For the last four weekends now I have been on a goose chase, for one moth, Heliolonche celeris. It’s a beautiful small Noctuidae with pinkish forewings and stunning orange-red hindwings. It isn’t very often encountered and only found along the northern California mountain ranges feeding on Malacothrix floccifera – a CA endemic flower. Every trip I have gotten skunked, until today – I collected two! As you may recall my first outing was about a month ago, no moth, but a beautiful series of specimens and photographs of Adela moths. The last few trips haven’t even come close to being as productive as the Adela one. So what to do when not finding your target? Get a sun burn and take some crummy photos.
Not quite a moth.
This H. celeris is exhibiting typical flower moth behavior, sitting on the flower head plain as day. They actually stay like this all night on the flower (even if it closes up around them as some flowers do – which leads to them colloquially being known as “taco moths”… because the moth’s butt sticks up past the petals and looks like it’s in a taco). And this is exactly why I left my apartment at 6 am this morning to arrive by 8. If it is still cold out they don’t even twitch when you approach. And, if they aren’t flying, it’s easy to survey an area for moths and know that you haven’t missed any. But, as soon as the sun warms them up, they become zippy bastards and vanish before you can even reach for the lens cap. This being the first moth I saw today I really didn’t make the effort to take a great image. Subjects have a nasty habit of flying away right after you get the good shot (well, usually right before the good shot)… and I couldn’t risk losing the only specimen of the day.