January 16, 2022

Back From Guatemala

My wife and I enjoyed a relatively quick (12-day) getaway to Guatemala for a birding trip. Traveling, flying, or just being in public places in this continuing pandemic is particularly stressful, but we were traveling with a trusted group of Covid-vaccinated and tested friends and excellent local guides with a well-established itinerary. Aside from the two long and uncomfortable travel days (airports, planes, etc.), touring in Guatemala was very exciting and pleasurable.

Arranged through JB Journeys, our local guides were the incomparable (and surprisingly young) John Cahill and Josue de León L. Part of our stay was at the Community Cloud Forest Conservation (CCFC) in the highlands of central Guatemala, hosted by John’s parents, Rob and Tara Cahill. All of these folks are superb birders and naturalists. The work being done at CCFC is particularly inspiring; see the link below to their website for full details of their important efforts. One afternoon, I got a picture of John, Rob, Josue, and visiting friend Moises Rodriguez, who collectively constitute 4 of the 5 top eBirders in the country!
https://ebird.org/tx/region/GT/ebirders?yr=all&m=
My first upload from the trip is appropriately emblematic of the country and the journey:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/105035553
We saw two male Quetzals in beautiful cloud forest habitat. I ended up with a bird list of over 300 species, including at least 27 Life Birds. That latter number may be supplemented by some "heard only" species--some glimpsed briefly--that were new to me.

Perhaps most thrilling for me were a few encounters with over-wintering Golden-cheeked Warblers in cloud forest and humid pine-oak habitat in the highlands. In very real ways, those brief sightings rounded out my life-long studies and work with the Golden-cheeked Warbler. I certainly hope to spend more time with GCWAs on their winter range, but now their full life history story has so much more meaning to me personally, bringing it “full-circle” in an ecological sense. John even took us birding in the hills above the village of Tactic, presumably close to the spot where the Golden-cheeked was originally discovered by Osbert Salvin in 1859. We saw one of our Golden-cheeked Warblers close at hand, foraging in oaks in those hills. That gave me chills just thinking about the history involved in all of that.

I will have hundreds of iNat uploads of plants, insects, and a few more birds over the next several days and weeks. Stay tuned! Here are a some relevant links to information on the tour company, guides, and other Guatemalan information:
https://www.jbjourneys.com (our U.S.-based tour company)
https://xikanel.com (John Cahill’s tour company)
https://cloudforestconservation.org (CCFC; hosted by Rob and Tara Cahill)
https://www.hotelatitlan.com (4-star hotel for our first two nights)
http://www.hposadaquetzal.com (2 night’s stay in cloud forest)
http://www.tikalnationalpark.org (our last 2 days and nights. It’s Tikal; what more can I say!)
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6940 (all iNaturalist observations for Guatemala)
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=6940&user_id=gcwarbler&verifiable=any (my Guatemala sightings—keep checking back)

Posted on January 16, 2022 17:33 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 1 observation | 10 comments | Leave a comment

December 28, 2021

New Paper on a Catabenoides (Noctuidae)

Vitor O. Becker, a Lepidopterist in Brazil, just published a revision of the Noctuid genus Catabenoides in the J. Lep. Soc. (JLS 75(4):259-279, Dec. 2021). The paper substantially revises the taxonomy of the genus including some important corrected synonymy. He also describes nine new species from South America. The paper affects species occurring in Texas.

From Becker’s research, two species of Catabenoides occur in Texas, C. vitrinus and C. divisa. This is where the synonomy gets complicated. Most previous records in this genus in Texas and the Southwest were assigned to C. terminellus (with synonym C. candida)(iNat, MPG, BG, etc.). Becker synonymizes terminellus, candida, and a Florida species insularis under C. divisa. His expanded concept of divisa ranges from the British Virgin Islands, through Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba, to south Florida, and from Texas to Arizona south into Mexico.

Importantly, Becker also offers an expanded concept of C. vitrinus, stating that it is “sympatric throughout” the range of divisa, and not just confined to Florida and the Caribbean as indicated in other sources (e.g. MPG). He maps vitrinus from Hispaniola, Jamaica, and south Florida, as well as from Texas and Arizona south into Mexico.

Taking his concepts of vitrinus and divisa at face value, the issue facing us in Texas is where each occurs and how we might tell them apart. A distribution map in Becker’s paper is unfortunately flawed and certainly incomplete. He indicates he examined 11 Texas specimens of vitrinus (but no genitalic slides) and 24 Texas specimens of divisa (including 3 genitalic slides). His map (Fig. 31, p. 264) has some misplaced symbols for divisa so it is somewhat unreliable for a detailed examination of the ranges. That said, if we take as a starting point that both species occur and overlap broadly in Texas, his map suggests that both species occur in South Texas and the Hill Country. He lists records of divisa in the Trans-Pecos but none there for vitrinus.

