Hankley

Mothra – always on the side of the good and saving the day with her superpowers! Mere mortal moths must employ other means of defense such as camouflaging or startling coloration, or generating foul tasting and smelling chemical compounds.

Camouflaged
Mixed Media, Suminiagashi Marbling, Heidi Hankley
Photo element by Marci Hess
Pheosia rimosa – Black-rimmed Prominent

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Caterpillars resemble young hornworm caterpillars; for this reason the caterpillars are called False Sphinx. They vary in color and may be yellow, lavender, pink, green, brown or nearly black but regardless of the color, the skin is very shiny. Their desired food is the leaves poplars, aspens, and willows, which they eat very systematically. They eat the leaf edges beginning at the base of the leaf and progressing to the tip. These caterpillars will overwinter as pupa in cocoons.

Three moths
Photographs, Marci Hess

 

 

Lepidopterart

Cerma cora – Owl-eyed Bird Dropping Moth

There are only 3 species in this genus north of Mexico. This particular species is “Considered rare in most of range and often associated with unusual and/or pristine habitats.” There are few documented occurrences and other than Wisconsin, probably no state has more than five recently verified occurrences. We are very lucky to have found this moth in our county and in our township!  The pupa overwinters in dead wood. Its vulnerability highlights the importance of leaving fallen dead trees and limbs in your woods.

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Paonias myops — Small-eyed Sphinx

There are only 3 species in this genus north of Mexico. The caterpillars are bright green, which disguises them as they feed on the leaves of cherry, hawthorn and serviceberry. Once they have feasted on a leaf, they cut it off at the base. Birds have become quite savvy about noticing damaged leaves and honing in on a dinner for themselves. This practice mitigates that. The adult uses the eyespots on their hindwings as their defense, flashing them as predators near. This style of defense if called a startle defense; visualize yourself as a bird, flying toward a delicious morsel, and as you approach, you suddenly see LARGE eyes staring back at you. Yikes!

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Harrisimemna trisignata – Harris’s Three Spot

This uncommon moth has a most unusual caterpillar that feeds on various woody species. Aside from the beautiful brocade appearance of the moth wings, it’s claim to fame is the unusual appearance of its caterpillar. This black and white caterpillar can look like a fresh bird dropping or a spider! When winter arrives, the caterpillar bores into the wood to survive the cold months.

Moth Mandala
Mixed Media, Heidi Hankley
Photo elements by Marci Hess
Grammia virgo – Virgin Tiger Moth

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This is the largest of the Tiger moths in our area. Like the Salt marsh moth (mentioned before) the caterpillar consumes alkaloids as one of its defenses. Not only is it supposed to taste bad, it has a distasteful odor. This moth overwinters as a caterpillar.

Estigmene acrea – Salt Marsh Moth
Photograph, Marci Hess

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This is a fairly common moth whose caterpillar enjoys a wide variety of food from plants to shrubs and trees and sometimes crops. The Salt marsh moth is part of the commonly-referred-to group of moths known as the Tiger Moths. They are named as such because of their bright orange coloration and many often have black stripes. One of their defenses is to eat alkaloids, found in the plants they prefer. This substance is supposed to be distasteful to predators and the orange coloration is what announces this distaste. This is another moth that overwinters as a pupa.

Eumorpha pandorus – Pandora Sphinx Moth
Photograph, Marci Hess

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Sphinx moths and their caterpillars are large and spectacular! The caterpillars range from yellowish to green to light orange to a burgundy color. The adults are a beautiful greenish and some have neon orange and blue on their hindwings. Find a grapevine or Virginia creeper and you’ll probably find a caterpillar on the underneath side of a leaf. These moths usually overwinter in the soil as pupa.

Scorched Wings
Mixed Media Triptych, Heidi Hankley
Photo elements by Marci Hess
Plagodis phlogosaria – Scorched Wing

Lepidopterart

This moth gets its common name from the brownish-red spots on its wings. This common name also speaks to the origin of the scientific name from Greek “phlogos” (flame) or “phlogistos” (to burn or inflame) or “phlogosis” (inflammation). The inchworms are among the best twig mimics, which is their defense as they munch on various shrubs or trees. Like many other moths, they overwinter as pupa.

Once Heidi had the exhibit on display, we held an event at the library. Heidi offered suminagashi marbling as an activity. Marci had her photography equipment on display and a few unique beetle specimens for folks to see insects close up. Here’s some fun photos of the evening.

 

Comments

  1. Margaret Bailey says:

    Absolutely beautiful!! Thank you, thank you!

  2. wow!

  3. I was the “key grip” during the night photos sessions of these moths. Sometimes only half awake. I am truly impressed with the photos and inspired by the artwork. We need to have a better knowledge and understanding of our insects, many of them are disappearing.

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