Black Witch fallout in eye of hurricane

Mike Quinn Mike.Quinn at
Thu Jul 24 13:45:40 EDT 2003

-----Original Message-----
Subject: Re: FW: Black Witch fallout in eye of hurricane
From: "Robert Dana" <robert.dana AT>
Date: Wed, 23 Jul 2003 19:16:26 -0500

Thanks to Mike for posting this. I is one of the most interesting posts
I can recall on the list.


Thanks Robert. Here's some related moth, butterfly & dragonfly information
from the Migration Over The Gulf Project (MOGP). This was a project where
biologists, primarily ornithologists were stationed at five oil/gas
platforms primarily off the coast of Louisiana. 

Map of the oil/gas platforms where biologists were initially stationed:

Photo of platforms

As I understand it, this was a three year project (1998-2000?) that was
later expanded to other platforms along the Gulf Coast. I've only heard
interesting tidbits of what insects they found...


I saved the following from a now defunct website. 

August 29-September 18 [1998]

"September 11 saw the simultaneous arrivals of Black-throated Blue Warblers
at the Vermilion and South Marsh Island platforms.  These birds coincided
with arrivals of numerous Black Witches (Ascalapha odorata), as well as a
tropical day-flying moth (Urania leilus) and several other unidentified
insects that appeared to be tropical.  The species composition of bird and
insect arrivals suggested a possible West Indian origin for the migrants.
The synoptic weather situation on the morning of Sept 11 (see map below)
indicated a corridor of strongly convergent winds from the southern tip of
Florida northwestward into our study area.  We suspect that these birds and
bugs flew downwind from the West Indian region during the night of Sept
10-11, and subsequently were grounded on our platforms by the deteriorating
weather associated with the northeastern quadrant of Tropical Storm Frances.

Very little has been happening on the butterfly front. One painted lady and
one American snout were observed during the period, and one Monarch was
found dead. We remain skeptical of published reports that Monarchs are
trans-Gulf migrants.

Large nocturnal moth migrations are now regular occurrences. Noctuids and
Sphingids are the principal groups involved, but identification of species
will await detailed examination of scavenged specimens."


Here's some text from a Journey North webpage. As the actual date(s) of the
observation are not listed, it's not clear exactly which storm the "tropical
weather mayhem" reference refers to.

Fall's Journey South Update: October 23, 1998

Bob Russell, Journey South's correspondent from an oil platform on the Gulf
of Mexico, had lots of news for us this week, now that he's back on the
platform after all that "tropical weather mayhem ended."

"The commonest birds recently (well, before the latest period of extended SE
winds) have been Marsh Wrens and House Wrens," and he and his team have seen
a host of other short-distance migrants. He says, "Platform usage by these
'overshoot migrants' has been heavy, and because of the abundance of
migratory moths and other insects offshore during the fall, these birds are
usually able to feed successfully. The existence of a network of platform
rest stops on which the overshoot migrants can stop and grab a moth snack is
very clearly beneficial to these birds!" 

Speaking of insects, Bob notes, "We finally started to see a few Monarch
Butterflies--but only a few. Gulf Fritillaries have been most common."
They've seen lots of other butterflies out on the platforms, including
"Painted Lady, American Painted Lady, Red Admiral, [Common] Buckeye,
Question Mark, Cloudless Sulphur, Little Sulphur, Ocola Skipper, and
Many-banded Daggerwing."

Bob adds, "In the moth department, we saw massive offshore movements of
several species of hawkmoths (also called sphingid moths or sphinx moths)
during the Oct 7-12 post-frontal period. Pink-spotted Hawkmoths have been
most abundant, followed by Tersa Sphinx and Mournful Sphinx, plus a few
vagrant *Esso Sphinx." And to provide further food for birds, "Dragonflies
continue in force: Green Darners, Wandering Gliders, Spot-winged Gliders,
and Black-mantled Saddlebags have been joined by Red-mantled Saddlebags and
a few Marl Pennants."


Someone closely involved with this project informed me that "Unfortunately,
not one bit of data has been 
published from the project, although fieldwork ceased several years ago. The
insect data ... was almost as good as the bird data, and perhaps more
eye-opening." [Unfortunate indeed.]

Here are the moths mentioned above. All range south to Argentina.

Pink-spotted hawkmoth (Agrius cingulata)

Mournful sphinx (Enyo lugubris)

Tersa sphinx (Xylophanes tersa)

*Ello sphinx (Erinnyis ello)

This is probably what "Esso Sphinx" refers to. This is either a typo or
someone's trying to pull some legs... When Standard Oil Company, of John D.
Rockefeller fame, was broken up into 34 companies in 1911, one of the
off-shoots was named "Esso", a play on the parent company's initials "S.O."
[The Riddle of the Esso Sphinx?!]

All of the above would potentially be New Parish Records. The actual
platform where they were recorded isn't noted, but 'massive movements'
suggests that they may have been recorded on most of the platforms. (The
Ello Sphinx might be a New State Record if it could be verified.)


Information on each of the Odonates listed in the Journey North text above
can be found here:

All are widely distributed known migrants except for the Marl Pennant. 


Of all the insects mentioned, the Many-banded Daggerwing is by far the least
expected and apparently constitutes a New State Record, if it could be

Many-banded Daggerwing (Marpesia chiron)


Tropical Storm Frances - 08-13 September 1998



Hurricane Claudette - 08-16 July 2003


Post landfall image:





Mike Quinn
Invertebrate Biologist
Wildlife Diversity Branch
Texas Parks & Wildlife

M: 3000 I-35 South, Suite 100, Austin, Texas 78704
P: 512-912-7059
F: 512-912-7058 
E: mike.quinn at
      Texas Entomology


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