Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Buck Moth

There are certain annual events that I look forward to each year. One of those is the emergence of the Buck Moth, Hemileuca maia, one of Ohio’s uncommon species. The Buck Moth is a member of the giant silkworm family, but unlike most others of that family, it is a day flier and is most commonly encountered in the middle of a warm, sunny late October day. This is a fast moving moth that resembles a very hefty black and white butterfly in flight.

The bushy antenna shows this to be a male. In fact, every Buck Moth I intercepted was a male on the search for a female. These moths are constantly moving and the only way to get a picture is to hold them. They don’t seem to have much awareness of their surroundings and occasionally run head-long into a tree trunk or get tangled in the branches of a shrub. I suppose they are following a pheromone trail towards the female. I’ve only seen one female Buck Moth and that was also the only Buck Moth I’ve seen that was sitting still. I watched dozens of moths travel through the woods, but never saw one stop flying. If they are following pheromone trails, just where are the females waiting?

This is one hairy moth. It looks like this one is wearing one of those Halloween fright wigs. I suppose the hair must provide some protection against the cold, frosty nights this time of year.

The tip of the abdomen is colored a bright orange-red. The abdomen was in motion the entire time I held the moth. Perhaps it sensed a female and was probing around in an effort to find her.

This is more the image you get when you see a Buck Moth coming through the trees. This moth’s activities were only briefly interrupted for a short photo shoot. It was released unharmed and continued its flight through the woods.

This is the type of area likely to produce Buck Moths. Oaks are the primary host tree. Females will lay clusters of eggs on the branches. The eggs hatch in the spring and larvae will pupate in the ground later in the summer. Buck Moths should be around for a couple more weeks, so watch for them when you are in the woods.


  1. Beautiful shots of the moth, Steve! Especially the antennae shot. Very cool. I will keep my eye out for them.

  2. Great post, Steve. Love the close-up photos and information.

  3. Janet and Cecilia - Thanks for the compliments. The moth just barely stopped flapping long enough for me to get these shots.

  4. That is a very beautiful moth :) I just discovered moths this summer when I had to take my bird feeders down. I got the coolest wedding present from my 7 year old twin cousins; a critter net! It really helped my moth/butterfly-ing. Do you think I'd see any Buck Moths in northern WV?

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Kristen - Northern West Virginia is well within the range of the Buck Moth, so you could very easily see some there. Your best chance of seeing one is to spend some time in the woods in the early afternoon on a sunny day. Even if you don't see a Buck Moth, it's a great time to be in the woods. Good Luck.

  6. This is a very cool-looking moth, Steve. I've never seen one. I just checked the butterflies/moths of North America site, and it looks like this moth has only been recorded in 6 counties in Ohio! They say their preferred habitat is "Scrub oak-pine sand barrens, oak wood," and given your recent post about oaks on your property, I'm guessing they really like your place! I'll keep my eye out for this one.

  7. Hi, I have just posted the carnival, "The Moth and Me #8", on my blog, "Wanderin' Weeta". This post has been included. Beautiful photos!