Catchpole was collecting seeds from marsh blazing star plants recently when he found an unusual looking moth.
“I recognized the moth as a stem-boring moth by its size and the strange shape of its front end and suspected that it might be the blazing star moth,” he said. “Stem borer moths often hang out on their food plant.”
Catchpole quickly confirmed that his guess was correct with an app on his phone.
“I sent a text to the seed-collecting crew alerting them that I had found this very rare moth on the seed heads of marsh blazing star so they would be careful not to harm any they found,” he said.
Judith Wallace, a natural resource management crew leader for the Forest Preserve, called Catchpole to say that she had seen an odd-looking moth just a few minutes earlier, also on a marsh blazing star. She texted Catchpole a photo of an alternate form of the moth.
“Strangely, this moth has two rather different looking forms,” Catchpole said. “But experts still believe it to be one species. Before the day was over, we had found four blazing star borer moths.”
The moth gets its name from the way it feeds.
“The caterpillar actually bores into (the blazing star) plant stems and eats the inside,” Catchpole said.
Conservation crew members were excited with the find because the moth is “very rare and in big trouble,” Catchpole said. “Just to have it living in our preserves is a big deal.”
A quick check with NatureServe, the main site that tracks how species are doing, revealed that the Blazing star borer moth is ranked globally vulnerable.
“Experts believe no populations are healthy enough to last more than 30 years, even though there are over 100 populations believed to still exist.”
The blazing star moth is struggling because there are no longer massive Midwestern prairies filled with marsh blazing star plants.
But there is hope in the Will County area due to preservation efforts that include the U.S. Forest Service’s Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie; the state-owned Des Plaines Conservation Area and Goose Lake Prairie State Park; and the 2,000-acre Braidwood Sands Area, which is made up of Will County preserves and state-owned land.
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