Here is another case where the utility of iNaturalist could be demonstrated: iNat presently contains 314 observations of this genus in Texas including at least 216 Research Grade observations (all RG assigned to “terminellus”). We have accumulated records of the genus as far north as I-20 in such locations as Palo Pinto SP, Maddin Prairie, Big Spring, and Midland. The challenge now is to be able to distinguish and assign photographic observations to one or the other of Becker’s species. It will not be possilbe to put a species name on all of them. But Becker offers one little tidbit which might help distinguish the two in photos:

The patagia are the “epaulets” which flank the middle of the thorax on most moths. On C. vitrinus, there is a “diffuse ochreous [pale orange] line across the middle of the patagia”, whereas in divisa there is a thin black line in the middle of the patagia. These marks might be tricky to see in dorsal views, but can be judged in clear lateral views of unworn moths. The primary image of “Catabenoides vitrina” on MPG shows the dull orange on the patagia:
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=10036
Here is an example of mine (dorsal view) at Timberlake Biologocal Station (Mills County) from October 2019 which seems to show the diffuse dull orange color on the patagia which would place this in the revised vitrinus:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/34161132
Note that the long black stripe on the FWs is not related to species discrimination; it is found on females of both species, absent on males of both species.
But another of my examples from Timberlake seems to show both a dull orange color and a thin dark line on the patagia:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/34161133 (2nd image)
So it is not going to be easy to separate these two in Texas.

I am NOT going to attempt reidentifying a lot of Catabenoides in Texas just yet. For one thing, “Catabenoides divisa” isn’t in the iNat taxonomy. For another, Jim Troubridge and other researchers may still have different concepts of the species of Catabenoides occurring in the U.S. So as informative as Becker’s brand new paper is, it may not be the final word.

If you want to dive into this further, here is a link to all 314 observations of Catabenoides in Texas on iNat:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=18&taxon_id=330406
and on BugGuide (total 55 images but none assigned to vitrinus):
https://bugguide.net/node/view/169895/bgimage?from=0

Posted on December 28, 2021 17:26 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 2 comments | Leave a comment

September 11, 2021

What Little Brown Jobs (moths) Are In Need of an ID Guide?

I am in the process of compiling an ID guide for a set of small buffy brown moths that have upturned palpi (thus all in the Gelechioidea superfamily), forewings that are oval to oblong, more or less flat-winged resting posture, and a few dark dots on the forewings. I myself and many of my iNat friends in Texas have been struggling with keeping several of these straight. This will be a Texas-centric list but it should have wider application in the south-central U.S. Below I list the set of about 20 species and genera which I intend to cover, but I would like anyone interested in this topic to chime in with anything else that might need addressing in this small confusing corner of mothdom. Those that are easier to distinguish and will be dealt with only briefly are marked with “(E)” for "easy"….which they are NOT, but they can be readily separated from the rest of the set:

AUTOSTICHIDAE
Autosticha kyotensis - Kyoto Moth
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/214687-Autosticha-kyotensis

Glyphidocera juniperella - Juniper Tip Moth
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/333290-Glyphidocera-juniperella

Glyphidocera democratica - “Democratic Moth”?
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/416888-Glyphidocera-democratica

Glyphidocera dimorphella
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/416886-Glyphidocera-dimorphella

DEPRESSARIIDAE
Agonopterix spp. (E)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/126363-Agonopterix

Antaeotricha haesitans (E)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/840127-Antaeotricha-haesitans

Antaetricha osseella
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/416874-Antaeotricha-osseella

Antaeotricha unipunctella
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/325988-Antaeotricha-unipunctella

Durrantia piperatella (E)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/490824-Durrantia-piperatella

Exaeretia sordidella (E - Doesn’t occur in TX)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/504378-Exaeretia-sordidella

Gonioterma mistrella
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/220538-Gonioterma-mistrella

Machimia tentoriferella - Gold-striped Leaftier (E - not documented in TX yet)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/81689-Machimia-tentoriferella

Psilocorsis cryptolechiella - Black-fringed Leaftier (E)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/229229-Psilocorsis-cryptolechiella

Psilocorsis quercicella - Oak Leaftier
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/229230-Psilocorsis-quercicella

