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The Naturalist

Mouse River Journal of Towner, North Dakota

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Miller Moths

I have had a couple people comment that they have been seeing an unusually large number of millers (moths) this year. A quick internet search revealed that other areas of the state and region are experiencing an eruption of sorts as well, as evidenced by articles about them in the Dickinson Press, Aberdeen News, and Colorado Springs Gazette.

Millers have even been a factor in at least one car accident this spring. A recent article in the Denver Post reported a young driver distracted by a miller lost control of her vehicle which left the road, slammed into a utility pole, and exploded. Luckily she got out of the car quickly and sustained only minor injuries.

Most any moth that is common around in in our homes may be called a miller. However these moths are perhaps more appropriately known as army cutworm moths. There are about 100 species of cutworms in North Dakota. They are no doubt familiar to many farmers and gardeners. They generally have a wingspan of 1.5-2.0 inches and are gray or light brown with contrasting wavy markings on the wings. The moths we are observing now are not significant crop pests, although that is certainly not true of all species of army cutworm moths

Although there is considerable variation in the habits and life cycles of army cutworm moths, the species we are likely observing this spring overwintered here in larval form. The mild winter and spring are the main factors for the eruption this year. The larvae pupated in the soil and emerged as adults in April and May. At night they feed on the flowers of some flowering trees and shrubs, then as dawn approaches they seek shelter in places like garages and sheds.

Their numbers are expected to decline after a few weeks when they will begin to migrate to the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains (in our region likely in Montana) where they will feed on the nectar of alpine wild flowers. Apparently this migration is to avoid the high temperatures of summer. So if the weather remains rather cool, they may stay in our area for a few weeks. However if things heat up quickly they are out of here!

Around late summer to early fall they will migrate back to North Dakota to mate, lay their eggs, and develop into larvae before winter sets in, thus completing their life cycle. So if we have a mild winter and spring again, we may see another influx of miller moths next year too.

So the next time you see a miller, consider that they will soon be enjoying the alpine meadows of the Montana Rockies. And if it gets to be a hot summer, we might think about those millers again, basking in the cool alpine meadows of the Rockies.

"Get out an enjoy!"

(Lura is a biology professor at MSU-Bottineau and lives at Lake Metigoshe.

Copyright 2012 Mouse River Journal, Towner, North Dakota. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: June 6, 2012

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