Critter Close Up: The Miller Moth

Author: Teisha Rowland

You may have seen them flying around your home on some warm summer nights. Or perhaps some even snuck inside of your home, being attracted to the lights! Either way, you’ve already encountered Colorado’s Miller Moth, but what do you know about these commonplace critters?

  • Have I seen one? On summer nights you’ve probably seen these little moths hovering around lights, which they’re attracted to. You may also have seen groups of swallows at intersections that are feeding on these moths, which likely hid on the cars and emerged when they stopped. With a wingspan of 1.5 to 2 inches, these gray to light-brown moths have variable, nondescript markings on their wings, except for a few tiny, kidney-shaped spots, as seen in the picture shown here.
  • Who’s their family? The Colorado Miller Moth (Euxoa auxiliaris) is the adult form of the army cutworm. The army cutworm belongs to a large family of moths, the Noctuidae, or owlet moths. Over 1,100 species of moth from this family call Colorado home.   
  • Where’s their home? Miller Moths live in Colorado and some nearby states. They’re natives to this region. In Colorado, the caterpillars grow up on the plains during the winter and spring. The adult moths will often fly west hundreds of miles to the Rocky Mountains to follow blooming flowers and avoid the scorching summer heat. It’s during this migration process that people who live along the Rocky Mountains notice the moth “invasion.” This mass migration typically lasts for a few weeks sometime between April and July, varying from year to year. The moths will seek a dark shelter during the day, are attracted to lights at night, and are frequently seen as a nuisance around homes. The surviving moths fly back to the plains during the early fall to lay their eggs and repeat the cycle.
  • What’s for dinner? The caterpillars grow up on a diet of wheat, alfalfa, and other plants. Consequently, they can be a serious crop pest, but there’s no need to worry that the moths will reproduce in a home and damage furniture.  The adult moth spends the entire summer eating nectar from flowers.
  • Whose dinner are they? The caterpillars are eaten by beetles, wasps, and birds. The moths are a food source for bats, birds, and bears. In fact, their fat-rich bodies can be an important part of grizzly bears’ diets.
  • Other fun facts: The army cutworm is aptly named. “Army” refers to the fact that these caterpillars may be found in large groups, like an army, and impressively cross fields or highways together. “Cutworms” are a type of caterpillar that typically cuts plants down near the base of their stems.
  • At Butterfly Pavilion: At Butterfly Pavilion you can see several moths, including the Luna Moth (Actias luna) and the African Moon Moth (Argema mimosae). These belong to the Saturniidae family, a group that contains some of the largest moths in the world.
  • Find out more: Check out the following resources to learn more about Colorado’s Miller Moth:

 

Is there a critter you’ve seen around your home or backyard that you’d like to see in a Critter Close-Up? If so, please contact us! If you aren’t sure what kind of critter it is, you can include a photograph and we’ll pass it on to our experts to identify.

 

[Image from: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Euxoa_auxiliaris.jpg We’ll want to attribute the image to Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org. It’d be best to crop the image and enlarge it so that the kidney-shaped spots are more visible.]Image

July 23, 2013 at 9:17 pm Leave a comment

Broomfield Garden Fair To Focus on Habitats for Wildlife and People

The word “convenient” is not often associated with the word “gardening”, and I should know.  It takes Butterfly Pavilion staff and volunteers about 150 hours a week to maintain our indoor and outdoor plant collections, not to mention the blood, sweat and tears involved.  So, when there’s a convenient opportunity to get all your gardening questions answered and get lots of great landscaping ideas in the process, I just have to pass it along.  The Broomfield Open Space Foundation, Broomfield Master Gardeners, Butterfly Pavilion, City and County of Broomfield and Denver Botanic Gardens will be holding a Broomfield Garden Fair on Saturday, March 2nd.

