Tag Archives: Moths

Moths, songbirds share top billing for programs at this year’s Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally


Photo by Bryan Stevens                                       The Baltimore Snout Moth, or Baltimore Hypena, is a moth found in the Eastern part of the United States, west and south to Wisconsin, Missouri and Florida and Texas. The larvae feed on maple leaves, mainly red and silver maple.

For 54 years the annual Roan Mountain Fall Naturalists Rally has brought nature enthusiasts from near and far to the slopes of Roan on the weekend after Labor Day. The tradition continues this year Friday-Sunday, Sept. 9-11, with two area naturalists presenting evening program on moths and songbird behavior.


For this year’s rally, the program spotlight will shine on local moths and songbirds. As always, a variety  of walks, hikes, strolls and workshops will also be offered on Saturday and Sunday. Top naturalists volunteer their time and energy to make the event both enjoyable and educational for people of all ages.


Larry McDaniel and some goats in residence at the farm he owns with his wife, Janet Brown.

This fall rally continues to celebrate the natural world by providing two top speakers for this year’s event. Larry McDaniel, a naturalist at Steele Creek Park in Bristol, Tennessee and a long-time member of the Friends of Roan Mountain, will deliver the program on “Moths of Roan Mountain and Northeast Tennessee.” Dr. Steven Hopp, naturalist and teacher at Emory and Henry College in Virginia, will present a program titled “Beyond Birding: A Look at the Life History of Local Songbirds.”



Steven Hopp teaches at Emory and Henry College in Virginia.

Because of the continued support of the Friends of Roan Mountain, the seasonal rallies have the resources they need to prosper and grow and the FORM provides support for research and restoration projects on the Roan, as well as support for Roan Mountain State Park. Consider joining the Friends of Roan Mountain, if you are not a member. Members get free admission to all Naturalists Rally events and the organization’s newsletter, “Friends of Roan Mountain.” Gary Barrigar, director for the fall rally, said many thanks are due to Roan Mountain State Park’s staff for long-time support of the rallies, as well as the speakers and the trip leaders who donate their time and expertise.



Clymene Moth

Evening and lunch programs will take place in Roan Mountain State Park’s Conference Center and field trips will leave from the field located on the left before the cabins in the park. A variety of morning and afternoon field trips are planned on topics ranging from butterflies and salamanders to birds and wildflowers.

McDaniel, the Friday evening speaker, grew up in College Park, Maryland, where he spent a great deal of time exploring in the woods. It was there that he developed a lifelong love for nature. He started birding while in high school and has been going at it ever since. He spent 15 years living and birding in Florida. It was during those years that he started traveling all over North America to see birds. He moved to Bristol, Tennessee, in 1993 and started attending the Roan Mountain Naturalists Rallies within weeks of having moved to the area. Legendary Bristol birder Wallace Coffey introduced him to the area and the birding community where he has met and spent time in the field with many outstanding birders and naturalists. While working as a letter carrier in Bristol he began volunteering to lead bird walks in the area.


Large Maple Spanworm Moth

Large Maple Spanworm Moth

He eventually became involved with the Bristol and Elizabethton bird clubs and served several years as the president of the Bristol club. Like many birders, during the 1990s he branched out and began studying butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies, reptiles and amphibians, wildflowers and a little of just about everything. Soon he began leading bird hikes for the Roan rallies and before long became a board member of the Friends of Roan Mountain. In 2006, having retired from the Postal Service, he started working as a naturalist at Steele Creek Park, where he has been for ten years. He increased his interest of insects during this time and in 2008 he started studying and photographing moths. Local naturalist Don Holt helped to get him started in that endeavor.



Hummingbird Moth

McDaniel, lives with his wife, Janet Brown, on a hobby farm near Johnson City, where they tend a menagerie of mini-farm animals. Larry and Janet met at a Roan Rally and in 2003 got married in Roan Mountain State Park.

His presentation will discuss many aspects of the natural history of moths and the growing trend of studying them. It will include many of his photographs of moths from Roan Mountain State Park and the Tri-Cities area. He has photographed about a thousand species of moths, but he promises he won’t include them all in the presentation.

Dr. Steven Hopp will be the feature Saturday evening speaker. Hopp is broadly trained in the life sciences, and received his Ph.D. in Animal Behavior from Indiana University. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1984 to teach at Emory and Henry College, and has been tied to this region ever since. He taught ornithology courses at the University of Arizona from 1994 to 2004, at which time he moved back to Virginia full time. He teaches courses in wildlife management and sustainable agriculture in the Environmental Studies program at Emory and Henry.



Blue-headed Vireo

Dr. Hopp has studied different species of vireos for over 25 years. His main interest is in their vocal behavior, but he has broadly studied their natural history including life history strategies, breeding ecology and behavior on their wintering grounds. More recently, he has become interested in Sustainable Agriculture, and is co-author of the national best-selling book, Animal Vegetable Miracle, with his wife, Barbara Kingsolver. The book is about local food systems and sustainable agriculture. He is founder and director of The Meadowview Farmers’ Guild, a community development project devoted to promoting local products, with an emphasis on agriculture. He serves on the board of Appalachian Sustainable Development. Hopp and his wife live in Meadowview, Virginia, on a mostly wooded farm with Icelandic Sheep and Dexter Cattle.

