Fairy Moths, Dancing in a Sunbeam

I was walking in the doug fir forests east of Odell, Oregon, listening for pygmy owls, when I witnessed something truly strange - fairy moths. In a sunbeam casting down through the woods, I saw dozens of tiny moths with long antennae appearing to dance in the air. At first, I had no idea what I was looking at.

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Longwinged Fairy Moths

It turns out that these are moths from the Adelidae family known as longhorned fairy moths, and are considered by lepidopterists to be, 'primitive micromoths'. This specific species of Fairy Longhorn Moth is Adela trigrapha. The males, which have absurdly long antennae for such a tiny creature, dance in sunbeams of damp woodlands - possibly as a form of lek ritual.

The fairy moth family occurs throughout North America, Africa and Eurasia and prefer forests or grasslands that support their host plants.

These fairy moths were adorned with brilliant purplish wings and bright white antennae. Those antennae were what first caught my eye. Although these are tiny creatures, not much bigger than mosquitoes, these unusual antennae glimmered in the sun. I believe that is their purpose; perhaps to show off to females.

Although lepidopterists often focus on large moths - macromoths - there are many more species of micromoths around the world, and little is known about them.