Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bird droppings lead to ferns

At ease and looking like a bird dropping, a moth on a blue flag iris blade

I haven't attempted to identify this moth. The library had only one book on moths - one with some color, but mostly black and white images. The printing plates weren't lined up - blurry. Many moths are blurry like nightjars. Cryptic wings, dusty.

Dusty with the stuff that makes them fly, so said a voice from my childhood. Don't handle them too much, the dust comes off, then they won't be able to fly. Can't recall the owner of that voice.

A caterpillar on a sensitive fern leaf

From just a bit of research, I'll guess it is an early instar of spicebush swallowtail. I've never heard of a caterpillar eating a fern. Ferns...Not much wildlife value, comes a more recent voice. From what I've observed it is true, so let me challenge my assumptions.

In Caterpillars of Eastern North America by David L. Wagner, two entries show under ferns as host plants - pink-shaded fern moth and black arches moth. Pink-shaded looks like this:

Yes, they look like Goldie's woodfern, a spectacular fern that we found in a nearby forested wetlands. It is on New Jersey's List of Endangered Plant Species and Plant Species of Concern.

Pink-shaded's common foodplants are "ferns, such as New York fern." I will be looking more closely at New York fern from June to October (2 generations).

Black arches is a generalist, among a variety of meadow and early successional woody foodplants, it eats bracken. Wagner suggests seeking the caterpillar in moist to wet meadows with abundant goldenrod in the autumn.

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)

Birds use the fuzz from cinnamon fern to build nests.

American Wildlife & Plants: A Guide to Wildlife Food Habits shows just a few animals eating ferns, especially evergreen ones: ruffed grouse - Rattlesnake, woodfern (no species noted), and Christmas fern leaves; deer and hares - Christmas and others.

To be continued...

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