Sometimes it’s really easy for me to pick an animal to blog about. Especially when I’m heading out to barbecue some steak and carefully dodge a fresh pile of bird poop on my deck. Then I go check on the steaks and the poop has moved onto the barbecue. That happened to me yesterday, and of course I was intensely curious. I took a picture of the little critter, googled it, and discovered it to be the strangely named pearly wood-nymph.

The picture I took of the wood-nymph. Not too bad for an iPhone, I just wish I'd had time to go get my macro lens!
The picture I took of the wood-nymph. Not too bad for an iPhone, but I just wish I’d had time to go get my macro lens!

I say strangely named because it really doesn’t describe this animal at all. See, the pearly wood-nymph isn’t a nymph, it’s a moth. It also doesn’t resemble a nymph, because, as I mentioned, it looks like bird poop. Still, that’s what it’s called, and I have no idea why. They can be found in Southern Ontario, pretty much all of the eastern US, and also in Utah and California.

Larva of the wood-nymph are usually found in marshy areas, where cattails and willow herbs grow together. The larvae move to dry cattails to pupate, digging a hole in the stem of the plant, which they then cover with silk until they change into adults. This happens from May until August in every population except for the California wood-nymphs, where they pupate in May and December.

What the wood-nymph looks like when its wings aren’t folded – a lot less like a pile of crap.
Image by Jacy Lucier, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As adults, wood nymphs feed mainly on grapevines, primroses, and hibiscus plants. That’s probably why one was on my deck – we have grapes growing up one side of it. They have a wingspan of around 28mm, and have white and brown colouring on their wings. When the wings are folded and the moth is stationary, the animals looks remarkably like bird droppings. As bird poop probably doesn’t taste too good, this disguise helps the moth avoid predators. It certainly fooled me (the first time).

Unfortunately there isn’t too much information on the pearly wood-nymph, but I was still very happy to find one in my back yard. I’m always impressed by animal camouflage, especially ones that are so unconcerned about their dignity that they will imitate excrement.

Cover image By Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren – # 9299 – Eudryas unio – Pearly Wood-nymph Moth, CC BY 2.0