Notice of Intent: A Checklist of the Moths of Central Texas

I wanted to let several iNaturalists know that I have started on a long-ago conceived project of compiling a “Checklist of the Moths of Central Texas”. For many years, those of us attempting to study and identify moths in the general Austin region have had the use of some excellent resources such as the latest edition(s) of Knudson & Bordelon’s Texas Checklist (latest: 2018), along with access to online resources such as iNaturalist, BugGuide, Moth Photographer’s Group, and certain other useful databases.

With the passing of the co-founders of the Texas Lepidoptera Survey, Ed Knudson and Charles Bordelon, in the past few years, we have all been left somewhat rudderless in the vast sea of moths since they are no longer able to personally confirm IDs. Their checklists are rapidly becoming out-of-date from taxonomic changes, and fresh copies of their excellent regional publications are, for the time being, unavailable. Texas is not without entomological expertise, but Lepidopteran studies certainly suffered a major setback with the loss of these two gentlemen. It is my understanding that a book on the Moths of Texas is in preparation, carrying on work initiated by the late John Tveten, but I am unaware of the status of that manuscript or any timeline for its publication.

The abovementioned online resources offer us considerable help in identifying moths and understanding their distribution, but zeroing in on the fauna of any region smaller than Texas as a whole is tedious. It is not difficult to search any of the above resources for county records and lists, but county-level data is often a bit too fine-focused (small scale) to guide research. Compromises between a statewide list and county lists might involve looking at the moth fauna of an ecoregion such as the Edwards Plateau, a strategy which would have a strong ecological foundation as a basis for a faunal association. That said, at least three aspects of geography make that a difficult target: (1) each of the ecoregions of Texas has a great many counties subsumed in them, (2) the ecoregional boundaries do not handily align with political boundaries (which are more readily available for database searches, etc.), and (3) those of us living in the major urban centers such as Austin are likely to encounter moths from two or more ecoregions because our cities of residence are commonly on major bioecological boundaries.

As an ad hoc solution to the search for a basis of a regional moth checklist, I have settled on a large metropolitan boundary defined in various resources as the Greater Austin region. This coincides with the following seven counties including and surrounding the Austin metropolitan area: Bastrop, Blanco, Burnet, Caldwell, Hays, Travis, and Williamson. The immediate advantage of a polygon encompassing this region is that it coincides by definition with the outer boundaries of this set of counties and already has an established, georeferenced “Place” in the iNaturalist database. It also coincides with the region used for Austin’s participation in the annual City Nature Challenge on iNaturalist which typically adds massive numbers of Lepidopteran records annually to that database. It also has the practical advantage of encompassing a large portion of the local destinations we Austin-area moth-ers commonly visit and study. And finally, it has that advantage of straddling a major bioecological transition area which allows for the compilation of representative moth faunas from each side of such a boundary—probably not a comprehensive fauna of either ecoregion, but a strong sampling of each.

Among the resources I am tapping to compile a raw checklist are the following:

— I downloaded all Lepidoptera records from the “Greater Austin, TX” place on iNaturalist (roughly 130,000 records, of which about 76,000 are moth observations). Here’s a link to all these observations:

— I have at my disposal a spreadsheet compiled by the late Jim Gillaspy (Univ. of Texas) which goes by the misnomer “BFL LepList” refering to Brackenridge Field Laboratory of the University of Texas. In fact, it is a compilation of thousands of moth specimens collected by Gillaspy not only at BFL but also other central Texas locations (e.g. Pedernales Falls SP and Univ. of Texas’ Stengl Ranch in Bastrop County) along with many other separate collecting efforts around Texas the specimens from which are now deposited in the University of Texas Insect Collection (UTIC). That list was prepared in the 1990s and last updated in about 2000. Moth taxonomy has changed substantially since Gillaspy’s compilation but the spreadsheet has many advantages: (1) Most moth specimen identifications were provided en masse by Ed Knudson; (2) the spreadsheet contains separate lists for each location; and (3) its taxonomic sequence was orgainized by Hodges numbers (although these too are now somewhat out of date).

— Records on BugGuide and Moth Photographer’s Group maps will be used to check against eventual lists derived from the above databases.

— Visits to the UTIC will probably be on the agenda in the future to verify particular records and identifications (to the extent that I am able to).

I anticipate that the final product of a checklist will be made available online and in print form. I can only hope it might become the precursor to a proper "Field Guide" to our moth fauna with illustrations, descriptions, identification tips, etc. That'll take another day or two. ;-)

I am not unaware that this will be a long, involved task to get to anything resembling a useful up-to-date checklist. Updating the taxonomy of Gillaspy’s list and cleaning up the identifications of tens of thousands of iNaturalist observations will be among the initial tasks.

This journal post is both a notification of my efforts on this project but also a solicitation for help. At times, for various tasks, I am sure I will need multiple sets of eyes looking over various draft or interim products. I'm asking now if you might be available for smaller or larger subtasks along this undoubtedly tortuous path to a Central Texas Moth Checklist. You're welcome to message me privately with your interest and thoughts. I’m also interested to hear if any of you has ever attempted a similar compilation in any way (home, local, county, etc.) and might care to relate your experiences with such an effort.

Wish me luck. I’ll look forward to hearing any initial thoughts on this quixotic adventure.