Psilocorsis reflexella - Dotted Leaftier
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/147992-Psilocorsis-reflexella

GELECHIIDAE
Anacampsis and Dichomeris spp. (E - most are not confusable with LBJs)

Dichomeris georgiella
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/416950-Dichomeris-georgiella

Deltophora sella (E) - Black-spotted Twirler
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/324643-Deltophora-sella

Helcystogramma spp. (E) (3 spp to consider)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/177977-Helcystogramma

OECOPHORIDAE
Inga cretacea - Chalky Inga (E)
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/324605-Inga-cretacea

Inga obscuromaculella
https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/518250-Inga-obscuromaculella

Please leave a comment, or message me directly if you have other suggestions. Thanks for any input.

Posted on September 11, 2021 03:01 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 3 comments | Leave a comment

September 06, 2021

The Origin, Discovery, and Demise (Hopefully) of a Population of a Non-native Invasive Plant

Abstract: A newly-discovered population of the non-native Ruellia dipteracanthus probably had its origin as hidden rootstock in a gallon-container of a different wetland plant purchased at a local nursery. In the three years since its apparent planting, the species has become well-established in the immediate area. Efforts to remove the species have been initiated.

On 31 August 2021, I found a small population of the non-native Ruellia dipteracanthus (Nees) Hemsl. in the creek bed near my house on Salton Drive, Austin, TX.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/93431167
@centratex was the first to suggest this ID and it was subsequently confirmed by @eric_keith. This was the 2nd report of the species in the Austin area and the 3rd Texas location of this potentially invasive species (Keith et al. 2017). The species is native to Brazil and established in the wild in Mexico (Mowat 2017, Nees 1847, cited in Keith et al. 2017). I had not previously noticed the species even through I work regularly in this stretch of the creek bed removing other invasive species such as Ligustrum spp. and Chinese Tallow Trees (Triadica sebifera). Another non-native species, Mexican Ruellia (R. simplex) is common along the creek banks in this watershed, and it was only because I noticed a difference in flower color, leaf shape, and pubescence that I realized it was something different (and non-native). The clusters of R. dipteracanthus are in a mixed native herbaceous groundcover on a sand and gravel bar just a foot or so above the level of the adjacent perennial creek.

I wondered about the origin of this non-native species and expected that the source would be from some suburban yard in the watershed upstream of the location of the plants. On 4-5 September 2021, I criss-crossed the neighborhood streets flanking this reach of the creek, studying flower beds in the front yards of homes in the area. I covered an area of about 65 acres (26 hectares) including most of the immediate watershed of the creek as far as 0.5 mi (0.85 km) upstream of the population of plants. This is only a small portion of the 500-acre watershed upstream of the plants, but I found no other plantings of the species.

Returning to the plants with the intent of collecting a few voucher specimens, I noticed that the clusters of the species were in the same area as some Smooth Horsetail (Equisetum laevigatum) that I had planted on the creek bank about 3 years prior.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/93802354
Then it dawned on me: The new Ruellia plants were almost perfectly coincident with those clusters of horsetails, with just a few small clusters immediately downstream where they had probably recently spread. My theory now is that even though I had only purchased one 1-gallon container of horsetails to plant, the pot may have contained some unnoticed rootstock of R. dipteracanthus, and thus I inadvertently planted both species at the site. Moreover, I had split up the horsetails into about 3 or 4 small clusters to plant in an area of about 10 m x 20 m, and each of those horsetail clusters now has a vigorous associated colony of the Ruellia.

That realization changed my goal: I immediately made plans to begin the process of removing the non-native Ruellia from the location. In that effort, I soon found that the species grows in dense clusters with vigorous rhizomes, a deep root system, and that stems bent over by floodwater were also commonly rooting at the nodes. Aboveground stems easily broke off at ground level nodes, a strategy which would benefit the plants and make them efficient colonizers under disturbance regimes like flood events.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/93802355
The effort to remove the easily reachable clusters of plants will take several days of digging in the sand, gravel, and cobble of the creek bed. It is likely that regrowth of some plants will occur in future growing seasons and that retreatment and vigilance will be necessary to ensure that all material has been removed. This is not a new type of effort for me. I previous undertook the removal of invasive Elephant Ears or Taro (Colocasia esculenta—not originating from me!) along this same stretch of creek and that effort took a few years to complete and requires continuing monitoring.
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/1914012
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/19376164
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/19686222
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2116918

References:

Keith, E., J. Wright, and W. Godwin. 2017. Naturalized occurrence of Ruellia dipteracanthus (Acanthaceae) in the USA. Phytoneuron 2017-57:1-3.

