Wildlife

Studying the cryptic and beautiful Mompha moths

Most butterflies and moths featured in popular magazines and other media are large, well-known species, such as monarchs and luna moths. Within scientific communities as well, species descriptions are biased toward larger moths, overlooking the multitude of tiny ones. Despite this tendency to favor larger species, the average moth is actually quite small, though far from nondescript!

The Nocturnal Nuance of Moths

With more than 1,850 known species of moths in the state of Illinois—more than ten times the diversity of butterflies—it is a real adventure sampling the moth species inhabiting the McDonald Woods at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Using a combination of light and bait traps along with visual searches, I have been investigating the diversity of moth species found in the restored portions of our oak woodland. Moths are removed from the traps and then photographed before being released back to the woodland.

Great Egret: Graceful White Wader

The elegant flight and bright white plumage of the great egret (Ardea alba) belie its harsh croak when it takes off from a marsh. It was this bird’s beauty that nearly led to its demise at the turn of the twentieth century, when these and other waders were hunted for their feathery plumes that women wore in their hats. Since then, the great egret, standing more than 3 feet tall with a nearly 5-foot wing span, has become the symbol for the National Audubon Society, founded in part to stop these birds from being killed to extinction.

Baltimore Oriole: Suburban Garden Songster

In early May, when the leaves of maples are unfolding into a soft green, the Baltimore oriole (Icterus galbula) returns, giving his liquid “tea-dear-dear” song in suburban yards and forest preserve edges. Homeowners who put oranges and grape jelly in feeders are often rewarded with a look at the male with his black head and back contrasting with his brilliant orange breast as he eats a spring meal.