Ambushed by Police-Car Moths at 10,800′

Last summer I giggled when someone told me that they thought butterflies and moths were going extinct. All you need to do is get outdoors and look around is what I told her. Lo and behold, this summer I’m finding the moths at home, which is at about 6,500′ elevation and in the mountains while at 10,800′!

 Each summer we scout for elk, get the horses in shape, and check to see if trails are clear of downed beetle-kill trees. No matter how many times I’m in the outdoors, be it flowers, bugs, mushrooms, wildlife, I’m always amazed at what I see. On a recent trip to the high country there were thousands of Police-Car Moths (Gnophaela vermiculata).

The moths were huddled all over, eating, the leaves of the the yellow Arrowleaf Balsamroot flowers. The moths would take flight, ambushing us, as our horses or the dogs knocked the plants. It’s an amazing sight; one that is so admired, people actually pay for “farmed” butterflies to release during their wedding ceremonies. If you’ve ever seen that, it’s not nearly as spectacular as the flight of moths or butterflies in nature.

The Police-Car Moth, also known as the green lattice, is black with white patches amid the black veins. They are commonly found throughout most of Canada (from British Colombia to Manitoba), down into the western United States. In these areas the moths prefer damp, open, wooded areas located at mid- to high-elevations. They are slow flyers as they roam from flower to flower taking nectar.

Moths and butterflies are pollinators, but because of their long, thin legs, they’re less efficient than bees.

Differences in moths and butterflies:

  • Moths tend to rest with their wings open, and butterflies rest with their wings closed together .
  • Moths have fuzzy antennae while butterflies have long, thin antennae.
  • Although these moths are actively feeding during the day, most moths feed at night. Butterflies feed during the day.

What moths or butterflies have you spied this summer?


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