Posted on September 06, 2021 02:26 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 3 observations | 2 comments | Leave a comment

July 24, 2021

National Un-Moth Week?

This almost was the week that “wasn’t”. I can’t remember a time when I set aside a calendar week for a specific effort (National Moth Week) and soooo many things got in the way. The multitude of hurdles that Everyday Life presented from July 17-24 has been a bit overwhelming, especially for someone like myself who is admittedly poor at multi-tasking. Some of the hurdles were self-imposed (e.g. scheduling non-mothing social events in the evenings—What was I thinking?) and others were out of the blue. The most tragic was that just as NMW began, my beloved Canon SX620 IS point-and-hope camera decided to die. The sensors went haywire and it could no longer figure out what I meant to focus on or what settings to use. I have a couple of inferior back-up cameras which filled the gap, but in the end, I had to place an emergency camera order online—and of course the new hardware won’t arrive until after the end of National Moth Week.

Mother Nature didn’t cooperate fully either. We reeeally can’t complain here in CenTex when we’re having a July with below average temps (up until today) and above average rainfall. That’s all wonderful. But a couple of evenings of NMW were lost due to disruptive thunderstorms. Yeah, I know, “Woe is us.” One ill-timed bolt of lightning caused a very brief power outage at my house; my computer had to restart and then my photo editing software decided it had to check its entire library of 125,000 images for errors. Seven hours later, it finally announced that everything was OK and I could continue editing.

The organizers of NMW need to look more carefully at the lunar calendar. This past night, at the climax of NMW, we had a bright full moon. Rule number one in mothing, from fundamental moth behavior, is that nights with a full moon will end up with poor results at artificial lights. Note To NMW Organizers: Look at the lunar calendar for 2022 and figure out when the New Moon (i.e. no moon) will be in July! That should be your target week.

Here in CenTex with it’s high biodiversity, a really good night of mothing in optimal conditions in Spring or Fall might result in the documentation of something on the order of 100 to 150 species of moths. This past week, in several evenings and mornings of effort over seven calendar days, I may have about 55 species of moths to upload. That might seem high by some standards—Sorry, you folks at more northern latitudes—but by Texas standards, that’s rather pitiful.

In the end, I just have to laugh it all off and assert, “Wait ’til next year!”

Posted on July 24, 2021 20:11 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 22 observations | 7 comments | Leave a comment

July 03, 2021

Notice of Intent: A Checklist of the Moths of Central Texas

I wanted to let several iNaturalists know that I have started on a long-ago conceived project of compiling a “Checklist of the Moths of Central Texas”. For many years, those of us attempting to study and identify moths in the general Austin region have had the use of some excellent resources such as the latest edition(s) of Knudson & Bordelon’s Texas Checklist (latest: 2018), along with access to online resources such as iNaturalist, BugGuide, Moth Photographer’s Group, and certain other useful databases.

With the passing of the co-founders of the Texas Lepidoptera Survey, Ed Knudson and Charles Bordelon, in the past few years, we have all been left somewhat rudderless in the vast sea of moths since they are no longer able to personally confirm IDs. Their checklists are rapidly becoming out-of-date from taxonomic changes, and fresh copies of their excellent regional publications are, for the time being, unavailable. Texas is not without entomological expertise, but Lepidopteran studies certainly suffered a major setback with the loss of these two gentlemen. It is my understanding that a book on the Moths of Texas is in preparation, carrying on work initiated by the late John Tveten, but I am unaware of the status of that manuscript or any timeline for its publication.

The abovementioned online resources offer us considerable help in identifying moths and understanding their distribution, but zeroing in on the fauna of any region smaller than Texas as a whole is tedious. It is not difficult to search any of the above resources for county records and lists, but county-level data is often a bit too fine-focused (small scale) to guide research. Compromises between a statewide list and county lists might involve looking at the moth fauna of an ecoregion such as the Edwards Plateau, a strategy which would have a strong ecological foundation as a basis for a faunal association. That said, at least three aspects of geography make that a difficult target: (1) each of the ecoregions of Texas has a great many counties subsumed in them, (2) the ecoregional boundaries do not handily align with political boundaries (which are more readily available for database searches, etc.), and (3) those of us living in the major urban centers such as Austin are likely to encounter moths from two or more ecoregions because our cities of residence are commonly on major bioecological boundaries.

