It’s Miller Time – Miller Moths

Miller Moth Adult, Courtesy, Whitney Cranshaw, Photographer
Miller Moth/Army Cutworm Adult
Euxoa auxiliaris
Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Photographer

Miller Moth Adult, Courtesy, Whitney Cranshaw, PhotographerMiller Moth/Army Cutworm Adult
Euxoa auxiliaris
Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Photographer

Miller Moth Adult, Courtesy, Frank Peairs, PhotographerMiller Moth/Army Cutworm Larva(e)
Euxoa auxiliaris
Frank Peairs, Colorado State University, Photographer

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

World Cup Colombian soccer player James Rodriguez isn’t the only one with a flying insect problem. For several weeks many Utahns have been coping with a bumper crop of miller moths. These dusty gray nuisances have been mobbing our lights, dive bombing our heads and plopping into our nightstand water glasses. Miller moth annoyance levels seemed highest along the Wasatch Front but other areas experienced high numbers as well.

Miller moths begin their lives as army cutworms. The larvae eat their way through the winter chomping on winter wheat, alfalfa, and many other types of crops and plants. After eating all winter, the army cutworms burrow into the ground to pupate. They emerge six weeks later with a yen for flower nectar. This sets them migrating to the alpine elevations of the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains. However, flowery trees and gardens along the Wasatch front are powerful diversions; thus our yards function as filling stations along the miller moth migration route.

Army cutworm populations soar during relatively warm winters with little snow cover. And that’s what happened this year in the south central counties of Utah. And that’s why we have so many moths now. But to keep this issue in perspective—know that the numbers we see in UT are nothing compared to the annual invasions experienced by populations on the Rocky Mountain front range. In Denver, annual spikes in vehicle crashes, therapist visits and broken light fixtures clearly coincide with the influx of miller moths.

Luckily, the moths are no more than a nuisance – they won’t eat your food or damage clothing or upholstery. And while sometimes it seems as if they are targeting your head, they really aren’t. If they are in your house, it’s because they were seeking shelter from the daytime predators by seeking a dark crack or crevice to crawl into—and then got into your house by mistake.

If you swat these unfortunate moths, they’ll get back at you. They leave a dusty gray, powdery mess. The powdery dust is really the moth’s tiny scales and is what gave the moth its name. For these scales are reminiscent of the dusty flour that covers the clothing of someone who mills grain.

For a clean resolution to the problem, veteran miller moth killers from Colorado suggest you suspend a light bulb over a bucket of soapy water. Moths will flick off the bulb into the water. At our house we catch them with a butterfly net and set them free outside. For I imagine that they will be off to the mountains as quickly as possible after that experience.

In early fall, the moths return to lower elevations to lay their eggs. Enough have died during the summer so we won’t notice them much if at all. But if next winter is also mild, we will be hosting our miller moth friends again.

Thanks to USU biologist Diane Alston for sharing her entomological expertise.

For pictures, sources and tips for living with miller moths, go to

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.


Images: Courtesy & Colorado State University Extension, Whitney Cranshaw and Frank Peairs, Photographers
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Cranshaw, Whitney. Quick Facts about Miller Moths. Colorado State University Extension, Fort Collins, CO

Cranshaw, Whitney and Frank Peairs, Questions and Answers about Miller Moths Colorado State University Extension

Dust in the Wind

Dust Storm Milford Flats
4 March 2009
US Geological Survey photo by Mark Miller

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

American paleontologist Roy Chapman Andrews was a frequent visitor to the Gobi Desert. This is how he described being caught in a Gobi desert dust storm: “Seemingly a raging devil stood beside my head with buckets of sand, ready to dash them into my face…” “…after each raging attack it would draw off for a few moments’ rest. Then suddenly the storm devil was on us again, clawing, striking, ripping, seeming to roar in fury that any of the tents still stood.”

Andrews didn’t have to go so far to feel the rage of a dust storm. He could have come to western Utah. While we don’t have the monstrous storms of the Sahara and the Gobi/Manchurian deserts, the eastern Great Basin–which is essentially western Utah–sits secure on any global list of dust storm hotspots.

Let’s consider why this is so…

First and foremost, western Utah has the dust. In scientific terms, dust is any particle—organic or inorganic—that is less than .63 microns or smaller in diameter. .63 microns is about half the width of a single human hair. In geological terms think silt or clay particles. A grain of sand is much larger. If you are the size of a dust particle, then a relatively small puff of wind will release you into the air. And you’ll stay there until it’s completely calm or rain forces you down.

A great place to find geologic dust is in desert playas. For runoff sediments collect in these dry lake depressions. Western Utah has several of these desert dust bins. And satellite data have confirmed that playas such as Sevier Dry Lake, Tule Dry Lake, and Great Salt Lake Desert are major sources of dust plumes. The alluvial fans of the Great Basin mountains provide an additional source of dust.

To get this dust airborne you need wind which is also plentiful in western Utah. This region typically experiences strong south and southerwesterly winds called “hatu winds.” That’s Utah spelled backwards. The name was coined by colorful Utah meteorologist Mark Eubank. These hatu winds blow south to north or to the northwest. They pick up speed and dust as they race along the north-south trending Great Basin ridges. They can reach speeds of over 90 miles per hour.

