The Element of Discovery

The recent excursion of several of us to the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas offered a particularly good example of how we citizen scientists (even though I’m a retired professional) can push the boundaries of knowledge on many faunal groups. Since we were palling around with a cadre of distinguished authorities like Ro Wauer and Jim Brock, the predominant focus of the group naturally was on butterflies, but as iNatters, we were documenting just about anything and everything that came into focus*. I am grateful to all of the following and others for their companionship and enthusiasm on this field trip: @kueda, @robberfly, @maractwin, @greglasley, @krancmm, @upupamartin, @mksexton, @cullen, and particularly Jim & Lynne Weber for prompting all of us to come along.

Given my particular interests, I turned my attention to moths whenever the opportunity arose. This was particularly the case for the “blacklighting” efforts (actually with a mercury vapor lamp) at a residential location where several of the group were staying, and at one particular wall at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR. I knew that the LRGV moth fauna would include any number of species which would be new to me and that some number of them would be “Valley specialties” but the outcome exceeded my expectations. It’s not that the moth fauna of the LRGV is unknown to the lepidopterist world; quite the contrary. Through the efforts of early collectors and in recent decades that of Ed Knudson, Charles Bordelon, and others, we have a pretty good idea of the moths in the LRGV. Diversity patterns parallel those of birds and butterflies with a great many tropical species that enter into the United States just in the southern tier of counties in Texas.

The exciting aspect of this to me is that we had the opportunity to document living examples of so many species which have heretofore been known only from collected specimens, i.e. they’ve almost never been “seen” or photographed alive. In no particular order, here are some of those rarely photographed species:

Agaraea semivitrea (Arctiinae), about 3rd living individual, 1st iNat U.S. record
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2370267

Schaus' Tussock Moth, Halysidota schausi (Arctiinae), 1st iNat records for a LRGV specialty†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2375497

Delightful Donacaula Moth, Donacaula melinella (Crambidae), 1st TX record on BG and 1st LRGV record of a widespread moth,
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2377192

Okra Leafworm Moth, Anomis illita (Erebidae), 1st LRGV records for a moth of the s.e. US†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2370006

Bendisodes aeolia (Erebidae), 1st & 2nd iNat photos, about 6 photos of living specimens, known from only two counties in U.S.†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2355777
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2376210

Helia agna (Erebidae), about 4th living individual of a LRGV/tropical specialty†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2355709

Isogona natatrix (Erebidae), 2nd living individual of a LRGV specialty†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2355744

Isogona scindens (Erebidae), known in U.S. only from TX and FL†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2377200

Isogona snowi (Erebidae), 1st iNat record for U.S. for a South Texas specialty†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2376866

Matigramma obscurior (Erebidae), about 4th living individual, 2nd iNat record
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2370073

Chlorochlamys appellaria (Geometridae), about 2nd TX record of this southwestern looper
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2355857

Chloropteryx nordicaria (Geometridae), 2nd U.S. photographed record†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2377221

Psamatodes trientata (Geometridae), about 4th living individual (if correctly IDed)†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2379943

Rindgea flaviterminata (Geometridae), 1st iNat record of this LRGV specialty†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2376997

Streptopalpia minusculalis (Pyralidae), 1st LRGV and 3rd TX record for a FL/Caribbean specialty†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2370260

Bactra furfurana (Tortricidae), 1st LRGV and BG record for TX of a widespread species†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2370257

Not to mention other insect groups:

Brownsville Short-winged Grasshopper, Melanoplus cameronis (Acrididae), 1st iNat photo of this LRGV specialty†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2370077

Atrypanius irrorellus (Cerambycidae), 1st Hidalgo record, 4th living individual (BG)†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2370276

ADDENDUM: Here's another "convenient" rare species, photographed at George West on the way home:
Hypena vetustalis, 2nd photo of living specimen, 2nd Texas record (?)†
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2383509

† Pending confirmation of their IDs, these are all first iNaturalist observations.

  • Except birds. The avifauna was only peripherally examined, even by us hardcore birders among the group. Had we been more focused on that group, we might have chased such LRGV rarities as Whooping Crane, Blue-throated Hummingbird, Greater Pewee, and Pacific-coast Flycatcher among others, all of which were reported in/near localities that we visited. This brings up a whole other topic regarding the intensity of focus versus the breadth of focus, a topic for another journal entry perhaps.

Lähettänyt gcwarbler gcwarbler, 14. marraskuuta 2015 17:38

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Helia agna

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

Photographed on the wall of the HQ (restroom) at Santa Ana NWR. This is only the 3rd image of a living specimen of this species in the U.S. that I can find--one image on MPG and that one and another on BG. Known from only Hidalgo and Cameron cos. in the U.S.:
http://bugguide.net/node/view/683864
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=8657

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

Another moth tucked into the wall at the restrooms at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR. I think this is a LRGV specialty species related to the more widespread Thin-lined Owlet (Isogona tenuis). Notice the dark ground color on the FW and the lack of the pale scaling on the veins.
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=8492
http://bugguide.net/node/view/851968
Compare to:
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=8493

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

Yet another LRGV specialty moth, tucked away on the wall at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR. BG has only four images of living specimens.
http://bugguide.net/node/view/698758
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=8656

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

I thought this was going to be a Blackberry Looper (C. chloroleucaria) when I saw it at the HQ at Santa Ana NWR, but apparently that species is replaced in South Texas with C. appellaria.

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

On the wall of the restrooms at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR--a great mothing location!

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

On a wall at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR. Apparently a first photographic record for the LRGV. This is an odd-shaped little Erebid. Compare:
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=8551

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

On a wall at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR.