As an ad hoc solution to the search for a basis of a regional moth checklist, I have settled on a large metropolitan boundary defined in various resources as the Greater Austin region. This coincides with the following seven counties including and surrounding the Austin metropolitan area: Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson. The immediate advantage of a polygon encompassing this region is that it coincides by definition with the outer boundaries of this set of counties and already has an established, georeferenced “Place” in the iNaturalist database. It also coincides with the region used for Austin’s participation in the annual City Nature Challenge on iNaturalist which typically adds massive numbers of Lepidopteran records annually to that database. It also has the practical advantage of encompassing a large portion of the local destinations we Austin-area moth-ers commonly visit and study. And finally, it has that advantage of straddling a major bioecological transition area which allows for the compilation of representative moth faunas from each side of such a boundary—probably not a comprehensive fauna of either ecoregion, but a strong sampling of each.

Among the resources I am tapping to compile a raw checklist are the following:

— I downloaded all Lepidoptera records from the “Greater Austin, TX” place on iNaturalist (roughly 130,000 records, of which about 76,000 are moth observations). Here’s a link to all these observations:
https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?place_id=60211&subview=map&taxon_id=47157

— I have at my disposal a spreadsheet compiled by the late Jim Gillaspy (Univ. of Texas) which goes by the misnomer “BFL LepList” refering to Brackenridge Field Laboratory of the University of Texas. In fact, it is a compilation of thousands of moth specimens collected by Gillaspy not only at BFL but also other central Texas locations (e.g. Pedernales Falls SP and Univ. of Texas’ Stengl Ranch in Bastrop County) along with many other separate collecting efforts around Texas the specimens from which are now deposited in the University of Texas Insect Collection (UTIC). That list was prepared in the 1990s and last updated in about 2000. Moth taxonomy has changed substantially since Gillaspy’s compilation but the spreadsheet has many advantages: (1) Most moth specimen identifications were provided en masse by Ed Knudson; (2) the spreadsheet contains separate lists for each location; and (3) its taxonomic sequence was orgainized by Hodges numbers (although these too are now somewhat out of date).

— Records on BugGuide and Moth Photographer’s Group maps will be used to check against eventual lists derived from the above databases.

— Visits to the UTIC will probably be on the agenda in the future to verify particular records and identifications (to the extent that I am able to).

I anticipate that the final product of a checklist will be made available online and in print form. I can only hope it might become the precursor to a proper "Field Guide" to our moth fauna with illustrations, descriptions, identification tips, etc. That'll take another day or two. ;-)

I am not unaware that this will be a long, involved task to get to anything resembling a useful up-to-date checklist. Updating the taxonomy of Gillaspy’s list and cleaning up the identifications of tens of thousands of iNaturalist observations will be among the initial tasks.

This journal post is both a notification of my efforts on this project but also a solicitation for help. At times, for various tasks, I am sure I will need multiple sets of eyes looking over various draft or interim products. I'm asking now if you might be available for smaller or larger subtasks along this undoubtedly tortuous path to a Central Texas Moth Checklist. You're welcome to message me privately with your interest and thoughts. I’m also interested to hear if any of you has ever attempted a similar compilation in any way (home, local, county, etc.) and might care to relate your experiences with such an effort.

Wish me luck. I’ll look forward to hearing any initial thoughts on this quixotic adventure.

Posted on July 03, 2021 21:40 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 16 comments | Leave a comment

June 25, 2021

Open call for Greg Lasley video tributes

Each October, Travis Audubon Society honors an individual who has made an extraordinary contribution to promoting environmental conservation, education, or advocacy at the annual Conservation Award Celebration, named after legendary birder and conservationist Victor Emanuel.

The Board of Directors of Travis Audubon is honored to announce that the 2021 Conservation Hero is Greg Lasley of Dripping Springs, Texas. The Board unanimously agreed that no one is more qualified for this award than Lasley, who accepted the honor before his death on January 30, 2021. Lasley will be honored posthumously at the virtual 12th annual Victor Emanuel Conservation Award Celebration on October 8, 2021.

As part of the virtual program, we would like to showcase Greg's impact on friends and fellow naturalists all over the world with personal stories.

If you are interested in sharing a tribute to Greg, please use this Google Form to upload a less-than-one-minute video file using one of these prompts:

  • A lesson Greg taught me is…
  • My favorite memory of Greg is…
  • Greg’s legacy to conservation is…
    Submissions will close on Friday, August 20, 2021.

