NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Quick ID~ Moth or Butterfly

There a few tips that you can keep in mind in order to quickly distinguish a moth from a butterfly. Although they belong to the same larger group of insects, there are some rules (with, of course, some exceptions) to follow. Directly below there is a Luna moth. Notice the “feathery” antennae. Moth feelers lack a club-like tip too.

Butterflies have more narrow Q-tip-shaped antennae . See the Great Spangled Fritillary  butterfly below for example.

Another tip : If you see the insect in the bright sun of daytime, it is most likely a butterfly. Moths prefer the shadows and night.

Moths are usually drab in color while butterflies have bright colors. There are exceptions though.

Butterflies most often have a slender body with moths generally looking stout and furry.

When moths are at rest, they usually lay their wings flat along the surface of their post. Butterflies usually keep their wings upright and perpendicular to their spot. (see photos)

Butterflies have free hanging translucent “containers” spun from their caterpillars called chrysalises. Moth caterpillars spin cocoons of soft silk for their metamorphism.

These fascinating creatures share their ability to turn from a worm-like caterpillar into a graceful flying wonder. Hope this post adds to your pleasure when viewing Nature.

A butterfly chrysalis
photo credit: Wikipedia
a moth cocoon
photo credit: Wikipedia


There are many myths and proverbs about this delicate insect. They exist all over the world and are arguably the true “mankind’s best friend”. They eat mosquito larvae and adults in huge quantities.  (Paste this link into your browser for some fun information on those myths.)

The dragonfly spends most of its life as a nymph. They hatch from eggs in ponds and eat like crazy. These nymphs resemble underwater “wormy bugs”. A dragonfly can eat amounts equal to its own weight in 30 minutes. They simply eat anything that moves.

As beautiful and delicate as they are, these little “buggers” are fierce predators. Even as adults, few insects can evade them. I just read on an informational site that from fossil records there were some huge varieties “back in the day”. If their temperament and appetite corresponded with our dragonflies, and they lived today, our cats and small dogs might well be disappearing.

They are cousins of the tinier damselflies. Damselflies can easily be distinguished from dragonflies by the way they hold their wings along their “needle-like” bodies when at rest. They were referred to as “sewing needles” when I was a kid and we’d run from them in fear of our mouths being sewn shut!


I hadn’t realized that photographing Nature was an endurance sport until I chased these guys around to try for a capture. Next time I see either of the above insects, I’m going to say,”Thanks and keep up the mosquito dining!”

…and to mosquitoes, “Sucks to be you when dragonflies are in town!”


I believe this is a variety of camel cricket. The ones that I have found in my online search, have a humped-up back…this does not. I’ve found them beneath tarps in moist environments at our camp. The largest ones have bodies almost as long as my thumb and an overall length(tip of feelers to tail) of about 4 inches.

If anyone knows more about this specific cricket, please add links and information.

Camel Crickets prefer dark damp areas. I personally like their “woody” appearance and texture. They can become pests to homeowners but, in the woods, are just a small marvel.

Their eyesight is poor due to their preference for dark places. I suspect this is what gave me the opportunity to photograph this guy without a quick get-away.


Gray Catbird

This is a Gray Catbird. It has a harsh voice tone like the crying of a cat.

It is said that they are very shy but I accidentally discovered their weakness. They just love oranges! ( Notice the orange reflection on their chests in my photos? That is the orange treat that is out of the frame. It is not their natural color which is all gray.)

These photos are from my archives. My magical fence no longer is producing lovely captures since my neighbors cut down a tree beside it.

A few years ago, I placed oranges out to draw Baltimore Orioles. Well, I was successful in two ways. I did get orioles but I also found catbirds.

I developed quite an affection for these rather plain birds. They were very comical and pushy. I like a bird who knows what she wants.

I grabbed a few facts from the Cornell Ornithology Lab:

Cool Facts

  • The Gray Catbird’s long song may last for up to 10 minutes.
  • The male Gray Catbird uses his loud song to proclaim his territory. He uses a softer version of the song when near the nest or when a bird intrudes on his territory. The female may sing the quiet song back to the male.
  • The Gray Catbird belongs to the genus Dumetella, which means “small thicket.” And that’s exactly where you should go look for this little skulker.
  • The oldest known Gray Catbird lived to be 17 years 11 months old.
The Catbird is a relative of Mockingbirds and quite the vocal copycat too. They are about the same size as American Robins. They have a lovely flash of copper color beneath their tails. It is often hard to spot.
Upon reading about their behavior, I did see that they enjoy berries and fruit when they can get it but primarily eat insects. What a find my oranges topped with grape jelly must have been!
So next time you think a cat is in trouble in the thicket…it probably is a Gray Catbird pushing its weight around.

