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Prairie Notes are monthly photo/journal observations from Tandy Hills Natural Area by Founder/Director, Don Young. They include field reports, flora and fauna sightings, and more, mixed with a scoop of dry humor and a bit of philosophy. They are available free to all who get on the FOTHNA email list.

The Magical Moths of Tandy Hills

Prairie Notes #164
August 1, 2020

01) The Magical Moths of Tandy Hills
02) Field Report - July
03) Kids & Family Nature Fun (Indoors & Out)
04) New Species - July
05) Barn Swallows: Part 2
06) Front Page NEWS
07) PrairieSky / StarParty News
08) Prairie Bookshelf
09) Prairie Proverb - Walt Whitman

01) The Magical Moths of Tandy HIlls


Happy National Moth Week to you, too!


You probably didn't know but, July 18 - 26 was National Moth Week. You also may not know that there are 231 species (and counting) of moths and butterflies at Tandy Hills. Both are members of the Lepidoptera order, but moths make up the vast majority with 176 species currently documented. 


Butterflies have a better rep than moths since they don’t eat holes in your clothes or your devour your crops. But moths are fascinating insects and a key link in the chain of life as pollinators and food sources for birds and other critters. Some moths, such as the White-lined Sphinx Moth and Hawk Moths are masters of disguise, fooling predators into thinking they are birds. Others, like the Yucca Moth, share a symbiotic relationship that goes back some 40 million years. There are also some strikingly beautiful species of moths coming in a great variety of shapes and colors.


Moths evolved long before butterflies, with some fossils dated at 190 million years old. Today, there are an estimated 160,000 species worldwide, many yet to be described or understood. They are mostly nocturnal and attracted to lights which make them fun to track and document. Naturalists like, Sam Kieschnick, make a party out of setting up “mothing lights” and white backdrops to attract moths after dark. The results are often amazing.


So, how does one distinguish the difference between moths and butterflies. There are several ways but typically, butterflies have thin antennae with small balls at the end of their antennae. Moth antennae are usually feathery with no ball on the end. 


I've selected below a handfull of the strange and beautiful moths that have been observed at Tandy Hills and documented on the iNaturalist website. This LINK will take you to a page showing all 176 species and their observations.





Four-spotted Palpita Moth (Palpita quadristigmalis)_Sam Kieschnick


Green Oak-Slug Moth (Euclea incisa)_Annika Lindqvist


Mournful Thyris Moth (Thyris sepulchralis)_aakthtar


Tobacco Budworm Moth (Heliothis virescens)_Don Young


Southern Purple Mint Moth (Pyrausta laticlavia)_Annika Lindqvist


Salt Marsh Moth (Estigmene acrea)_Don Young


Tersa Sphinx Moth (Xylophanes tersa)_Don Young


White-tipped Black Moth (Melanchroia chephise)_Anne Alderfer


White-lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)_Brent Franklin


Walnut Sphinx Moth (Amorpha juglandis)_Don Young


Yellow-banded Pyrausta (Pyrausta pseuderosnealis)_Annika Lindqvist


Moonseed Moth (Plusiodonta compressipalpis)_Annika Lindqvist



02) Field Report - July


It was a hot and dry July but the prairie and woodlands are healthy and inviting, especially in the evening hours. The grasses and fall bloomers are thick and vigorous. Do yourself a favor and explore the Tandy hills some evening and you may see amazing stuff like this:


Sunflowers get all the glory but, Narrowleaf Gumweed (Grindelia lanceolata) looks smashingly cheerful, even in the summer sun.


Who says common can't be handsome?

Leaf-footed Bug (Acanthocephala terminalis) looking grand in his domain.

Tihe 1/2" long blooms of willowy, Narrowleaf Indian Breadroot (Pediomelum linearifolium) are delectably attractive.

The July 6th sunset was breathtaking.


This Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus) eyed me up but decided I was not the nectar it was wanting.


This lone Texas Paintbrush (Castilleja indivisa) is still blooming months after it first appeared.