If you have questions about the event or video submissions, please email Development Manager Kelsey McKenna at Kelsey@travisaudubon.org

Posted on June 25, 2021 03:13 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 2 comments | Leave a comment

June 20, 2021

Latest Petrophila Moth Research Published

I’m happy to report that my latest research on Petrophila moths has just been published in the Journal of Lepidopterists’ Society: “Identification and Distribution of the Petrophila fulicalis species group (Crambidae): Taking Advantage of Citizen Science Data”, J. Lep. Soc. 75(2):113-127 (June 2021).

This is the latest effort coming out of my interest in this genus and previously highlighted in these journal articles:

https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/40151-sorting-out-feather-edged-and-heppner-s-petrophila (Sept 2020)
https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/39051-another-a-hah-moment-with-petrophila-moths (Aug 2020)
https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/27047-id-guide-6-notes-on-texas-petrophila-identification (Aug 2019)
https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/27037-id-guide-5-petrophila-research (Aug 2019)

iNaturalist plays a prominent role in my published article and several iNaturalists contributed important photos for it. Below, I’m going to tag a lot of the people I need to thank for helping bring this article to fruition.

A downloadable pdf of the above article is available from my page on ResearchGate.com (Chuck Sexton) and can also be accessed from this DropBox folder, along with full-sized versions of the figures and maps:
https://www.dropbox.com/sh/p1z94ahhrqv4n3x/AABom5yJV1wFmQfXCTz_QlCda?dl=0
(I hope I set up this DropBox link correctly. Let me know if you can't access it.)

Posted on June 20, 2021 12:30 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 18 comments | Leave a comment

June 10, 2021

Hypoprepia lichen moths: What a mess!

Based on occasional questions and queries about certain species of the lichen moth genus Hypoprepia (Erebidae: Arctiinae), I did some quick research on uploaded images on iNaturalist. I focused on the biggest long-standing problem which is trying to distinguish Painted Lichen Moth (H. fucosa) and Scarlet-winged Lichen Moths (H. miniata). A few things are for sure:

— The separation of these two species is very difficult, particularly in Texas.
— The older literature and newer field guides dreadfully oversimplify this ID challenge.
— The patterns of wing and thorax coloration vary in complex ways geographically.
— Thus far, barcoding analysis has not helped to separate the two species (Palting et al, 2018).

In the literature and field guides, we read that the way to ID each of these species is boiled down to this:
Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth has the ground color of the forewings all red, wide black terminal band on hindwings, and an all red thorax.
Painted Lichen Moth has substantial yellow/orange in the basal 2/3 of the forewings, narrower black terminal band on the hindwings, and a dark gray spot in the middle of the thorax.

There are other details mentioned occasionally in the literature (like Scarlet-winged have a black terminal abdominal segment), and the hindwings of course are not visible in the vast majority of field photos. That said, these statements provide a classic example of the danger of oversimplified field marks. Apparently NOT ONE of the suggested field marks is true all the time or everywhere. Not even close. There are major exceptions to each aspect across the range of each species, not just the occasional aberrant individual.

I’m still working on sorting through all the images and trying to pin down any additional visible/measurable characters that might help with this ID. That work is ongoing, but I wanted to address one of the above marks—the gray spot on the thorax—because it illustrates the complexity of the situation. So here’s what I did today:

I examined all H. fucosa and H. miniata images uploaded to iNat as of 8 June 2021 and which have been identified to species level. Because of the great uncertainty in this set of species and because misidentifications are probably abundant, I made the ultra-conservative starting assumption that I would take ALL identifications at face value—not necessarily accepting them, but just taking them as a starting point for this particular analysis. I did not go through and add/change any IDs prior to this compilation; hopefully, additional research might allow me or someone else to do that. It isn’t appropriate or possible at present.

Then, I compiled the number of observations of moths (usually one per observation) that showed a gray spot or line in the center of the thorax. Note: This “field mark” is highly variable; the gray spot varies in width from a wide square/rectangle to just a thin streak of gray down the center of the thorax. IF there was ANY gray, I counted it as a gray spot. Another note: Something not described in any literature or guides is that the gray spot is typically situated in the middle of a yellowish thoracic disk which is paler than the flanking reddish tegulae (sides of the thorax). In many populations, as the gray spot narrows and disappears, many individuals appear to have just a yellowish center to the thorax which contrasts only slightly with the reddish tegulae (see two examples from Missouri, below). I counted these as “no gray spot” although I think this is part of a continuous phenotypic range of variation. Yet there are many, many Hypoprepia’s (apparently of both species) with true, immaculate, uniformly-colored reddish/orangish thoraces. So I pigeon-holed all this variation into simply “gray spot or not”.