Utah’s hatu winds peak in the spring months with a secondary peak in August-September. In spring these windy freight trains full of dust can hit the populated Wasatch Front wreaking havoc with air quality and human health.

Sometimes raindrops capture dust in the airstream and splat them onto our windshields and windows. These mud rains are most common in spring when the hatus are at their peak. And this is why saavy Utahns never bother washing their home windows until June.

While dust storms can be considered natural events, the fact that they are increasing in number and severity is definitely unnatural. The increase is caused by human-related activities that remove vegetation or break the biological soil crusts that help stabilize dust and soil. Overgrazing, water withdrawals, military operations, farming on marginal lands, off-road vehicle riding, fires, even restoration activities all release dust to be carried off by the next significant wind.

Thanks to Atmospheric Scientist Maura Hahnenberger for her help with this Wild About Utah story.

For Wild About Utah, and the Quinney College of Natural Resources, I’m Holly Strand.


Images: Courtesy and
Sound: Wind sound effect from Sound Recorded by Mark DiAngelo
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Hahnenberger, M. and K. Nicoll. Geomorphic and land use characteristics of dust sources in the eastern Great Basin of Utah, U.S.A. Accepted Geomorphology.

Hahnenberger, M. and K. Nicoll, 2012. Meteorological characteristics of dust storm events in the eastern Great Basin of Utah, U.S.A. Atmospheric Environment, 60, 601-612.

Jason P Field, Jayne Belnap, David D Breshears, Jason C Neff, Gregory S Okin, Jeffrey J Whicker, Thomas H Painter, Sujith Ravi, Marith C Reheis, and Richard L Reynolds The ecology of dust Front Ecol Environ 2010; 8(8): 423–430, doi:10.1890/090050 (published online 12 Oct 2009)

Neff, J. C., A. P. Ballantyne, G. L. Farmer, N. M. Mahowald, J. L. Conroy, C. C. Landry, J. T. Overpeck, T. H. Painter, C. R. Lawrence, and R. L. Reynolds, 2008: Increasing eolian dust deposition in the western United States linked to human activity. Nature, 1, 189-195

Warner, Thomas T. 2004. Desert Meteorology. NY: Cambridge University Press

Washington, R., M. Todd, N. J. Middleton and A. S. Goudie, 2003. Dust-storm source areas determined by the Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer and Surface Observations, Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 93(2), 297-313.

Miller, M. E., et al. (2012). “Post-fire land treatments and wind erosion – Lessons from the Milford Flat Fire, UT, USA.” Aeolian Research 7: 29-44.

Steenburgh, W. J., et al. (2012). “Episodic Dust Events of Utah’s Wasatch Front and Adjoining Region.” Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 51(9): 1654-1669.

The Raft River Mountains

The Raft River Mountains: Clear Creek in Spring
Clear Creek in Spring
Courtesy & Copyright Holly Strand

The Raft River Mountains: Raft River MountainsRaft River Mountains
Courtesy & Copyright Holly Strand

The Raft River Mountains: Near Clear Creek Campground.Near Clear Creek Campground.
Courtesy & Copyright Holly Strand

Hi, I’m Holly Strand of the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

In each of Utah’s six corners you’ll find one or more remarkable natural features. Moreover, each corner represents a totally different geographic environment. No doubt you are familiar with turquoise blue Bear Lake in the upper northeast and the magnificent High Uintas near the angle formed by Wyoming. Flaming Gorge and Dinosaur National Monument flank the lower northeast corner. The ancient ruins and Monument Valley draw international visitors to the southeast corner. The numerous canyon parks in Utah’s southwest corner offer endless opportunities for exploration. 

That’s five corners. But what do you know about the northwest corner of our state? I live in Northern Utah and I had never been there. Resolved to correct this omission I consulted a map as well as Joan Hammer of Box Elder County’s Office of Tourism. I concluded that the Raft River Mountains were worth checking out. The highest point in the County, Bull Mountain is here. And the 40 mile long range defines the southernmost section of Sawtooth National Forest.

The Raft River Mountains are unusual in that they run east-west. The normal pattern for Basin and Range country is north-south. The east-west orientation creates an important geographic dividing line. For Clear Creek drains the northern slopes of the Raft River Mountains. Then Clear Creek joins the Raft River which flows north to the Snake River. Thus the mountains form the sole—and very small—piece of Utah real estate that belongs to the great Colombia River Basin. The southern slopes are part of Great Basin. Rain or snow falling on this side is absorbed into the ground or evaporates.

Another interesting fact: The Raft River Mountains is where you can view some of the oldest rock in Utah. In this region, outcrops of Precambrian material are 2.5 billion years old. The largest and thickest exposures are in the eastern half of the range.

The Raft River Mountain peaks may not make it onto post cards. But when I saw them they were nothing less than beautiful. The lower slopes of sagebrush had the grayish-green tint that emerges all too briefly in the spring. Snow still gleamed on the 8-9000 foot summits. Clear Creek was running full through riparian forest that was just starting to leaf out. There were no people at the campground but wildlife was plentiful. I saw wild turkey, deer, jackrabbits and squirrels. A few pronghorn looked up as I drove out through the sagebrush. All in all, I found Utah’s sixth corner to be well worth a visit.

