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Northland Nature: Moth emerges at window in March

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

Northland Nature_moth
A pinion moth as seen at a window on a March evening — an adult that recently emerged from winter hibernation.
Contributed / Larry Weber

With an average temperature of about 26 degrees, March is certainly not a warm month. Usually, we have the ground covered with snow for all or much of these 31 days, and subzero readings can happen. However, as we reach and pass the vernal equinox, longer daylight will prevail. The mercury will frequently climb to the 40s and 50s. It is an unusual March when we do not get these numbers.

With light more than dark, nature responds and we see plenty of happenings during these weeks. Skunks and raccoons move about now mostly in search of mates and meals. The little striped chipmunks are in the yard again, leaving the safety of the den. A few early migrants arrive.

Open water will likely host geese, swans, mergansers and ducks. And soon, we’ll be looking for robins on lawns and red-winged blackbirds at swamps.

The first crocuses and dandelions are up and give a sight that many of us are glad to see. But there is more.

Even with these spring things, it seems too early to be seeing insects, but they are here and active. During my woods walks of late winter, I have several times seen insects on the snow. Most abundant are the tiny hopping snow fleas (springtails) that abound on the surface during mild days.

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Looking like grains of pepper, they move on the snow using a tail appendage to jump. Larger, and looking like mosquitoes, are winter crane flies — some with wings, some not. Near moving water of streams may be the site of stoneflies and caddisflies that recently emerged.

Sap is rising in maples and some waking butterflies take advantage of it. A group of butterflies, called anglewings, hibernate as adults. Now awake, they go to trees to bask in the vernal sunlight and feed on the oozing sweetness. Bearing names of mourning cloak, comma, question mark, Compton and Milbert’s tortoiseshells, they appear each early spring. Spread-wing, they are easy to see, often colorful, but when closing their wings, they blend in with the tree bark.

Not as common or as obvious as butterflies, a few kinds of moths are about at this time as well. A little dark one with white wing spots, known as the infant, is a delight to see on these early spring days. With brightly colored orange underwings and flying in the daytime, it is easy to mistake it for a butterfly. I usually see them on a mild afternoon after the middle of the month.

But it was at night on a mild day in March that I saw another moth. The moth was about an inch long, mostly gray, and fluttered at the window, attracted by indoor lighting. A closer look revealed long antennae and lighter blotches along the wing's edges. I was able to identify this early spring night visitor as a type of pinion moth.

It is not uncommon to see moths fluttering at windows as we sit inside. Sometimes they are expected in cool weather, but not in March. In late October, a couple gray and light brown moths, linden looper and spanworm, came here, too. But these late-season moths do not feed, only breed, on cool fall nights. The pinion moth that I observed had wintered as an adult and now in early spring emerged to mate and feed, mostly on sap.

Coming to the window was only a diversion and it did not stay long. But I was glad to see another early-spring insect.

Larry Weber
Larry Weber
MORE BY LARRY WEBER
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.
Retired teacher Larry Weber, of Barnum, is the author of “Butterflies of the North Woods" and “Spiders of the North Woods," among other books. Reach him via Katie Rohman at krohman@duluthnews.com.

Retired teacher Larry Weber, a Barnum resident, is the author of several books.
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