In a few instances where there are very large numbers of observations (fucosa in Ontario, Vermont, and Texas; miniata in Ontario), I only examined the first 200 usable adult images. I obviously ignored images of larvae, images showing only the underside of a moth, and moths on which there was so much wear on the thorax that the presence/absence of a gray spot couldn’t be judged. I also ignored, for the time being, about 261 observations which have been left at the genus level, even when I might have thought I could safely add an ID. I’ll try to do that later; for the present, I ignored them. There are many inherent biases in collections of iNat images, including multiple images of the same moth by different people, over-representation of certain locations by enthusiastic moth photographers, and of course my own errors in judging or counting gray spots. I gloss over all these for the present discussion. I can offer a pdf of my raw research notes for these state-by-state and province-by-province counts; message me below if you're interested.

For starters, here is an array of photos which show the variation in the thorax coloration in H. fucosa:
All images are used under a CC-BY-NC license.

1 H fucosa Quebec Larivée iNat 81105127 copy 2 H fucosa Ontario robertdifruscia inat 71500652 copy 3 H fucosa Quebec imbeaul iNat 70253252 copy 4 H fucosa Michigan jaspersail iNat 30150144 copy 5 H fucosa Missouri cunningly iNat 55931761 copy 6 H fucosa Missouri wildreturn iNat 1992669 copy 7 H fucosa TX Travis gcwarbler iNat 29633951 copy
Top row, from L to R: Quebec (@larivee), Ontario (@robertdifruscia), Quebec (@imbeaul), Michigan (@jaspersail), Missouri (@cunningly),
Bottom row, L to R: Missouri (@wildreturn), and Texas (@gcwarbler).

Here's an example of the distinctive Florida population of H. fucosa (@gaudettelaura). Note the presence of a gray spot; this differs from most other populations in the southern U.S.:
8 H fucosa FL gaudettelaura iNat 73448260 copy

Next is a set of Hypoprepia miniata from across its wide range:

10 H miniata Ontario bugsrock iNat 57226406 copy 11 H miniata Ontario markread iNat 55914713 copy 12 H miniata Ontario timthorington inat 58202220 copy 13 H miniata OK zdufran iNat 26130412 copy 14 H miniata FL mikehanson11 iNat 32898456 copy
From L to R: Ontario (unusual form with gray spot; @bugsrock), Ontario (@markread), Ontario (@timthorington), Oklahoma (@zdufran), and Florida (@mikehanson11).

The hand-drawn map below shows the percentage of all fucosa images by U.S. state which show a gray spot. (The percentage of Canadian fucosa examples with a gray spot ranges from 99-100% across all provinces from Alberta to Nova Scotia.)
Hypoprepia fucosa percent with gray spot

Here are some simple conclusions about the gray spot on the thorax of these two species:

— Painted Lichen Moth (H. fucosa) shows major variation in the presence of the spot. Across all of Canada and the northern tier of states from the Dakotas east to New England, the gray spot is nearly universal on identified images (pink area across the top of U.S.). At least 96.7% of these moths show a gray spot on the thorax; just 22 of 671 observations identified as fucosa in this region lacked a gray spot. This is probably a direct outcome of the traditional statements in the literature and guidance in field guides. Those “exceptions to the rule” are sprinkled from Ontario and Michigan east to New York and Maine.

— Across the southern U.S., from Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas east to Maryland, Delaware, and down to Georgia, the gray spot is predominantly absent on identified fucosa (yellow shaded area on map). Only 68 of 1014 observations of identified fucosa showed a recognizable gray spot; this constitutes only 6.7% of identified individuals. Most of these “gray-spotted” fucosa in the southern U.S. are in Missouri and the mid-Atlantic Coast, but none of those states exceeded 17% of the sample with gray spots.

— There is a conspicuous zone right through the middle of the country from Nebraska and Iowa eastward to Pennsylvania and New Jersey where the percent of gray-spotted fucosa hovers around 40 to 50%. This is obviously a zone of blending or overlap in this character. It’s one of the regions of the country which deserves some more fine-grained examination in the future.

— A conspicuous outlier is Florida, in which 3/4 (74%) of all identified fucosa moths show an obvious gray spot, bucking the trend across the rest of the South. From a biogeographic standpoint, I don’t know what this means; it’s a distinctive and counter-intuitive result. Whatever the genetic factor or factors are that result in this Florida gray-spotting, they may also be the contributor, via gene migration or introgression up the coastal plain, to the slightly higher proportions of gray spotting in the mid-Atlantic States (well to the south of the northern gray-spotted region).

