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Noctuids: the winged ghosts of the Jardin botanique

Likinée
  • Likinée
  • Catocala blandula © Espace pour la vie
Noctuids: the winged ghosts of the Jardin botanique

Of the 2,700 butterflies found in Québec, over 95 percent are what are known as moths. These nocturnal butterflies, contrary to popular belief, can be colored and be equipped with areas of highlighted colors that act as a deterrent when the moth is confronted by predators. The very large family of noctuids (or owlet moths) contains the ambassadors of this means of defense, the Catocalas, commonly known as noctuids.

Going “incognito”

Noctuids are true hidden treasures of the Jardin botanique de Montréal’s insect wildlife. These large-size butterflies have always fascinated entomologists. Their beauty never fails to impress. The first reaction is often a sense of wonder in the face of the precision and subtlety of its camouflage technique when it’s resting. It’s practically invisible to the casual eye. That initial reaction is accompanied by guaranteed astonishment when the moth deploys its upper wings and reveals colored splashes in perfect contrast with its environment. Those signals serve to frighten, deter or disrupt the intentions of the many potential predators.

Noctuids are mythical butterflies, their behavior and erratic flight giving the impression of a stroboscope through the contrast between the drab upper wings and the often showy lower ones. That flight is perceived as ghostlike, lending it the reputation of specter of the night.

A terrific diversity of noctuids at the Jardin botanique

Québec wildlife includes about 40 species, 15 of which can be observed at the Jardin botanique. Some of them are very rare (Catocala judith Stkr,Catocala briseis Edw, Catocala innubens Gn), while others are some of the most beautiful (Catocala cara Gn, Catocala unijuga Wlk, Catocala relicta Wlk). No one can fail to be moved by the very rare and very intense coloring of Québec butterflies.

How, where and when to observe them

Despite their cryptism (the ability to blend in with their environment), observers with a keen eye will be able to detect noctuids on the trunks of deciduous trees like willow, birch, poplar, ash and others. A number of species are drawn to the light after nightfall and settle on building facades, among other spots, and can be observed that way until morning. On the other hand, observing species who are not attracted to light can take some doing. More curious entomologists will opt in that case for a delicious wine-vinegar-based mixture with yeast, ripe fruits and brown sugar or molasses. That fermented blend becomes the ideal bait when applied to rough-barked tree trunks. This is a way to observe a number of species close up and hurry-free, ideal for photo buffs.

Feel free to come and take the time to enjoy your first experience with noctuids, often well hidden on the trunks of the Jardin botanique’s ashes or hickories.

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