Plume moths are easily recognized by their T-shaped stance. Beyond that, many of them are hard to identify past the Pterophoridae family, but this species is an exception.
Pterophoridae, by the way, means “feather-wing.” The lower wing of this moth is lobed into several finger-like tongues, and edged with frills. You can see the underwing’s downy fringe on the moth above, and there’s a link below to a photo showing the wings spread out.
These moths are Artichoke Plume Moths, known to scientists by this 10+ syllable mouthful: Platyptilia carduidactyla. The larvae can damage artichoke crops, but they also eat thistle, which is probably the case at Mount Pisgah.
The Artichoke Plume Moth can be narrowed to the species level because the only look-alike in the Pacific Northwest, the Geranium Plume Moth, has a Jackson-Pollock-like spatter pattern on the low edge of the upper wing, and this moth has a triangle-marking on the upper wing.
It’s not a stretch to understand why these moths are shaped the way they are. Their pose mimics the look of sticks, stems and twigs to a T. Some plume moths even tuck their back legs against their bodies to further the illusion. How they get their airplane-shape is another story: They curl up their unusual wings like a short roll of wrapping paper.
Nerd alert: If you want to get deep into the weeds, there’s a fascinating article linked below about the spurs on the legs of moths and other insects. Suffice it to say no one knows for sure why plume moths have prominent tibial spurs, but other moths use them for cleaning their antennae or to puncture and sense leaves to determine whether they’re the right place to lay eggs.
See more of Karen’s work here.
Nice photo of the unfurled wings of this species: https://calphotos.berkeley.edu/cgi/img_query?enlarge=7777+7777+0410+0948. Accessed 11/2/22.
Nerdy article on tibial spurs: https://rcannon992.com/2020/03/29/insect-tibial-spurs-a-highly-versatile-tool/comment-page-1/. Accessed 11/2/22.