The Broomfield Garden Fair will run from 9:00 am – 12:00 noon in the Lakeshore Room of the Broomfield Community Center (280 Lamar Street, Broomfield).  This year, the fair’s theme is “Habitats for Wildlife and People”, highlighting the ways in which gardens can make a landscape more livable, more sustainable and more beautiful.   Each of the educational displays, ranging in topic from “Annuals and Perennials” to “Xeriscaping”, will be staffed by a Broomfield Master Gardener who can recommend the best choices and techniques for local gardens, as well as the wildlife benefits of each.  Local vendors such as Wild Birds Unlimited and Natural Lawns of America will be there to offer their expertise.  Organizations such as Butterfly Pavilion and Broomfield Wildlife Masters will also be on hand to help with those “unwanted” wildlife issues.

The event includes a full roster of educational speakers who will present their talks in a workshop setting.  At 9:30 am, Jini Bates from Bloomin’ Landscapes will discuss the fundamentals of appealing gardens in “Landscape Design Basics”.  Amy Yarger from Butterfly Pavilion will then apply those design lessons to a variety of wildlife habitats in “Designing for Wildlife” at 10:30 am, and Sonya Anderson from Denver Botanic Gardens will show gardeners how to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds in “Planting for Pollinators” at 11:00 am.

This event is an exciting way to prepare for the spring gardening season and learn something new.  Gardening still won’t be convenient, but it may be more satisfying once you’re armed with all this new expertise.

To learn more, please visit: http://www.broomfield.org/news/newsdetail.asp?ArticleID=1375

Amy Yarger, Horticulture Director

February 25, 2013 at 11:57 pm Leave a comment

Valentine’s Day Invertebrate Style

On this Valentine’s Day, we’re pleased to note that love is in the air at Butterfly Pavilion! The romance centers around our ambassador tarantula, Rosie, and her amorous companion, Casanova. The pair were introduced via Butterfly Pavilion’s captive tarantula breeding program.

Rosie and Casanova

Rosie and Casanova

Most people aren’t aware of Butterfly Pavilion’s captive breeding program, but it is important to us because it helps eliminate the need for collection of tarantulas from their native habitats and also helps ensure that endangered species are protected.

Currently, we have five species of tarantulas in our breeding program: the critically endangered Mexican Pink tarantula (Brachypelma klassi), another critically endangered species Gooty Sapphire Ornamental (Poecilotheria metallica), the Honduras Curly Hair tarantula (Brachypelma albopilosum), Rosie’s beautiful rainforest cousin the Brazilian Black (Grammostola pulchra), and finally, Miss Rosie herself, a healthy Chilean Rose-haired tarantula (Grammostola rosea)!

This very special Rosie has met a handsome male Chilean Rose-haired tarantula named Casanova and they appear to be in love! While most tarantulas have to be separated after mating, these two prefer to spend time together. Hopefully, we’ll be seeing some baby Rosies come summertime!

February 15, 2013 at 1:07 am Leave a comment

Ecotourism and the Next Best Practice

Ecotourism is an extremely successful business strategy that creates environmentally responsible travel to somewhat remote natural areas in order to appreciate native wildlife and its habitat. In the spirit of promoting conservation, it has  a positive  impact on the areas, and provides beneficial socio-economic support of local peoples. This industry’s influence can be fiscally measured in the hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of dollars. With the growing awareness of environmentally sound business practices and the “green movement” in full swing, it’s is a breath of fresh air to see businesses, regions, and even entire countries making ecotourism a priority! Moreover, there are some businesses that have taken this successful model and strategically added even greater purpose by developing additional operations to expand their impact. One such business, Basecamp Explorer, has a built-in nonprofit arm to ensure they deepen their engagement with the community and its culture while also expanding the focus of their business to ensure true triple bottom-line profitability. Every aspect of their business is evaluated from a true fiscal, social, and environmental perspective.

I recently had the luxury of taking an Ecotourism trip to the Masai Mara National Park in Kenya. Basecamp Explorer donated this African adventure as a live auction item to the Butterfly Pavilion as part of our annual gala, and as good fortune would have it, my brother and I won the trip! It was a wonderful safari adventure, and boy did we see animals. Lots of them!! The great wildebeest migration is truly an indescribable phenomenon. It is beyond staggering and truly awe-inspiring – a bucket list necessity for anyone. As a zoologist, I was in paradise. We experienced a multitude of mammals, birds and reptiles, and of course lots and lots of butterflies. However, beyond the throng of wild animals you see, visitors are privileged to enjoy amazing gourmet food and outstanding luxurious accommodations. It is extremely comfortable and the staff, which is nearly all Masai, are wonderful. And yet, the true wonder and most amazing aspect of this 8-day adventure was not the unbelievable wildlife, but rather the astonishing impact Basecamp Explorer is making in Kenya.

