Erin Kinnetz

Autumn Moths and Butterflies

Every fall, we head out into our meadows and edge habitats armed with butterfly nets, clipboards, and our pants rolled up into our socks (hey tick protocol!). The aim is to capture, tag, and release Monarch butterflies to help scientists track the migration and population numbers of the magnificent, migrating, Eastern Monarch butterfly.

So far this year we have tagged 5 Monarchs although we spotted and cheered on about three times that many. These unique programs take us onto some unusual paths where we found an Io moth caterpillar. While not the focus of our expedition, we stopped to investigate and admire. We don’t usually get to see these moths because they live most of their lives in the upper tree canopy.

This Io moth caterpillar has a funky and fun look but DON’T touch because it has a painful venomous sting from the hairy protrusions on its body. Fall is moving in swiftly with cooler mornings and that’s probably the reason we couldn’t spot and tag many Monarchs. This sleepy little caterpillar is feeling those changes as well. Pretty soon, this moth will make a cocoon of silk and leaves where it will pupate and overwinter on the ground. In the spring it will emerge as a large, beautiful moth and take flight up into the canopy once more.