With the cold temperatures going in and out, I thought my days of seeing large moths were over for this calendar year until I was out seed collecting this week at Kankakee Sands.
As I was harvesting some blue vervain in a wet prairie, an insect caught my eye sitting on the stem of a cottonwood sapling. It was a large black and white moth with some red on its abdomen … not something I had seen before. I snapped a picture with my phone for a later investigation.
Getting back to my office, I cracked open several moth books to find out and confirm it was a buck moth. This was exciting as there haven’t been a ton of observations for our area. A deeper dive showed that we have two nearly identical species of buck moths that overlap in the region — 1. Hemileuca nevadensis, which uses willows and cottonwoods as larval host plants and 2. Hemileuca maia which uses oaks.
Given the area where I saw this one, I’m inclined to believe I documented Hemileuca nevadensis AKA the Nevada buck moth, but the two species have been known to hybridize ... got to love the complicated ways of nature.
Another thing I read was that the buck moth is a diurnal species, which means they are most active during the daylight hours. After it warmed up to about 60 degrees the next day, I went back to the same spot with my camera hoping to find a buck moth again. I didn’t have to wait long as one flew over the parking area as I got out of my car. Once I spotted several more flying above the prairie, I spent some time following them around and could barely keep up even if I ran.
I got lucky and caught this one right before it took off. This individual is a male, and you can tell that because of the reddish orange at the end of its abdomen. I hope this sighting isn’t the last noteworthy moth of the year for me but if it is, I can’t complain.
Keep your eyes open out there ... always something to see.