Bug of the Week has been re-booted by some recent rains here in Arizona. I’ve been getting notifications of insects that I haven’t seen for a long time. It’s so exciting!
Photograph by Peg Lynck, used with permission.
Take for instance this caterpillar a friend found on what she called a pencil cactus, Euphorbia sp.
Photograph by Peg Lynck, used with permission
Here are two more.
See those tiny, stubby horns at the back of the abdomen? That means they are members of the hornworm or sphinx moth family. A little research shows they are ello sphinx (Erinnyis ello) caterpillars.
Ello sphinx caterpillars vary quite a bit in color. Some are green, or a mix of green and brownish-gray.
Public domain image from Wikimedia
The adult moths are known for their lovely burnt orange underwings.
Here’s another moth that has been spotted a lot this summer.
Photograph by Peg Lynck, used with permission.
Given the memorable common name of black witch moth (Ascalapha odorata),the species is found in the southern United States through Central America and into South America. Flying at night, these relatively large moths can resemble bats. During the day they rest on the walls of houses.
The caterpillars feed on various legumes, including Acacia sp., Senna sp. and mesquites.
White-lined sphinx moths are also active now. They can be active during the day as well as at night.
It is wonderful to watch nature rebound after last year’s extreme heat and drought.
Part of the Lepidoptera order of insects, moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on earth.
Moths are important pollinators for crops and flowers, and serve as a food source for birds, bats and other animals.
Scientists estimate there are 150,000 to as many as 500,000 moth species.
Their colors and patterns are either dazzling or so cryptic that they define camouflage. Shapes and sizes span the gamut from as small as a pinhead to as large as an adult’s hand.
Most moths are nocturnal, and need to be sought at night to be seen – others fly like butterflies during the day.
Finding moths can be as simple as leaving a porch light on and checking it after dark. Serious moth aficionados use special lights and baits to attract them (see our previous post).
Building a moth model not only helps develop both science and art skills — like observation skills — but also fine motor skills necessary for many adult careers.
Yarn Doll Moth STEAM Activity
For the fuzzy body of our model, we’ll use the popular yarn doll technique which entails wrapping yarn around a piece of cardboard.
Typical Yarn Dolls
Index card, 5 1/2 inch long piece of cardboard or file folder (to wrap yarn around)
Card stock or file folders for wings
Colored paper for wings (optional)
Crayons, markers, or colored pencils to decorate wings
Glue stick (to glue colored paper to file folder- optional)
Chenille or fuzzy stems
Images of moths (hummingbird moths and luna moths if you use the patterns provided)
1. If not using an index card to wrap the yarn around, cut a piece of cardboard or card stock about 5 1/2 inches long by 2 1/2 inches wide (approximately). Cut a narrow slit to tuck the loose end of the yarn in while winding or pin the loose end in place with holding hand while winding.
Slit in card holds the beginning strand
2. Gently wrap the yarn around the center of the card the long way about 25 to 30 times, depending on the thickness of the yarn. The yarn should be snug, but not so tight that it bends the card. Keep the tension as even as possible so all the wraps are the same length. When finished, cut the yarn at the end where started wrapping. Tie the first end to the newly cut end to secure them both together (wouldn’t need to tie the ends if making a yarn doll).
4. Cut 4 pieces of yarn about 5 inches long to serve as ties to secure the body of the moth. Prior to removing the yarn from the cardboard, slip one of the ties through on the upper edge of the card until there is roughly the same amount of tie on either side of the wrapped yarn. Tie the ends together snugly around the wrapped yarn with a square knot. Then slip a second tie through at the bottom and tie the bottom wraps together. Tidy the loose ends of the knots by snipping them off now or later when all the ties have been made.
5. Slide the bundle of wrapped yarn to one side to remove it from the cardboard or index card.
6. Tie the third tie about 1 inch from the top of the bundle, creating the moth’s head.
7. Now it is time to make the wings. Decide whether you want to use a plain manila file folder like this hummingbird moth,
Hummingbird moth (also called hawk or sphinx moth)
card stock, or glue colored paper to a file folder (luna moth example).
8. Fold the paper in half and draw one set of wings on it, freehand or using the one of the patterns we provide here:
Place the pattern at the fold where indicated. The narrow bridge that goes to the edge of the folded page will attach the two wings inside the yard body.
9. Cut out the wings. Unfold.
Color the wings now or after assembly. Check images of actual moths for inspiration. Remember that moths often have eye spots on the hind wings.
10. Curl one set of wings slightly and pass through the gap in the yarn body, the fore wings should be toward the head.
11. Tie the last tie around the yarn body behind the wings, to create the moth’s thorax.
12. Cut three chenille stems 8 inches in length to be the legs. Feed them through the yarn thorax on the underside of the wings.
13. Leave the legs free or twist each one around itself to secure it.
4. Add chenille antennae and any other details, such as google eyes (optional). Tidy the loose ends of the knots by snipping them close.
15. Proudly display your moth.
Use the picture book How to Build an Insect by Roberta Gibson and illustrated by Anne Lambelet to accompany this activity.
Disclosure: The book is my personal copy. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.