Sunday, June 22, 2014


A black and brown moth was sleeping on the air intake of the roof of our front door. I spent a busy half hour standing on an unsteady chair, reaching as high as I could and taking photos, to the great entertainment of a stream of inquisitive passers-by. And with all that, I forgot to measure the beastie, so when I was preparing a photo to send to BugGuide, I had to go out in the middle of the night to measure the space where it had been. Luckily, no-one was around at that hour; a bit of street theatre is ok, but a return engagement is too much.

The moth was well worth the effort. I'd never seen one like this before.

Cabbage looper moth, Trichoplusia ni.

It has quite an elaborate hairdo, with two tall tufts (they look to me like bat ears) at the back of the head, and then a smaller tuft of feathers a bit further back. Combined with the complicated pattern of the wings, it must make the moth almost invisible as it sleeps through the daylight hours, as long as it chooses the right spot; this air intake was not advisable.

At first, when I saw the name on BugGuide, Trichoplusia ni, I thought it was a typo; what sort of name is ni? Wikipedia explains:

The name derives from the forewing marking, which resembles the lowercase Greek letter ni.

And the lowercase Greek letter ni looks like a v. The mark has also been described as an open-ended 8; it depends on which moth you're looking at; each one is slightly different.

The caterpillar of this moth is a garden and farm pest. It makes big holes in the leaves of cabbages and other brassicas, of course, but will also take :

... leaves of a wide variety of plants, including beets, cabbage, carnation, cotton, kale, lettuce, nasturtium, parsley, peas, potato, soybeans, spinach, tomato. (Texas A&M)

It's a pale green caterpillar that walks in a series of loops, like an inchworm. We'll be watching for them on Laurie's lupins and my nasturtiums.

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