For pictures and more information about the Raft River Mountains, go to

For Wild About Utah, and the Quinney College of Natural Resources, I’m Holly Strand.


Images: Courtesy and Copyright Holly Strand
Text: Holly Strand

Additional Reading

Doelling, Hellmut H. Geology and Mineral Resources of Box Elder County. Utah Geological and Mineral Survey. 1980. Bulletin 115.,

Stokes, William Lee. 1988. Geology of Utah. Salt Lake City: Utah Museum of Natural History. Bull Mountain. [Accessed May 13, 2014 and July 10, 2020]

USDA Forest Service. Sawtooth National Forest, Raft River Division. [Accessed May 13, 2014 and July 10, 2020]

Hylland, Rebecca, What are Igneous, Sedimentary & Metamorphic Rocks?, Glad You Asked, Utah Geological Survey,

Ring-Necked Pheasant

Native distribution the Common Pheasant in Eurasia, Courtesy Wikimedia, licensed under GNU Free Documentation LIcense v1.2
Native distribution of the
Common Pheasant in Eurasia
Courtesy Wikimedia
Licensed Under CCL Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Ported
wikipedia.noon.Pheasant.250x164.jpgMale Ring-Necked Pheasant
Courtesy Wikimedia
Gary Noon, Photographer
Licensed Under CCL Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 Ported
wikimedia.Manske.Ringnecked_pheasant_flying_USFWS.250x189.jpgMale Ring-Necked Pheasant in flight
Courtesy US FWS & Wikimedia
Magnus Manske, Photographer
wikimedia.Male_and_female_pheasant.250x188.jpgMale(R) and Female(F)
Ring Necked Pheasant
Courtesy Wikimedia, Chris O, Photographer
Licensed Under CCL Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Ported

Hi I’m Holly Strand from the Quinney College of Natural Resources at Utah State University.

It’s spring, and the birds are starting to make quite a racket outside. Here’s a bird we hear every day now, in the morning or at dusk: []
That’s the sound of a male ring-necked pheasant crowing and then beating his wings against his body. The male is announcing his territory which may be 7 acres or more. Under the right conditions his announcement can carry up to a mile. Looking out the window, I often see our resident pheasant marching around the yard, sometimes herding a female or two, or three. For the dominant males keep female harems during the mating season.

Last year another male wandered up our driveway. This led to a skirmish. The two males held their heads low, rumps raised and tails straight out behind. They pecked and said some choice words to each other in pheasant language. Periodically they burst into a fluttering fight that involved some vicious biting, and kicking. Eventually the intruder left leaving the other to resume his post as head pheasant of our yard.

If you haven’t ever seen a ring-necked pheasant you are in for a treat when you do. The males have a green iridescent head, a bright red face, and a distinctive white ring collar. Their spectacular multicolored plumage ends in a long coppery tail cropped with thin black bars. The females are much smaller; their feathers a mottled mixture of brown and buff with dark markings. While not so beautiful, they are much harder to see and therefore are safer from predators.

All pheasants are natives of the Old World–more specifically of southern Asia. The ring-necked pheasant is not a distinct species there. It’s an informal name that refers to certain subspecies of the Common Pheasant, which occupies a huge territory stretching from the Black Sea and Caucasus region through Central and Middle Asia all the way through China Korea and the Russian Far East. Throughout this enormous territory, over 34 different subspecies of common pheasant have evolved– some with a ringed marking around their necks and some without. What we have here in America is a hybrid mix of a few of these ring-necked subspecies—mostly from China.

Because of their huge popularity as a game bird, ring-necked pheasants have been transplanted all over the world. In the U.S. the pheasant was introduced on the west coast in the 1860’s , but now you can find them in all but the most southern states. They are especially concentrated in our central Corn Belt region.

The ring-necked pheasant was first introduced to Utah around 1890. Their numbers are maintained through transplanting, natural dispersion and further releases of game-farmed birds. Some of those birds end up on the dinner table and some of them find refuge on private lands and in Utah neighborhoods like ours.

Thanks to Paul Marvin for his Xeno-Canto recording.

For sources, pictures and more information, go to

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.



  1. Native distribution the Common Pheasant in Eurasia
  2. Male Ring-Necked Pheasant
  3. Male Ring-Necked Pheasant in flight
  4. Male and female Ring-Necked Pheasant licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Giudice, John H. and John T. Ratti. 2001. Ring-necked Pheasant (Phasianus colchicus), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online:

Heinz, Gary H. and Leslie W. Gysel. 1970. Vocalization Behavior Of The Ring-Necked Pheasant. The Auk, 87: 279-295.

Johnsgard, P. A. 1999. The pheasants of the world. 2nd ed. Smithson. Inst. Press, Washington, D.C.
All About Birds: Ring-Necked Pheasant


Paul Marvin, XC163168. Accessible at License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0
Date 2011-06-04
Location National Bison Range, Dixon, Montana