December 5, 2013

Last Night in the Valley

As I've mentioned previously, we were definitely not the only people looking at birds, butterflies and other wildlife in the Rio Grande Valley in early November. We ran into some of the same people over and over at different places and enjoyed helping each other with sightings and identification. One pair of travelers mentioned that they were interested in moths, and were staying at a small inn that had security lights that attracted lots of different species. That sounded interesting so for our last night in the valley we booked a room there, which turned out to be a lovely place that suited us perfectly.

After we arrived, we walked into the courtyard and were chatting with the owner when I saw and felt a large dark shape fly by and brush against my cheek. A nearby guest said "There's a bat!" but I knew what it was--the unmistakable Black Witch (Ascalapha odorata)!

This huge moth has a wingspan of nearly 7 inches and is native to the tropics but tends to migrate north starting in late spring. It occasionally reaches Ohio, and once we were in Ontario when there was a Black Witch sighting. There is all sorts of creepy folklore about this insect, but for us it was definitely a good omen and we had a delightful evening. We had a picnic dinner in the courtyard at dusk, and were treated to quite a show as a variety of moths were attracted to this gorgeous, extremely fragrant Rangoon Creeper Vine:

First came this Pink-spotted Hawkmoth (Agrius cingulata):

Check out the proboscis on this Five-spotted Hawkmoth (Manduca quinquemaculatus):

Here is another, much more delicate moth, the Four-spotted Palpita (Palpita quadristigmalis), that was attracted to the vine's flowers:

The next morning we got up early and went out into the parking lot to check out the moth action at the security light, and saw two Black Witches and many other moths. The owner said that they were actually rather sparse that day, but it didn't look sparse to us!

Here is a closer look:

And here are just a few of the individuals that were attracted to the light:

From left to right they are the Pink-spotted Hawkmoth, the Salt Marsh Moth (Estigmene acrea), and the Melonworm Moth (Diaphania hyalinata). (Thanks to for the ID help!)

Soon we watched a beautiful sunrise

and then it was time to head toward Corpus Christi and then home, after a thoroughly satisfying vacation.


  1. That's so cool -- a place that caters to moth-enthusiasts! The pictures you took of the moths on the creeper vine are fascinating. I'm looking forward to your reports from Florida!

  2. Okay, I'll admit that I often find moths a little creepy, but these pictures tell a different story. Maybe I'll take the time to look more closely, rather than dismiss with a shudder (and by dismiss, I don't mean kill, just ignore).