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It's the season for World Series moths

A fall cankerworm moth on the window. (Photo by Larry Weber)1 / 2
A basswood looper sits near a window. (Photo by Larry Weber)2 / 2

After most of the days being clear and dry with a temperature above normal, October ended with a variance to this theme. We did get rain, clouds and some cold, but the real chill and freezing has not yet arrived. October did give us the dazzling changes that we expected. We entered the month with colorful leafy trees and now exit with bare forests after the leaf drop. AutWin prevails as we leave October and enter November. I see the time of AutWin as the days between the leaf drop and the persistent snow cover. Early November fits well in this time slot.

AutWin is when a walk in the woods will reveal the abundance of mosses, clubmosses and lichens that get overlooked at other times. It is also a period where red berries are easy to see in the drab woods. Highbush cranberry, winterberry holly, hawthorn, crabapple and mountain-ash all hold bright berries that get discovered by birds and small mammals.

I've been seeing squirrels and chipmunks going for these fruitful finds. Tree squirrels will likely eat them immediately while the chipmunks, a ground squirrel, are more likely to cache the food in its den as it prepares for the coming winter. Their sleep is not a total hibernation and they will wake to snack a bit, usually not even leaving their sheltered site.

In a similar way, the big brown bats that I have been watching each evening lately will also pass the cold season. As the autumn days go by, fewer insects are available to these flying mammals and so they move into a shelter for a long sleep, with some waking times, throughout the winter.

November is the month when we'll see more cold, freeze-up and the first lasting snow cover. It is another month that varies greatly from the entrance until the exit. The chill will come, but before it hits, we have many critters we can see as they prepare for the season. Diverse migrant sparrows such as tree sparrows, juncos, Lapland longspurs and snow buntings linger for a while before they move on. Also the flocks of blackbirds and robins that I have seen recently tell of a southbound trek. Others, purple finches, pine grosbeaks and redpolls, may be staying with us.

I also see some late-season insect activity. During a clear day last week, I observed a couple of butterflies, tortoise-shells and mourning cloaks, that will be here all winter, adults hibernating in cracks of wood or behind bark. Also a recent sight of a woolly bear caterpillar told of a moth that was a hibernating larva. And then there are the "World Series moths."

Each year as we go through the latter days of October, we enjoy the baseball playoff known as the World Series. The flight of these late-season moths is just as regular as these fall baseball games. Since their presence coincides with the autumn baseball games that bring the long season to an end, I refer to them as World Series moths.

We may be more familiar with these critters of the fall nights than we think. With the early sunset and darkness, we are likely to be indoors with lights on at this time, maybe watching the baseball games. Looking up from our viewing towards the windows, we may note the gathering of some gray-brown moths landing on the glass. Like many other nocturnal members of this group, these moths get attracted to our lights and come to the windows.

A closer look reveals two kinds. Both are rather small, 1 inch or less, and not very showy in color. One is light brown with a few stripes while the other is gray. Though the name of "World Series moth" may be convenient, they have other labels as well. The brown one is also known as the basswood looper moth while the gray one is called the fall cankerworm moth.

It is interesting to note that both are named after the caterpillar stages. Basswood looper means that the caterpillars do looping movements as they feed on basswood leaves. Cankerworm caterpillars feed on a variety of leaves in spring. Unless they defoliate trees, we are more likely to see the adults active at this time than the larvae.

Reaching maturity in late October can be dangerous in the cold. But with few bird predators and virtually no insects or spiders to prey on them, they will thrive now. By shivering their wings, they are able to fly in the cold. I've seen them active when temperatures drop below freezing and once even on the surface of snow. With no mouth, they do not need to find food. They are able to mate and lay eggs to hatch in spring.

Like the World Series, these moths do not last long and like the autumn baseball classic, they are interesting to watch, another aspect of AutWin.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

Larry Weber

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods,” “Webwood” and “In a Patch of Goldenrods.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com.

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