The evening programs are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Prior to the programs, evening meals catered by City Market of Elizabethton, Tennessee, will also be served on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 9-10. Cost is $9.50 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under. A bag lunch is also available on Saturday for field trip participants for $6. Advance reservations are required for the meals and bag lunch.


Eight-spotted Forester Moth

For a brochure with information on making reservations, write to: Treasurer Nancy Barrigar, 708 Allen Ave., Elizabethton, TN 37643, or visit the organization’s website at http://www.friendsofroanmtn.org/Fall%20Rally%20Brochure%202016web.pdf for a downloadable PDF of the brochure. For more information about the fall rally, call Gary Barrigar at 543-7576 or email him at gbarrigar@friendsofroanmtn.org.


White-spotted Sable Moth


Rescued insect turns out to be one of region’s largest moths



Photos by Bryan Stevens                                                                The Polyphemus Moth rode to safety in the inside of an automobile after being rescued from a busy parking lot.

My mom and I were heading toward the drive-thru at McDonald’s in Erwin when I saw something fluttering across the asphalt of the parking lot. The creature was brown and as big as a small bird — it even had wings! But, it wasn’t a bird. I realized that I was watching one of the largest of our native moths.

It was a little surprising to find the moth in the middle of a parking lot in the afternoon on a hot summer day. I pulled my vehicle into a parking space and captured the moth without too much difficulty. If left in the parking lot, the moth would likely have been run over. Although my mom agreed with the rescue — in theory — she wasn’t certain about sharing the car with a large, winged insect. After some persuasion, she accepted that the moth was absolutely harmless.

Specifically, the large insect was a Polyphemus Moth, which is one of the biggest moths in the United States. These large moths often attain a wingspan of five and a half inches.


The rescued Polyphemus Moth clings to the side of a McDonald’s paper bag.

Our rescued moth clung to the side of a McDonald’s paper bag that held one of the sandwiches in our order for the entire trip home. Once we arrived, I released the moth on a small oak-leaf hydrangea, took a few more photos and was pleased to see the large insect fly to freedom. I lost track of the moth once it landed in the thick branches of a yew tree. I was happy to secure the impressive moth a little more time to fly and perhaps even attract a mate.

The brownish-yellow wings of the Polyphemus Moth show wavy, black and white lines. Each forewing is also decorated with a small, mostly yellow eyespot, as well as larger blue, black, and yellow eyespots on the hindwings. The underside of the moth’s wings look like dead leaves, which provides excellent protective camouflage.

The eyespots are important in warding off potential predators. When a Polyphemus Moth spreads its wings, the eyespots resemble the large eyes of owls and other predatory birds. This display may be more than enough to discourage many predators, which can include mice, squirrels and small birds.


The rescued Polyphemus Moth rests on the leaves of an oak-leaf hydrangea. This large moth is a member of the family of “giant silkworm moths.”

Like most moths, they are usually nocturnal, which makes me wonder what happened to the moth I rescued to have it fluttering around on a sunny afternoon. After dark, bats are major predators on these large moths. Polyphemus Moths are usually found in forests, but they are also present in such habitats as marshes and parks.

Like all moths and butterflies, the Polyphemus Moth starts life as a caterpillar. Host plants fed upon by the caterpillars of this species include many trees and shrubs, including oaks, maples, pines, birches, American hornbeam, hawthorns, American beech, ash, witch hazel, black walnut, yellow poplar, black cherry, quaking aspen, elderberry, alders, sassafras, blueberries, grapes, willows, hickories, elms, chestnuts and American sycamore.


The rescued Polyphemus Moth got a ride to safety.

Polyphemus caterpillars grow rapidly as they feed on the leaves of any of these host plants. As they grow, they will molt their skin four times. After the final molt, the caterpillar will fold a leaf around itself to enclose and protect its silken cocoon.

Caterpillars that enter a cocoon early in the season will emerge during the summer months as moths. However, caterpillars that proceed to the cocoon stage of their life cycle in late summer or early fall will spend the winter months inside this silken enclosure. In such cases, adult moths will not emerge until the following spring, usually in May.

Adult Polyphemus Moths do not feed. Their only focus during the entirety of their short lives as moths are to find mates and reproduce. Female moths attract mates with pheromones, which are chemicals emitted by a creature that triggers a social response in members of the same species. Male moths even have specialized feathery antennae to help them detect the pheromones released by females.cyclop10c 2

The moth is named for Polyphemus, one of the prominent giant Cyclopes in Greek mythology. Captured by the enormous Cyclops, Greek hero Odysseus and his men blinded the giant’s one eye before escaping his cave.

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The Pandora sphinx moth, also called the Pandorus Sphinx Moth, is a North American moth in the Sphingidae family. It is a large, greenish gray moth, but it isn’t closely related to the “giant silkworm moths.”

The Polyphemus moth is a member of the family Saturniidae, also known as “the giant silk moths.” Other well known moths in this family include the Luna Moth, Imperial Moth, Promethea Moth, and Regal Moth.


In order to learn more about birds, birding and various other topics related to the natural world, friend Bryan Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email him at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

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This Polyphemus Moth was photographed at Walt Disney World Resorts in Florida in 2007.