— Over the entire range of identified miniata, gray spots are notably rare. This is to be expected because of the literature and field guide pronouncements which heavily influence identifications. It simply goes against the grain to identify a Hypoprepia with a gray thorax spot as miniata (notice @bugsrock's example from Ontario, above). Fully 93% of all the identified miniata’s have a red thorax. The biggest occurrence of gray spots on miniata are in a large sample of the species in Ontario, Canada (26% of my subsample of 200 observations). Just 1 to 6 identified miniata with gray spots were scattered among 8 other states and provinces and most of these were in Canada.

The forewing ground color in this large sample of the two species shows even more exceptions to the rules (above) than the gray spots. There are innumerable identified miniata which have orange or yellow ground color or even fucosa-typical yellowish basal 2/3 of the forewings. I suspect a large chunk of these are misidentified. Similarly, among the sample of over 2000 fucosa observations that I examined, there is at least a small portion of them (in all regions) which appear to have the ground color of the wings completely red. Here again, a great many of these may be misidentified miniata, but were placed in the fucosa bucket simply because they have a gray thorax spot and we have been following the standard litany of the literature and field guides.

The correlation and geographic distribution of these various visible marks still need much work and analysis. For the moment, I would apply these “quack like a duck” rules:

— Across Canada and the northern U.S., if a moth has a gray thoracic spot and exhibits some orange or yellow tint on the forewings, label it as fucosa. If it is all scarlet including the thorax, label it miniata. If it shows some confusing or hard-to-judge combination of marks, put it at the genus level.

— Across the southern U.S., moths of this group which show the characteristic 2/3 base of the FW’s with yellowish ground color—irrespective of the presence/absence of a gray thorax spot (which will normally be absent), should be labeled fucosa. Only moths with all scarlet ground color on the forewings and thorax will deserve to be labeled miniata. Moths with intermediate orangy coloration for all the forewing ground color should probably be left at genus level.

What are we left with at present? Below are some cherry-picked images showing some "typical" examples of each species from far-flung corners of their respective ranges. There is much more variation in each region than can be illustrated here in just a small handful of images.

H fucosa Ontario robertdifruscia inat 71500652 H fucosa VA davewendelken iNat 54334126 H fucosa TX Travis Sexton iNat 29633951 H fucosa FL gaudettelaura iNat 73448260
Painted Lichen Moths (H. fucosa), L to R: Ontairo (@robertdifruscia), Virginia (@davewendelken), Texas (@gcwarbler), Florida (@gaudettelaura).

H miniata Ontario markread iNat 55914713 H miniata VA vailbass iNat 52829560 H miniata TX sambiology iNat 48607365 H miniata FL mikehanson11 iNat 32898456
Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth (H. miniata), L to R: Ontario (@markread), Virginia (@vailbass), Texas (@sambiology), and Florida (@gaudettelaura).

One thing that jumps out at me from uploading the previous arrays of images is that the two species seem to be much more difficult to separate in Texas than anywhere else--IF all of these are correctly IDed. Not surprisingly, Texas has the highest percentage of images currently left at the genus level. I don't know what that means. For many years I have been skeptical if true Scarlet-winged even occurs at all in Texas; we really don't see many/any typical "scarlet" examples. I guess I should complain that Hypoprepia-watchers in the northern latitudes and in Florida have it easy, but that's not really the case. As I mention above, the regional variation is considerable everywhere.

Future research should aim at sorting out the relationships of the thorax and wing patterns geographically, especially in the blend zone. Someone needs to dig back into original literature (e.g. early 20th century) to see what genitalic differences there may be. And of course, more DNA analysis (not just COI barcodes) is definitely needed on a continental scale to sort these out.

Oh, did I mention Hypoprepia cadaverosa (the “Cadaver Lichen Moth”) of the central and southern Rocky Mountains? It’s a dark western cousin of the above two species…or is it more like a sibling or twin?

H cadaverosa NM ronaldperry iNat 26015867
H. cadaverosa from New Mexico (@ronaldparry).

Time will tell.

Posted on June 10, 2021 02:24 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 10 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2021

A Sad Loss for iNaturalist

Black Ribbon

Greg W. Lasley
(@greglasley)
1949 - 2021

Greg passed away earlier this evening after struggling to recover from a serious illness.
His wife Cheryl was by his side at home in Dripping Springs, Texas.
I will have more information about this transition in a short while.
Right now I am still absorbing the news and trying to figure out
what the world will be like without my friend of 40 years.

Posted on January 31, 2021 04:00 by gcwarbler gcwarbler | 9 comments | Leave a comment

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