Oh dear, it’s miller (moth) time

“Mrrrow!” Magazines slide off the end table, followed by the globe. “Mowww!” Gigancat bounds across the back of the sofa, leaps and misses the moth but does manage to knock a Navajo rug askew. He stops, relocates his target, and manages a standing jump of almost five feet. And misses. The moth, oblivious to the furious battle cries and chaos unfolding below, circles on of the living room pot lights, casting flickering shadows that further infuriate the enormous red tabby. It’s miller time at Redquarters.

Gigancat's Nemesis - a dusty miller (moth). http://www.bugsandweeds.co.uk/Moths/miller.jpg

Gigancat’s Nemesis – a dusty miller (moth). http://www.bugsandweeds.co.uk/Moths/miller.jpg

The Panhandle has two major seasonal insect inundations – millers in the spring and cicadas in late summer. Cicadas are loud and occasionally spooky when you meet one by surprise. Millers are a pain in the empenage. They come into the house through cracks you’d swear you’d sealed, surround porch lights with clouds of fluttering, crashing dusty bugs, leap out of mailboxes and car door seals, and pretty much make outdoor activities after sundown more trouble than they’re worth, if the millers are especially bad.

When I was in High School, the honors choir went to a big outdoor festival in mid-May and took one of the older upright pianos with them. It stayed overnight before coming home and being returned to the locked practice room. Now, you need to know that 1) the piano had not been covered except with a loose tarp, and 2) the practice room had a large plate-glass window that faced the main choir room. So the piano returned to the school and sat in the dark. Come Monday, when the teacher turned on the lights in the choir room . . . yup. By noon-ish, when my choir trooped in and took our place on the risers, dozens if not scores of millers were crashing against the glass, or walking along the sill. Apparently the seal on the bottom of the door (soundproofing) kept the moths confined. The director let us have our “ohh, look!” minute or so and pointed out that the only thing they could do was leave the room locked until the end of the semester (three weeks), because he most certainly did not care to have those on the loose.

Three springs ago we got a lot of moisture early, then turned very dry. Apparently this was absolutely the exact thing that millers needed, because the entire central Panhandle had a massive miller outbreak. They got into everything, they even showed up on radar some evenings! Ranchers put yellow glass (or yellow lightbulbs) in outdoor lights to try to discourage the bugs, they swarmed headlights, got into buildings, interrupted cookouts, and caused hundreds of angry calls to the county Animal Control, the Ag Extension office, and the various newspaper editors as people demanded to know  how to make the beasts go away, and who to call and complain at. Alas, apparently Mother Nature doesn’t have an answering machine.

North American millers are the adult form of army cutworms. They hatch in late summer, overwinter as caterpillars, and turn into nectar-drinking moths in late spring. They get their nickname because their scales brush off very easily, leaving white powder like flour. Since millers (human-type) were known for being covered in flour much of the time (like the dusty miller plant), the name became common.

An original dusty miller, Mr. Lorenzo from Nevada. http://www.angelfire.com/journal/millrestoration/lorenzo.gif

An original dusty miller, Mr. Lorenzo from Nevada. http://www.angelfire.com/journal/millrestoration/lorenzo.gif

As you have read, house pets tend to go after millers with a certain amount of ferocity. It got so bad that the cry of “its miller time!” sent the residents of Redquarters to battle stations, hiding glassware, moving breakable objects, and trying to get the moth before Gigancat noticed it. You see, the mighty 22 lb hunter had determination, strength, mass, and energy. He lacked smarts and good coordination.

Give me cicadas over millers any day.



4 thoughts on “Oh dear, it’s miller (moth) time

  1. While we have moths our two insect infestations are grasshoppers and bees, particularly yellow jackets.

    A couple of summers ago the yellow jackets were worse than I’ve ever seen them. While the local bees are amazingly mild mannered and non-confrontational compared to those I grew up around; they’ll still sting you if you lay on them, lean against them, or physically removing their nest from somewhere it doesn’t belong. They were so bad that year, that all the local stores were sold out of bee traps. While I had three, those would fill up (about a pint and a half per trap) every day, without making a noticeable dent in the population. They were so bad you couldn’t stand outside and visit, for the yellow jackets swarming you like mosquitos.
    Some friends of mine from Wyoming stopped by to visit, and the lady got stung shortly after getting out of their rig. We went inside to get away from the bees while visiting after that. They were so impressed (I’m not sure that is the correct term) that before they got home they stopped at their local store and bought a dozen bee traps and mailed them to me. Now I was getting a couple of gallons bees a day, and I learned not to just dump the dead bees over the bank at the edge of the yard. In August dead bees in sufficient quantities smell just like any other dead animal, in August.

    • You got me beat. Down here we call some wasps yellow-jackets, but they don’t tend to be that common because of the lack of water.

      I still think the “Mormon” cricket may be the foulest bug in the West, though. Driving along a highway during migration . . . ugh. Just thinking about it gives me the willies.

      • Yes, technically a yellow jacket is a wasp, not a bee, but wasps, yellow jackets, bald faced hornets; anything with a stinger tends to get de facto classified as “bee” around here.

  2. With the turn to rainy season over here, the geckos have been finding their way inside. The cats have a great time hunting them, and would love for me to get a trampoline so they could actually reach the ceiling to knock the geckos down.

    Still not nearly as bad as millers, and a more substantial cat snack.

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