Basecamp Explorer has taken a simple tourism model and turned it on its head by ensuring a significant percentage of the tourism dollars stay in Kenya. Through the nonprofit arm of their business, they have helped to build schools and supported the development of medical clinics. They have played a significant role in expanding the Serengeti Mara wildlife corridor by developing a wildlife conservancy outside Masai Mara National Park. They actually pay local Masai people to live outside the conservancy while they as a people use the land for ecotourism. And use it they do, as Basecamp Explorer has also invested in and helped develop a guide school on the conservancy to train and educate local Masai men and women to be certified interpretive guides in and around the conservancy and National Park system. These individuals go through extensive training for over a year and the employment rate for graduating guides is over 85%!

At the same time, the programs Basecamp Explorer has established completely integrate and inspire cultural traditions while helping to shape future generations. One such program provides women with an opportunity to participate in craft and fine jewelry design. For these women, it is the first time they have a steady income and any living outside of child rearing. The jewelry is amazingly well built, and very attractive. I personally left the Mara with over $250.00 of jewelry and leather goods for my family and friends. Amazingly enough, 75% of my purchases went directly to those designers. It’s the most rewarding $250.00 I ever spent!

Basecamp Explorer has taken an already successful business model like ecotourism and injected compassion, care, and “big-time” vision. They are making an impact that will be measurable for centuries to come and the best part is they have just begun their work. It is my hope that the Butterfly Pavilion can join in  on some of their conservation work and help to positively influence the social and financial health of that region, while helping to educate folks back here in Colorado and around the United States about the incredible value of sustainable business ventures like Basecamp Explorer. Much like the butterfly farming efforts that the Butterfly Pavilion continues to invest in throughout the world, indigenous people around the world benefit greatly when given an opportunity to provide a sustainable product or service that the world can enjoy and truly benefit from. In the process, our natural world becomes the most critical variable in an equation that provides limitless potential and results in a better world for us all.

Patrick Tennyson
President and CEO
Butterfly Pavilion

August 14, 2012 at 4:30 pm Leave a comment

Butterfly Pavilion Garden Resolutions

Once the outdoor gardens have been put to bed, the horticulturists here at the Butterfly Pavilion finally have some time to evaluate what flourished and what fizzled during the past year.  The entire month of January is devoted to planning and dreaming, usually with seed catalogs in hand.  Below are some of the resolutions the Butterfly Pavilion horticulturists have made for the coming year.  Because these are all about gardens, habitats and plants, they will be a delight, not a drudgery, to keep.

  1. Have some tea (compost tea, that is!) – Compost tea is an effective, sustainable way to add nutrients to an ecosystem without relying on synthetic fertilizers.  After seeing compost tea in action at other zoos, we hope it will be the ideal fertilizer, providing gentle nutrition for our plants, butterflies and other creatures in the Wings of the Tropics exhibit.  This winter, we will be constructing our composting system, and hope to be able to apply our first batch of compost tea by late spring.
  2. Go native – The gardens at the Butterfly Pavilion include both native and nonnative plants that are attractive to butterflies and other pollinators.  This year, when we buy perennials for the habitat gardens, we will choose native nectar sources.  Native plants thrive in our dry and windy setting, and our local insect fauna are adapted to use them.  This is not to say that we will get rid of all of our non-natives, however.   Certain plants, such as the butterfly bush (Buddleia davidii), provide so much nectar to so many pollinators that we will continue to include them in the habitat gardens.  We aim to create a buffet for butterflies in our habitat gardens!
  3. Share the love – We horticulturists love our gardens and rainforest and nature trail.  We get to see the plants grow and bloom each day, and we get to observe the amazing animals that use these plants for food and shelter, both in the rainforest and outdoors.  But, it’s not enough to love them if no one else gets to love them, too.  In 2012, we will offer lots of opportunities to enjoy our rainforest, gardens and nature trail, through programs, events and classes.   And, if you see a horticulturist at work in the rainforest or garden, feel free to stop and chat.  You might get to eat a raspberry or sniff some jasmine…and we promise not to make you pull weeds!

