By Mary Reid Barrow
Photos by Maurice Cullen
With its un-moth like colors in a handsome geometric design and its sweet name, the rosy maple moth could have been created in the mind of a fashion magazine editor.
The pink and yellow rosy maple moth is so unusual and colorful that many people, if they are lucky enough to see one, think it is a butterfly.
This beauty happens to be the favorite moth of moth expert and expert middle science schoolteacher Maurice Cullen. One arrived on his porch this week, as if to remind him that this week is National Moth Week.
Or all people, though, Maurice needs no reminding. The past president of the Butterfly Society of Virginia, who leads the society’s Moth Night, has been a moth fan since a youngster. In fact, he first saw a rosy maple moth at summer camp and he never forgot it.
To him, the unusual color combination of pink and yellow reminds him “more of a piece of candy than a moth!”
This piece of candy whose caterpillars grow up on maple tree leaves, is a small member of the silk moth family, many of whom also are pretty enough to give the rosy maple moth a run for its money. Think the beautiful green Luna moth and the deep reddish tan Polyphemus moth with its dark purple eyespots, named after Polyphemus, the one-eyed giant of lore.
Silk moths are different from most other moths. They do not have mouth parts, and do not eat or drink as adults. As beautiful people might do, they spend their time looking for love and then females also lay eggs, before dying.
Other moths are pollinators that fly around at night, not only looking for love but also flowers to nectar on. Though there are probably 10 times more moths than butterflies, Maurice said, we just don’t see moths the way we see butterflies because of moths’ nocturnal habits.
Some of you who have moonflowers in your yard have seen the big sphinx moths swooping around the blooms feeding with a long proboscis, somewhat like a hummingbird. Then just to confuse things, the clearwing moth that we usually call the hummingbird moth just happens to be a day flying moth that feeds on garden flowers like a tiny hummer too!
Maurice has a tip to help distinguish moths from butterflies and skippers (a tiny butterfly-like critter that flits around flowers in day).
“Butterflies will have a knob at the end, skippers have a knob that ends in a curved hook, but moths make things complicated,” Maurice said.
“There are several different types of antennae. It is generally taught that moths have feathery antennae, but that is only typical of some moths, most notably the silk moths,” he added.
Below from left are butterfly, skipper, and feathery moth antennae as well as one variation of the pointed antennae of some other moths.
Maurice suggested this website to find out more about the moths that are all around us and we just don’t see them: https://australianbutterflies.com/whats-difference-butterflies-skippers-moths/
You might also enjoy visiting the busy Butterfly Garden behind Virginia Beach Middle School that was founded by Maurice when he taught there. You’ll see many butterflies, skippers and insects and maybe even come upon a sleeping moth.
Reach Mary Reid at firstname.lastname@example.org