Liatris blooming filling in the spaces where Barbara's Buttons were blooming a few months ago.

Can you guess what is afoot but rarely seen?


Despite the summer heat, Tandy Hills is lush beauty and diversity. July 21st was no exception.


Like other dragons & damsels, Great Spreadwing Damselflies (Archilestes grandis) often return to the same perch when startled.


Lat-summer/fall blooming, Giant Blue Sage (Salvia azurea var. grandiflora) are a prairie favorite.


Yellow Compassplant (Silphium lacinatum)


White Compassplant (Silphium albiflorum), aka: White Rosinweed, is a prairie indicator plant and endemic to Texas. Tandy Hills has lots.


Majestic is the perfect word to describe the sunset at Tandy Hills on July 29th.


Hundreds of Two-striped Mermiria Grasshoppers (Mermiria bivittata) were ubuiquitous at Tandy Hills in July.


The hirstue leaves of Snow On the Prairie (Euphorbia bicolor) remind that Fall is just around the corner.


Seems kind of early for fall-blooming Leavenworth's Eryngo (Eryngium leavenworthii) to be purpling up, but it is.


03) Kids & Family Nature Fun (Indoors & Out)


Michael Smith is a local author, naturalist the cofounder of the Dallas–Fort Worth Herpetological Society. His monthly newsletter for young readers, Treefrog Times is a wonderful way to engage kids with nature. Check out the new July issue here:



04) New Species - July


Tandy Hills had visits in July from BRIT Research Botanist, Bob O'Kennon and TPWD Urban Wildlife Biologist, Sam Kieschnick. All total, 41 new species were recorded at Tandy Hills. That's amazing!


Sam set up at Tandy Hills during National Moth Week and ID'd 15 new species, including, four new moths. Bob recorded 14 new species, including, Whorled Milkeed (Asclepias verticillata), a new Milkweed species for Tandy HillsDon Young had 8, bringing the total species count for July to, 1393. See below, the full list for July and a few notable pics.


Aridland Cicada (Beameria venosa)

Big-headed Ground Beetle (Scarites subterraneus)

Citrus Flatid Planthopper (Metcalfa pruinosa)

Click Beetle (Conoderus lividus)

Clockweed (Oenothera lindheimeri)

Cobbler Moth (Condica sutor)

Cotton Fleahopper (Pseudatomoscelis seriatus)

Deadly Nightshade (Solanum interius)

Deer Mushrooms (Genus  Pluteus)

Dirt-colored Seed Bug (Ptochiomera nodosa)

Eastern Black Nightshade (Solanum emulans)

Eastern Screech-Owl (Megascops asio)

Filbertworm Moth (Cydia latiferreana)

Flatid Planthopper (Ormenoides venusta)

Gall Midges (Polystepha globosa)

Glowworm Beetle (Distremocephalus texanus)

Grass-leaved Rush (Juncus marginatus)

Green Carpetweed (Mollugo verticillata)

Hackberry Blister Gall Psyllid (Pachypsylla celtidisvesicula)

Lace Bugs (Genus Gargaphia)

Plant Bug (Clivinema villosum)

Privet Leafhopper (Fieberiella florii)

Prostrate Sandmat (Euphorbia prostrata)

Rock Flax (Linum rupestre)

Slimseed Sandmat (Euphorbia stictospora)

Southern Cinnabar Polypore (Trametes coccinea)

Spongillaflies (Climacia areolaris)

Spotted Thyris Moth (Thyris maculata)

Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox)

Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum)

Twirler Moth (Calliprora sexstrigella)

Velvet Ants (Genus Timulla)

Wavy-lined and Southern Emeralds (Complex Synchlora aerata)

Western Grapeleaf Skeletonizer Moth (Harrisina metallica)

White Palpita Moth (Diaphania costata)

Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata)


Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata), recorded by Bob O'Kennon, is a new Milkweed species at Tandy Hills. photo by, eknuth


White Palpita Moth (Diaphania costata) is a strikingly gorgeous new moth species for Tandy Hills. Photo by, Sam Kieschnick.


