Camera Critters – Ailanthus Moth

You know those ugly masses of web full of ugly caterpillars you see in the trees at this time of year?  We think of them as pests of course, turning our tree leaves brown and just looking, well, nasty if you ask me.
Well, like all caterpillars, web-worms pupate and become something else.  I had never given it much thought.  I guess I figured they all became nondescript brown moths. But I discovered something in my garden last week that was to teach me otherwise.
webworm moth photo by Adrienne Zwart
I was in the front yard trying to photograph a butterfly which flew away as soon as I had the camera settings right. I decided to watch the bees of all kinds nectaring on the Russian Sage and this stray Mint when this little fellow's markings caught my eye.
He was very obliging as I snapped away.  I was excited to have discovered another new bug in the garden, and looking forward to learning more about him, I went to that bug ID site I was telling you about last week.
Well, I started in the beetle section, but I didn't really think this fit into any of the families of beetles.  It doesn't fit in with leaf hoppers either.  Something about its eyes made me think "butterfly" but since it never opened its wings and I didn't see it fly in, I was unsure.
webworm moth2
Fortunately, also has a search bar where you can type in dominant colors and it will bring up images of insects that match your criteria.  I first typed in "white-spotted beetle" but that was too specific and did not return anything that looked like my bug.  Later, I typed in "white, orange, black" and there amongst other critters was a picture of my bug.
Indeed it is not a beetle, but a moth.  An ermine (web-worm) moth. I was amazed that something so un-appealing could become something so striking. 
This is the Ailanthus webworm moth, Atteva punctella, which is now found commonly throughout the United States. Originally native to southern Florida where its original host plant, the Paradise Tree, is found, it became more wide-spread as it discovered the introduced Ailantus altissima (aka "Tree of Heaven") to be a tasty host plant for its larvae.
The subtly-striped greenish-brown caterpillars make a nest of loose silk webbing around some of the leaflets and then consume those leaflets.  The damage to the host plant is more cosmetic and rarely reduces the vigor of the tree.  However, landscaping nurseries selling the host trees do consider the caterpillars to be pests.
The moths are lovely to look at and serve as pollinators for many varieties of flowers.
Have you seen any interesting critters this week?  Well, if you took a photo of one, you can share your find with a whole lot of other bloggers who like creatures of all types.  Just head over to Camera Critters and follow the instructions on how to post your link.


Carol said…
So glad I stopped by! I have a shortcut to that website on my desktop now. I never knew what those "tent" caterpillars turned into. Interesting.
Snap said…

Your new *bug* is quite a looker. Thanks for the info, too. Who knew?!!!! (Glad you like the zinnia -- have a garden full of them this year.)
Anya said…
Its a very beautiful shot !!!
Wonderful and very creative :))
Willard said…

A very interesting post with beautiful photography.
Martha in PA said…
How beautiful, and thanks so much for the education!!!!

My CC - Oliver the Guinea Pig
Jedediah said…
Beautiful photos, the colours are gorgeous
Hootin' Anni said…
Amazing photos.

My C C is's Tahoe this time, getting into trouble....again! Come by for a visit, won't you? You need to scroll down below my Saturday's photo hunt to view. Happy day wishes sent your way.
Miss Becky said…
I love this web site it is so interesting and full of so much information and beautiful pictures. Thanks
That is a gorgeous moth, Adrienne. Don't think I've ever seen one--but I really don't know if I have looked. Thanks for sharing.
i beati said…
a raw beauty indeed. sandy
b13 said…
Thanks for the info! I had posted a desktop image of one of these moths last year but never knew so much about them.
Anonymous said…
I do love this site! Really, I think you're the only other mom I know that knows about Bug Guide. It's been bookmarked on my computer for the past 5 years! Wish you lived closer.. we would get along great and could have some fun photo safaris with the kids! My boy just came in (he's playing with 4 girls, and he's like the Pied Piper.. they follow him anywhere!) carrying a 6 ft. rat snake skin. Thankfully, this time it was just the skin. Next time, it could be the snake itself! Whew. Do check out my blog if you have a sec; I just posted a beetle pic!
Well, you just opened my eyes! I had no idea. ;-)

My Camera Critter is at
East Gwillimbury Wow
Kerri said…
He is a beauty!!

Thank you for your visits to my blog! I really appreciate all of your comments!!!
Tammie Lee said…
Hi Adrienne,
This was a wonderful learning post for me. It really is a gorgeous little critter. We have moths around here that folks abhor as well. I forget what they are called, maybe the gypsy moth. Thanks for sharing your wonderful photos of this. We never know what we will find when we get quiet and wander about.
Kelly said…
Wow!! Great sleuthing! I would never have guessed those web worms turned into such beautiful moths! I'll have to keep an eye out for them.
Cezar and Léia said…
Absolutely interesting!Thanks so much for introducing this new critter!This little friend is fashing and I liked the orange colour and the white bubles, très chic!
Have a blessed week okay!
Janie said…
Great sleuthing to figure this one out! It's a beautiful critter, and your photos are great.
Marie Höglund said…
Wow what a creature. Lovely pattern.
George said…
Thanks for a very interesting post. I guess I'll have to be a little more tolerant of the web full of caterpillars in the tree in front of the house. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the web is too high for me to reach.
Thanks for visiting my site.
Sue said…
Great shot~ and nice research you did to find out what it is. I have tried to look up various things with no such luck in finding out what it is.

Thanks for stopping by mine. I'm not sure what kind of dog Reggie is. My MIL has told me a bunch of times but I always forget. I know he's a mix of two different kinds.
Janet Creamer said…
I love this moth, Adrienne. I love the contrasting colors.
Your close-up shots are fantastic Adrienne! You're doing such an amazing job with your photography. :)
Sharon said…
Wow, what an exciting capture! Congratulations on finding out what it was!
Anonymous said…
Very fine moth photo. I have one around here most of the time. Or I did. I assume it was the same one feasting on lilac and also on a couple of other flowers. It is nice to learn who he is.
Regina said…
Such amazing captures!
JRandSue said…
Great looking Images.

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