Species of the month, December 2020: Mustard Sallow

Species of the month, December 2020:

Mustard Sallow, Pyreferra hesperidago

by Mary Gartshore

Mustard Sallow at a bait station on a warm night. Photo by Mary Gartshore
Mustard Sallow at a bait station on a warm night. Photo by Mary Gartshore

The Mustard Sallow (Pyreferra hesperidago) is one of several moths that are active during late fall, winter and early spring.  On warm nights (15 C and above) they forage on sap and rotten fruit.  They use these resources to build their reserves for reproduction in the spring.

During inclement weather, they hide and hibernate.  They can tolerate temperatures below freezing.  The Mustard Sallow belongs to a group of four moth species found in southern Ontario, three of which feed on Witch-Hazel plants as caterpillars, and the fourth on American Hazel.

You can enjoy watching and photographing these and other winter moths by creating a bait trail.

A simple bait recipe is two bananas (with skins), two tablespoons of molasses, one can of beer and a cup of sugar.  Mix in blender and store in a jar with a loose lid.  Watch for a warm, humid night in the forecast.  Paint bait on tree trunks and branches just before dusk and wait until after dark.  Use a dim flashlight and quietly visit each bait station.  Avoid rustling leaves and breathing on the moths.

Take photos of the moths and for identification, submit to iNaturalist, visit Moth Photographers Group, or use the new Peterson Field Guide to the Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie.

By using bait, we have found three new moth species for Ontario.  This is a fun project for children and since winter nights start early, it does not interfere with bedtime.





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