Western Grapeleaf Skeletonizer Moth (Harrisina metallica) Photo by, Don Young


Swift Setwing (Dythemis velox) though a newly recorded species here were quite common in July. Photo by, Don Young

05) Barn Swallows: Part 2


In 1963 when I was 12 years old, I went on a fishing trip to Lake Texoma with a friend and our Dads. The fishing was slow all day but we had fun bobbing around the lake in the bass boat. As sundown approached, we decided to head for the dock when, suddenly, my friends dad cranked up the engine and yelled at us to hold on tight and get ready to cast. Out ahead was a huge school of sand bass streaking silvery in the green waves backlit by the setting sun. They were moving so fast the speeding boat could barley keep up. For a breath-taking half hour we whip-sawed across the lake chasing that school of fish, casting as fast as we could as flopping fish filled the boat. It was the most mystical experience of my life to that point. 


I experienced a similar mystical moment at Tandy Hills on July 18. Just as I was entering the trail I looked up to see a "swoop" of Barn Swallows swarming over the Iconic Meadow, scooping up insects in their acrobatic way. They zig-zagged all around me so close I could feel the wind from their wings. I stood watching as the feeding frenzy went on for a good half hour. Time seemed to stand still and I was trasported back to 1963 and that school of streaking fish. Here's a half minute video I shot to give you an idea of what it was like.


I'm beginning to think that, Barn Swallows must be one of my spirit animals.


06) Front Page News


Guess who made the cover of the Summer 2020 issue of the Native Plant Society of Texas News? Lots of useful info in this issue, including a revised report on Broadcast Hill. I urge you to become a member of your local chapter. Here's a handy link to the Summer newsletter:


Cover photo by, Don Young


07) PrairieSky / StarParty News


Tandy Hills star parties will remain on hiatus indefinitely BUT you can stargaze online, LIVE, with astronomers from the FW Astronomical Society. They typically do an online event that matches the dates previously scheduled for Tandy HIlls. Check it out their YouTube page for past and future events, HERE:


Meanwhile, FWAS rep, Pam Kloepfer, offers this backyard star-gazing guide for August:


"As we continue our visual star parties from our own backyards, remember that you can see a lot just by adapting your eyes to the darkness and, "looking up" and even more with any size pair of binoculars! Following Scorpius in the south, is the Teapot asterism in the large constellation Sagittarius. As with the outline of the scorpion, if you let your eyes adjust to the darkness, you will be able to see a lay out of stars that looks like a teapot. As you follow further east, you will come to Jupiter, which will be big and bright in the sky. With binoculars, you may be able to spot any of its four moons. Following Jupiter and much dimmer in brightness, you will see Saturn. The planets follow a path around the sun called the ecliptic. As the month progresses, you will also be able to observe red Mars following along on the same plane. 


We had an unexpected surprise visitor in July -  Comet NEOWISE! It was so named after a NASA space telescope discovered it, and was visible with binoculars in both the early morning and evening skies. In August, we can look forward to the Perseid Meteor shower, which will peak August 11/12. Your best chance of seeing meteors is from a dark location in the early morning hours in the NE. No equipment needed except a reclining chair!"



In other Night Sky News


The Perseid meteor shower is coming, August 11-12. Check the International Dark Skies Association website for helpful viewing tips.



08) Prairie Bookshelf


Speaking of Michael Smith (see #3 above), he is also the author of the upcoming book for young readers titled, The Wild Lives of Reptiles and Amphibians. It's due to drop on October 12. Learn more at the TAMU Press website:



09) Prairie Proverb - Walt Whitman


“After you have exhausted what there is in business, politics, conviviality, love, and so on—have found that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently wear—what remains? Nature remains.”


- Walt Whitman, from Specimen Days (1882)


Photo by Mathew Brady, 1866, National Archives


Prairie Notes© is the official newsletter of Friends of Tandy Hills Natural Area, a 501 (c)(3) non-profit organization. All content by Don Young except where otherwise noted