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Pileated Woodpeckers

Pileated Woodpeckers are often a delightful sighting. They are as large as crows and their bright red heads and large wingspan have a shocking effect. Their cackle in the forest reminds me of a sound in Tarzan movie jungles.

I was delighted to discover a nest of these largest woodpeckers right in my yard at our camp site in upstate New York. I wasn’t able to study their goings-on as much as I would have liked. I have tremendous patience when it comes to photographing and observing birds but my family draws me away often. Theses few photos are enhanced for clarity but were not my best efforts had I had the luxury of camping alone.

The birds were happily unaffected by the family bustling beneath the nesting tree and placing my camera out while keeping and ear and eye on the tree, produced a few captures to share.

These birds love to eat carpenter ants. Their numbers had dwindled in the past 10 years due to a disruption of their forest habitat from logging and building houses.

As I am at the computer (at home in Northwestern Massachusetts) , I just heard a Pileated Woodpecker outside of my window. I know I am highly tuned to them from my sightings but can’t help but think they are having a “good” year and adapting well in semi-urban settings.

This very morning, the mother bird was hanging around in trees just beyond her nest. She did not approach it and I did not hear the babies crying out for food. I may have photographed the babies’ last feeding hours before they moved out as this year’s fledglings.

I’ll be keeping an eye and ear out for more…

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole
A brilliantly colored male on my magic fence.

I have a marvelous magic fence outside of my bathroom window. Well, it used to be more magical a few years ago. There was a lovely ragged bushy tree that stood next to it then. Why did that make my fence magical, you ask?

The bushy tree offered cover for many birds. My bird feeder is on that fence and birds need close cover to feel safe enough to linger around feeders. A new neighbor claimed and cut down that tree. Yes, I really did cry.

I will plant a bush on my side of the fence this year. It will take several seasons before it becomes a gathering place though. So what you see in these photos are fruits of my former bathroom safaris. If you close your eyes, you can almost hear my husband pounding on the door asking,”What the heck is taking you so long in there?”

The Baltimore Oriole is a strikingly beautiful bird. It also has a sweet happy song. You’ll find them in flowering fruit trees. How they love nectar!

A wonderful way to encourage them to visit your yard is to place cut oranges out. A dollop of grape jelly on a cut orange is irresistible to Orioles. The males are very brightly colored and the females look like a faded dusty version of the males, minus the black hood.

A Catbird and female Baltimore Oriole

By the way, I am a fan of Gray Catbirds too and they are not shy when oranges are on the menu. I’ll showcase them separately soon. Yes, many more miracles from my magic fence. (My high school English teacher would be pleased with that alliteration.)

When your fruit trees bloom this season, do watch and listen for Baltimore Orioles.

One very lovely female Oriole.

NATURE KNOWLEDGE: Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbird Moth

What an amazing creature is the Hummingbird Moth. I’ll never forget where I was when I spied one for the first time. It was “buzzing” around my woodland retreat. I literally chased it around my flower beds all day. Capturing it, on camera, was a chore. Fast and shy are these delicate natural copy-cat marvels.

I felt like I was privilege to something very uncommon. That is, until I looked them up and found them to be the opposite. The above photos were marked July 22nd in my archives. Your best chance to notice them is knowing that they exist. They drink nectar from flowers with the same straw-like tongue as butterflies. They especially like berry bushes in bloom and I believe it is safe to assume, they are pollinators too. Unlike most moths, they are out among the flowers on warm, bright, sunny days.

It is exceptionally easy to mistake them for hummingbirds. That fact gives them some protection from predators like bats and birds.

There are so many delights to find when we take a close look at nature first-hand. I posted the video (that I found) of one, for a real show.

 hairs from the end of the abdomen look a lot like feathers. The wings of this moth are mostly clear, sometimes with some red near the body.