Over the last few years, I have ‘waxed poetic’ if you will, about birds, bees, and butterflies but have given hardly a mention to the lowly moth. I say lowly only in the numerical position of where most people place the moth.
Oddly enough, moths have brought great joy to my family this summer in various locales of Georgia. If you can believe, a moth has now moved into first place on the number of hits on the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens Facebook page.
The Scarlet-bodied Wasp Moth has now surpassed images of beautiful hummingbirds, zebra heliconian butterflies, incredibly rare blooming flowers, little children looking at pumpkins, and alas the majesty of a million Christmas Lights dazzling in our December Nights and Holiday Lights festival.
I would like to think that the Scarlet-bodied Wasp Moth climbing to number one position on our Facebook means something. Perhaps the great outdoors is still the place to be, or maybe it means the fight against Nature Deficit Disorder, as Richard Louv so aptly called it in “The Last Child in the Woods,” is being won. Probably it means that this is just one doggone beautiful bug.
The Scarlet-bodied Wasp Moth looks like it should be Spiderman’s partner. It is the richest red you have ever seen on both the abdomen and thorax. It has an iridescent blue mid-dorsal line that shimmers in the sunlight and transparent wings with black venation. Scientifically speaking it is known as Cosmosoma myrodora. It looks like it would bite, sting or be poisonous in some manner but that is its defense mechanism.
In four years I have not seen one. They are native in a tight band along the East Coast from South Carolina to Florida and a tight band to Deep South Texas. They are native to all of Florida. Since we first spotted one on Mystic Spires Blue salvia, we have seen them on Sweet Almond Bush verbena and Sweet Autumn clematis. The caterpillar larval food is two native climbing hemp plants in Florida.
So if you think because you live elsewhere, you will not see this moth, that is true. However, a visit to your local botanical gardens or a watchful eye in your backyard will most likely give you the opportunity to take in other moths and butterflies.
One moth that always wows is the Luna Moth. This huge moth is known scientifically as Actias luna and is native from Nova Scotia west to Saskatchewan south to East Texas and every state eastward. The larval or caterpillar host is white birch, sweetgum, hickories, and persimmon. Oddly the adults do not eat, they live about a week, and their sole purpose is to mate.
There will be one brood in the north and two to three broods in the south. If you have seen one, it may have been close to a porch light as they are attracted to light. If you have never seen one, put this on your bucket list. They are best seen at night or in the early morning. So get off the couch or get out of bed and see what nature has in store.
Then there is the creature or a lot of them actually, whereby the visitor claims it’s a bee, another says no it’s a little hummingbird, and they love trying to photograph it until I say it is a Clearwing Hummingbird Moth. Their faces look crestfallen as they loved it until it was identified as a moth.
Scientifically they are known as Hemaris thysbe. They are native in a large diagonal sweep from Alaska and Canada to Oregon sweeping east to Maine and South to Texas through Florida. In other words you have a pretty good chance of seeing these little darting acrobats that do indeed look like small hummingbirds. They have a golden olive thorax and burgundy abdomen with wings that are mostly clear.
The larval hosts are honeysuckles, snowberry, hawthorns and various prunus species. Like the Luna moth, there is one brood in the north and two broods in the south. Here at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens, the-adults seem to feed on the nectar of just about everything. Pentas, cannas, Brazilian buttonbush, and sweet almond verbena seem to be a few of their favorites. This is one fun pollinator to watch and a way to entice the kids outdoors. When you tell them it is a moth say it with enthusiasm and a smile.