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

Sitting on a railing along a trail at Santa Ana NWR. This is one of the few (or only?) short-winged Melanoplus in the LRGV.

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Luikkakaitakääriäinen Bactra furfurana

Havainnoija

gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

Attracted to a mercury vapor lamp in a residential area. Possibly the first documentation for the LRGV; compare:
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=2706

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

Attracted to a mercury vapor lamp in a residential neighborhood. The FW is 5mm. Due to the movement of the sheet in the breeze, I missed the focus on both of these shots.

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

This was a well-documented individual at a mercury vapor lamp in a residential neighborhood.

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 6, 2015

Kuvaus

Attracted to a mercury vapor lamp. ID based on reference to Mike Quinn's page here:
http://texasento.net/TXBycidPix.html
See,
http://bugguide.net/node/view/599373

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 7, 2015

Kuvaus

ID based on a search of Arctiid cats in BG and the comments by Knudson & Bordelon here:
http://bugguide.net/node/view/217917
The larva appeared to be feeding on hackberry, Celtis laevigata.

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 7, 2015

Kuvaus

Upon return to "the wall" at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR, I photographed some of the same moths that had been there the day before. However, a careful comparison of images suggests that this Bendisodes aeolia is a different individual than the one photographed the previous day. Compare to: http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2355777
See: http://bugguide.net/node/view/698758

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 7, 2015

Kuvaus

A single individual was on the wall at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR on this date.

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 7, 2015

Kuvaus

This is a strangely shaped little Erebid. Based on images on MPG and BG, there seems to be considerable variation in FW pattern, perhaps sexual dimorphism.
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=8497
http://bugguide.net/node/view/165135

This was new to me. I have images of two other Isogona's and this one looks nothing like them. This one was on the wall at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR.

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 7, 2015

Kuvaus

Yet another different individual of this species on the wall at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR.

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 7, 2015

Kuvaus

On a wall at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR. This appears to be a particularly dark/richly colored individual. Compare:
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=5316

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 7, 2015

Kuvaus

Perched high on a wall at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR. This provides a first US record for iNat of this species which occurs in Florida, Texas, and southward into Central America. Compare:
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=8498
http://bugguide.net/node/view/270728

This was the third species of Isogona I photographed at the HQ.

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 7, 2015

Kuvaus

Photographed high on a wall in the dim recesses at the HQ of Santa Ana NWR. This appears to be only the 2nd individual photographed in the U.S., the previous one recorded by Mike Rickard two years ealier. See:
http://bugguide.net/node/view/848801/bgimage
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=7076
The species is distinguished from the C. tepperaria of the eastern U.S. by the presence of dark cell dots on the HW (and sometimes on the FW).

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gcwarbler

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Marraskuu 7, 2015

Kuvaus

(This species should be placed in "Psamatodes", I believe.) We definitely documented the common Dot-lined Angle at the mercury vapor lamp on one or more evenings:
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2370044
but the present individual lacks any hint of the black dots along the PM line on the FW, so I'm thinking this is the South Texas species Psamatodes trientata. Compare with BG:
http://bugguide.net/node/view/718022
Opinions welcomed. I'll have the MONA fascicle on this group in hand later today and will double-check some of these.

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Marraskuu 9, 2015

Kuvaus

I photographed this Hypena at a convenience store window in George West on the way home. It appears to be only the 2nd photo of a live specimen of H. vetustalis (and 2nd Texas record?). It matches several examples of the species on the BOLD website (from FL and Mexico) but is not a particularly good match for the single MPG and BG image (FL). See my discussion here on BG:
http://bugguide.net/node/view/1165801
Here are the MPG and BOLD pages for the species:
http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/species.php?hodges=8454.1
http://www.boldsystems.org/index.php/Taxbrowser_Taxonpage?taxid=55494

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Great comments and observations, Chuck. Of all the years you and I have been birding the valley, literally back nearly 40 years, it still amazes me that some of these other groups like moths, etc., are so poorly known, especially relative to birds. The observations of some of these species are really interesting and demonstates how much there is yet to be discovered in that area. Great stuff!

Lähettänyt greglasley yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)
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Chuck, you are a Master of Curiousity. Your impish smile and quick wit mask ( or perhaps reveal?) a brilliant mind. Your wife Mary Kay smiled when I said to her you are the living personification of a famous Kerouac quote : " the only people for me are the mad ones, mad to talk, mad to live, mad to be saved. They do not yawn or say a commonplace thing but burn, burn, burn like exploding Roman candles spidering across the sky!"
Continue to be madly brilliant about moths, my friend.
Give us more to see on walls most of us just walk by.
Congrats.

Lähettänyt robberfly yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)
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As a first time visitor to the area, I couldn't have asked for a more knowledgeable and congenial group. I'm still going through my photos trying to determine what I saw..comparing mine with what's been posted. The flora and fauna are so incredibly diverse that I still have sensory overload.

And, Chuck, I have 3 moth photos from Ellis on Nov 7 for which I cannot find a match!! And you don't have them... I'll post them eventually in hopes that you might have a clue.

Monica

Lähettänyt krancmm yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)
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Excellent work gcwarbler! It was great to see you again after so long. Can I bug (!) you for help with this moth? it was at Santa Ana the same time as those others, but on the front central pillar:
http://www.inaturalist.org/observations/2371869

Lähettänyt upupamartin yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)
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Chuck, hope you realize that you've inspired me to actually pay attention to and appreciate the (sometimes frustrating) diversity of moths -- and leafhoppers. :) I even take some time away from documenting bitter weed and straggler daisy to look! ;)

Learning lots from you, man! :) Thanks for always being willing to teach us.

Lähettänyt sambiology yli 5 vuotta sitten (Lippu)

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