由使用者 gcwarbler gcwarbler2021年07月03日 21:40 所貼文


Good luck, Chuck, and we'll see you in a couple of years! Seriously, if you need any rookie help, please contact me and I'll do what I can.


發佈由 jcochran706 約 3 年 前

I have also embarked on a large moth project recently and while it is not of the same scope it does have potential for a lot of overlap and so I am more than willing to dive in and do what I can.

My own project has been to compile incidence data from one location (my home) to determine the feasibility of estimating moth diversity consistently and accurately. In the cases of unidentified moths I will be using morphospecies for the biodiversity calculations. I have been working on journal entries in iNaturalist to help keep track of the data and have recently decided to also put the rest of my observations in iNat.

My ultimate goal is to create a protocol that I can use in the long term and with students to conduct biodiversity surveys and to drive other kinds of research questions to get students to experience authentic research.

More useful to you is that ACC (in conjunction with LASA high school) recently won a NSF grant to start up a DNA sequencing facility and I already have biotech students at ACC working on DNA barcoding moths and working out the protocols. Ideally I will not only be able to have moths sequenced from student surveys but also be able to solicit samples from the iNat community to have them identified in the future. This will also be the subject of an upcoming grant to fund more undergraduate research.

We talked a little bit about this at Elephant Mountain WMA and I am making some progress and will definitely keep you updated. In the meantime having a checklist of the moths of the greater Austin area would be extremely helpful. I have compiled guides in iNat for my own use but they are necessarily incomplete. These are the guides I have below and would be considered my own attempt at creating a checklist for the area.

Macro moths of Travis County (except for Noctuids) -
Superfamily Noctuoidae of Travis County -
Micro Moths of Travis County -

發佈由 cmeckerman 約 3 年 前

Whew. God speed, my friend. :) You always love tackling these massive projects!

So, I basically just use the filters when I'm working on some of the moths up here in Dallas/Fort Worth:,47654

If I can find out a family (easier for some than for others!), it helps me filter and reduce the amount of hits. Also, somewhat of a bummer, but the species selection limits to 500, so for most of these areas in TX, the general "moth" species go past that... Discussion here:

發佈由 sambiology 約 3 年 前

I applaud you, Chuck! Massive undertaking, looking forward to the final product. I say as Jack, if you need help with something specific, let me know. I have edited scientific publications for many years, so that would be something I could easily help out with.

發佈由 annikaml 約 3 年 前

That will be WONDERFUL! I want updates!

發佈由 sherylsr 約 3 年 前

A challenging but worthwhile endeavor I'd say. Happy to help out with the rather small task (not!) of curating or in other ways if needed.

發佈由 ecarpe 約 3 年 前

Thanks to everyone for your interest.
@cmeckerman It sounds like you are really moving things forward for your students. I really like the direction you are headed, and look forward to contributing to any DNA work that your students might be willing to undertake. Those moth guides you've created for TC are definitely useful, but I think there still is a place for a quick reference, comprehensive, systematic checklist of all the regional taxa as a foundation for other products. The iNat guides are definitely helpful, but they serve a different need.
@sambiology Your DFW Metroplex is exactly analogous to the download of data I did for Greater Austin. Viewing such subsets of observations by the "Species" tab is a trick I've used countless times in many, many regions--particularly ones new to me--to quickly focus on possible IDs.

發佈由 gcwarbler 約 3 年 前

Looking forward to your checklist. I will expect a signed copy.

發佈由 connlindajo 約 3 年 前

@gcwarbler -thanks for copying me on this, I found it to be an interesting read, I am slowly learning how to ID some of the moths that I photograph but my observations are small when compared to others. I have a willingness to help in any way that match my limited skills with you needs.

Galen Stewart

發佈由 gpstewart 約 3 年 前

@gcwarbler I'm happy to help where I can.

發佈由 rkostecke 約 3 年 前
發佈由 gcwarbler 約 3 年 前

A checklist or guide like this would be extremely helpful. Should there be anything I am able to help you with, let me know and I'd be happy to. Maybe less for you and more for @cmeckerman - but if either wants/needs specimens I would be willing to do some collecting also.

發佈由 jeffmci9 約 3 年 前


From your post...

— I downloaded all Lepidoptera records from the “Greater Austin, TX” place on iNaturalist (roughly 130,000 records, of which about 76,000 are moth observations). Here’s a link to all these observations:

Are you using a specific URL filter or set of filters to exclude butterflies, i.e., "without_taxon_id=47157,47653" or are you constructing a set of taxa to include the moths? Exclusion vs inclusion. Just curious how you are approaching this.

發佈由 centratex 約 3 年 前

I downloaded the whole mass of Lepidoptera observations in the Greater Austin, TX, area as a csv file, and included superfamily among many other fields in the download. After importing that into Excel, then it was an easy sort to separate out the Papilionoidea, and just cut and paste those into a separate Excel sheet...for later analysis. That left me with just the moth records. That seemed like the simplest solution. I am not very facile with URL filters.

發佈由 gcwarbler 約 3 年 前

aha! The old download and sort. I was thinking within the box of iNaturalist. You were thinking outside.

As Sam points out in the comments above, a URL filter can be added to exclude Papilionoidea (taxon=47224) from the Lepidoptera records.

The moths of the Greater Austin (place) can be derived using this step. In case anyone has interest.

Greater Austin "Butterflies and Moths" without Butterfly taxa (excludes Superfamily Papilionoidea)

發佈由 centratex 約 3 年 前


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