Photo of the Week – September 6, 2012

Skippers are the sparrows of the butterfly world; lots of species, most of which are small, brown, and difficult to identify by amateur enthusiasts.  They often are misidentified as moths, but a closer look reveals the straight antennae (not fuzzy like on moths) that identify them as butterflies.

A skipper butterfly on gray headed coneflower. Restored prairie in Sarpy County, Nebraska.

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This particular skipper was sunning itself in a small prairie planting in Sarpy County (eastern Nebraska) last weekend.  I have no idea what species it is – maybe some of you will know, but without seeing more of the wings, I can’t tell what it is.  It flew off after  I took this photo and I didn’t get a good look at it.

(To be honest, I still probably wouldn’t have been able to identify it!)

Photo of the Week – February 17, 2012

Pop Quiz:  Are the creatures in this photo butterflies or moths?  Which is the male and which is the female?

Sarpy County, Nebraska

Answer:

These are moths.  While they have enough color that many people might call them butterflies, the antennae distinguish them as moths.  Butterflies have long straight antennae with little knobs at the tip.  Moths, on the other hand, have fuzzy antennae, and males (such as the one on the right in this photo) have much fuzzier antennae than females.  The males use their antennae to find females by following their pheromone trails.

Now, maybe one of you can tell me why at least some moths appear to have a darker spot in the center of their big compound eyes – making it look like they have a large pupil in each eye.  I’ve noticed the trait on other moths I’ve photographed, but don’t know whether or not the dark spots have a particular function.  I’m guessing that among the readers of this blog someone will know the answer.  Thanks in advance!

(Oh, and if you’d like to identify the moth species for me, that’d be great too!)