 In the coming months, visitors to the Butterfly Pavilion will be able to visit the tropical rainforest and outdoor gardens to see these resolutions take fruit (pun intended!).  Here’s to a blooming and bounteous New Year!

 Amy Yarger, Horticulture Director

January 3, 2012

 

 

January 3, 2012 at 5:03 pm Leave a comment

An Insect Wonder of the World

An Insect Wonder of the World
Mary Ann Hamilton, VP of Science and Conservation
Butterfly Pavilion

It was when I was in high school when I learned about the monarch butterfly migration. After seeing the pictures of forest trees covered in monarchs I knew that it was something I needed to see in person. When I think of all the insects in our world butterflies don’t always jump to the top of my list when I think of who is the most beautiful or has the best adaptations, but when I think of some of the coolest insects monarchs always make the list. It is amazing to me that these small, delicate, short-lived animals are able to travel distances, up to 3,000 miles, that is more than many humans travel in their lives.

As I continued my undergraduate education I found that my appreciation and admiration for insects had grown to the point that I needed to change the focus of my studies. When I became a student of entomology that is when I truly became who I am today. Many people link major life changes to the metamorphosis of a butterfly and without sounding corny, now I could to. Learning about insect adaptations and the feats that they are able to accomplish are overwhelmingly amazing.

So back to the monarchs…. These butterflies start off as a tiny egg, hatch into a yellow, black and white striped caterpillar (this stage is the growing stage where the caterpillar molts several times before it is ready to pupate), create a chrysalis, then emerge as an adult butterfly. This entire process takes approximately 30 days to accomplish. Once the adults emerge their primary focus is to reproduce and eat. Most adult monarchs will only live 14 – 30 days but the migrating monarch can live up to 9 months.

Why do monarchs migrate? As the temperatures become cooler and the days become shorter the migrating generation of monarchs react and begin moving southward, these insects can’t survive a cold winter. The monarchs will travel south in two major patterns: those monarch west of the Rocky Mountains will travel south to California and those monarchs east of the Rocky Mountains will travel south through Texas into the mountains of Mexico. Once the monarchs reach their over wintering sites they roost in trees, these trees are completely covered in a sea of orange and black monarch wings. It is said to be a sight to see. They stay in these trees over the winter, moving very little, until winter ends and the days become longer and warmer, this is usually in early March. At this time they begin to mate and move north in search of food and host plants to lay their eggs on. Many southern states see a second migration as the monarchs continue to move north laying their eggs. After the adults have successfully reproduced they die. Only days after being laid the eggs hatch and new caterpillars are out feeding on milkweed and growing quickly. Their metamorphosis continues and once adult this generation moves north toward their parent’s original habitat. As this process continues the adults move northward until they reach their original home. Three to four generations later their amazing migration begins again. Each year new generations of monarchs fly to the same over wintering sites, it is still unknown how they are able to accomplish this feat.

The Butterfly Pavilion is now offering a trip to the Mexico monarch over wintering sites. This is an amazing opportunity, one that will allow you to witness an amazing and unexplained natural occurrence; if you ask me I’d call it an insect wonder of the world. Come join me as we travel down to see the magical and mysterious monarch migration.

http://www.butterflies.org/education/eco-trips/mexico-monarchs.php

November 8, 2011 at 3:52 pm Leave a comment

Our Newest Adult-Only Event at the BP

You are invited to our newest adult-only event at the Butterfly Pavilion!

Butterflies and Beer – Celebrating Denver’s Beer Week

Sip, Savor and Stroll

September 27, 2011 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

This will be a wonderful evening! Stroll through our conservatory and learn interesting facts about our butterflies, plants and flowers. Then, enjoy a beer tasting with Odell Brewing Company brews and light appetizer pairing!

Sign up today! Space is limited!

astruble@butterflies.org

$30/per couple for Members | $35/ per couple for Non-Members

September 1, 2011 at 2:59 pm Leave a comment

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