A Few New Mexico Moths


The following photographs represent my chance encounters. If you're looking for a more systematic photographic survey, I recommend the Moths of New Mexico web site maintained by Joe Schelling. I also recommend submitting ID requests to BugGuide.net.


The images are organized alphabetically by taxon. Unlike butterflies, moths fall into several superfamilies so I've included the superfamily names (ending in "oidia"). When you encounter a slide show, hover your cursor over the images to control them. If you see an error, please contact me via the Contact tab at the top of the page.

Bombycoidea - Saturniidae (Saturniids)


Io Moth (Automeris io)


Io ("eye-oh") moth caterpillars have spines that transfer venom at the slightest touch. They won't kill you, but you'll know you should have left the caterpillar alone. When I first saw the one in the photo, it curled up into a doughnut, with the protective spines on the outside and its vulnerable belly on the inside. Eventually it uncurled and wandered away, as you can see in this video.


The thumbnail shows the brown adult female and the colorful adult male. Click on the image to see a larger image, along with the credit and license.


Zephyr Eyed Silkmoth (Automeris zephyria)


In the late summer I found two striking caterpillars on an Gambel oak sapling. They had consumed most of the leaves down to the midribs, and no doubt were on their way to their next meals. The spines are "mildly" poisonous, whatever that means. Zephyr eyed silkmoths are confined to New Mexico and trans-Pecos Texas, and their hot spot seems to be the Sandia Mountains. 



 Click on the thumbnail to see a larger image of the adult, along with the photo credit and license.



Bombycoidea - Sphingidae (Sphinx or Hawk Moths)


Rocky Mountain Clearwing (Hemaris thetis)


White-Lined Sphinx Moth (Hyles lineata)

Sphinx moths hover like hummingbirds as they sip nectar from flowers. Before Steve the Ground Squirrel wreaked havoc on my daffodils, I often saw sphinx moths visiting them at dusk. Two of my pictures were taken with a flash unit, freezing their mid-air hovering. (They didn't seem to mind the bright flash.) To see a YouTube video of the moths visiting the daffodils, click here. When I found one feeding in broad daylight in September 2021, my autofocus couldn't keep up with its rapid movements.


I have also included two images of the caterpillars, known as hornworms due to the single horns on their rear ends. The horn is harmless to humans, as is the entire caterpillar.


Tobacco Hawk Moth (Manduca sexta)

As I watched one afternoon, a tobacco hornworm abandoned the local plant cover to race (by caterpillar standards) across an open area. From time to time it would fall over and writhe. I had no idea what was behind this behavior until I blew up my photographs. In the photo where the horn is visible, you can see an ant near the horn, biting or stinging the hornworm or both. Tobacco hornworms are also known as Goliath worms, and this one certainly met its David.

Geometroidea - Geometridae (Geometer Moths)


Pale Beauty (Campaea perlata)


Emerald Moth (Nemoria obliqua)

Emerald Moth, Nemoria obliqua, New Mexico
Upper Sandia Mountains, August 2021


Scopula siccata



Geometridae, inchworm, new mexico
Rio Grande Bosque, Albuquerque, July 2020

Many species of geometer moth caterpillars look like twigs, and hold themselves stiffly at a proper angle to complete the disguise. Which is what this one was doing when I found it on White Sweetclover—only the contrast between the brown caterpillar and green stem attracted my notice. The caterpillars are popularly known as inchworms, after their peculiar way of moving.

Lasiocampoidea - Lasiocampidae (Eggars, Snout Moths, Lappet Moths)


Tent Caterpillar (Malacosoma)


Tent caterpillars are from a single genus, and my examples are probably L. californicum, the Western Tent Caterpillar. If you click on the thumbnail on the left, you'll see a Wikipedia photo of an adult (taken by Jerald E. Dewey, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org). Don't confuse this one with the fall webworm, shown below.



Erebidae: Herminiinae: Litter Moths

Herminiinae, Litter Moth, New Mexico
Rio Grande Bosque, Albuquerque, July 2020


Erebidae: Fall Webworm (Hyphantria cunea)



Don't confuse this one with tent caterpillars, above. As the name suggests, the time of year may help you distinguish the two species. I don't have an image of the adult, so I used one from Wikipedia. Click on the thumbnail to the left for a larger version and the photo credit.


Erebidae: Litocala Moth (Litocala sexsignata)

My thanks to Joe Schelling for identifying this moth for me. Under certain lighting conditions, the spots on the hindwings look light yellow rather than white.


Erebidae: Spotted Tussock Moth (Lophocampa maculata)

The fifth and final instar (immature form) of this moth resembles a banded woolly bear, but has clumps of white bristles at each end.


Erebidae: Orange Holomelina (Virbia aurantiaca)


Noctuidae: Eight-Spotted Forester (Alypia octomaculata)


Noctuidae: Army Cutworm Moth (Euxoa auxiliaris)

Each spring, army cutworm moths (aka miller moths) migrate through Albuquerque. During the day they hide in dark places, flying out if disturbed. It's not uncommon to start a car or open a trash can, and be startled as dozens of moths emerge. In some years, the populations spike due to unusually favorable conditions in the moths' breeding areas. During the resulting "mothocalypse," local homes are plagued by thousands of moths, which seem to get into everything. There's no danger to health or property, however, and a few weeks later it's all over. 


Noctuidae: Corn Earworm Moth (Helicoverpa zea)

I encountered this green-eyed moth in broad daylight, as it sipped on red-whiskered clammyweed. Only later did I learn that for farmers, this is one of the most destructive moth species around.


Noctuidae: Heliolonche pictipennis

Pyraloidea - Crambidae (Grass Moths)


Beet Webworm Moth (Loxostege munroealis)

Formerly known as Loxostege sticticalis. By the way, it's not the only moth species referred to as a beet webworm moth.


Pyraloidea - Pyralidae (Snout Moths)


American Sunflower Moth (Homoeosoma electellum)

In Texas (and probably elsewhere), this moth is the principal insect bane of commercial sunflower crops. Both photos feature a guest star, the sun moth Lithariapteryx abroniaeella with its boldly spotted wings.

Tineoidea - Psychidae (Bagworm Moths)


Bagworm Moth Homes

On a morning walk I saw a tree of heaven leaf with a big hole munched in the middle. When I lifted the leaf, a pupa-like thing dangled beneath. It was a bagworm moth caterpillar's case. The caterpillars haul these travel trailers wherever they go, and retreat inside at the first sign of danger. They also pupate in the case, and the adult females lay their eggs in their cases so the eggs can overwinter. Later that same month I found hundreds of bagworm cases dangling from willows on a sandbar in the Rio Grande, each apparently full of eggs (I didn't disturb them).