Owl Moth: Can this be a state record for Wisconsin???

Great Big Moth!
Location: Milwaukee, WI
November 15, 2010 11:49 pm
When I was out feeding my feral kitties this afternoon I saw what I thought was a leaf poking out of the slats of the porch. Looking closer, I saw that it had antennae and little legs! The wing span was about 4-5 inches and was a pale greyish brown with some darker accent marks.
I thought at first the beastie was dead- I live in Wisconsin and it is, after all, mid-November, so I tried to pick it up. I just about jumped out of my skin when the thing came to life and started to wiggle it’s legs! I left it on the porch to do it’s mothy business. When I went to take a photograph the wind blew the moth over and I saw it had a fuzzy, dark rusty-colored body and lighter orange-red color on the underside of it’s wings. Do you know what this is? I’ve never seen a moth so big!
Thank you for your help!
Signature: Angela

Owl Moth

Dear Angela,
This is a very exciting report for us.  This is an Owl Moth,
Thysania zenobia, a neotropical species that is found in Mexico, and the only U.S. reports on BugGuide are from Texas, however, the info page on BugGuide contains this information:  “Recorded through much is eastern North America east of the Rockies: AR, CT, FL, IA, IL, KY, LA, MA, ND, NY, OH, RI, SC, SD, TX, WI; Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia. Ranges south into South America. Range map.”  The Texas Entomology website has this information: “Caveney (2007) reports 14 Owl moth records from Canada. The western-most and northern-most record was collected in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Neil (1979) reports the eastern-most record at Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. It was collected in late summer or early fall 1944. The specimen is in the Nova Scotia Museum of Natural History, Halifax.

Update: November 16, 2010
Hi again Angela.  We looked again at the Range Map provided by the Texas Entomology website and there are four reported sightings from Wisconsin.  There is a cluster of three sightings in the 1940s in Kewaunee and a single sighting in 1999 from Bayfield Co., N. Great Lakes Visitor Center, nr. Ashland.  You may want to contact Mike Quinn at the Texas Entomology website and report your sighting.

Sept 21, 1999

8 thoughts on “Owl Moth: Can this be a state record for Wisconsin???”

  1. the DNR in their infinite wisdom released a GENERALIST parasitic invasive bug to control gypsy moths that are decimating our native silk moths. are we witnessing the extinction of our native silk moths? it seems that all the insects I enjoyed watching when I was young are gone or disappearing. I haven’t seen any silk moths in the fox valley [wis.] in a decade. is there anything that can be done? please reply, mark H.

    • The problem with releasing generalist parasites is that they are opportunistic. Are you able to provide any information on the parasite that was released by the DNR?

      • hi joe, thanks for the interest in my post. as of 2-4-16 I have found one viable cecropia cocoon on a low branch [maple tree] in Outagamie county wi.. last year I observed 2 promethia cocoons on a wild cherry on a backroad near wild rose wi. of course I no longer gather them. I’m retired now but haven’t tried to raise any moths from eggs. as of now I would be fearfull of harming them by not careing for them properly although with some more study might try. i’ll leave my email box so we can stay in contact if you would like. my interest in silk moths especially goes back to when I was very young and won a science fair blue ribbon for my collection on display. my concern now of course is the wefare of the various species of Lepidoptera. when I read of what the d.n.r had done I didn’t take note of the name of the paracite,wether it’s a wasp or an invasive fly. how could the d.n.r. have mismanaged our environment in such a careless way. sincerely, mark hagens

    • I’m in milwaukee and I’ve noticed the same thing. They’ve been spraying the nuclear virus, as well as other bio-engineered bacteria etc, poison, and parasites, and yet, the only caterpillars I’ve seen are sure enough, gypsy moths. When I was a kid I found luna, cecropia, promethea and even spicebush swallowtail larvae on a regular basis, haven’t seen a single cocoon or caterpillar in ten years, and this year I’ve been hunting for them significantly.there is still tons of “fall” moths, the various species that are .5 to 1.5 inches that come out in August and september, but it scary for me because I breed moths, and I haven’t been affected yet but I know it could happen at any moment. I’ve been told they won’t be using the worst viruses anymore, so I’ll be breeding and releasing as many outcrossed moths as I can next spring (bred/raised this summer). Mark, if you are interested in collecting eggs or raising releasing or swapping eggs/cocoons either for gaining a species you don’t have or having unrelated bloodlines or want eggs and are willing to raise and release them (releasing caterpillars is pointless at this stage)please post your email and I’ll get in contact with you. The upside to collecting eggs is that we’d be simultaniously conducting a survey and will have record to show numbers and species to share and compare with others in a given area and provide proof that what the response by and what the dnr has done to our state is akin to the old lady who swallowed a fly. I’m in milwaukee. As for this post, Ive seen black versions of this witch moth 3 times in milwaukee, I suspect 2 sightings may have been the same as they were 1 week apart, but they were always at the hight point of my house hugged up against the siding as if they were at my lights and then kept crawling higher untill the sun came up,.

      • Thanks for letting us know about your Black Witch sightings as well as your concern regarding the declining numbers of Giant Silk Moths in the wild. It stands to reason that pesticides used to eradicate the Gypsy Moth can also have an effect on other, native species.

  2. this is a tardy reply, from mark h. Appleton wis. I have undertaken to raise some silk moth catepillars this year with mixed success. the promethias are doing well on sweet cherry leaves. the cecropia on apple leaves. 10 larva and 12 larva respectively a small test run for release and wild pairings a plus and a way to see if any are still here naturally. and in what numbers. one sighting won’t be accurate but anything will help…..a follow up report later as to any success……….mark h.


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