July 16, 2019
A Melody of Moths
Posted by: Rock Delliquanti
Many people are enamored with butterflies. The classic image usually consists of a brightly colored or patterned insect flitting effortlessly around a garden sipping nectar from flowers and spreading pollen from place to place. And while butterflies are beautiful and are incredibly important to the ecosystems that they live in, there are not as many people which feel the same way about the other side of the lepidopteran coin: moths. To many people moths are drab, small, nocturnal insects that swarm around porch lights. This stereotype does hold true for some moths, but there are so many others that buck this trend and are just as beautiful, if not more so, than butterflies.
Giant Leopard Moth (Hypercompe scribonia)
Regarding the number of known species, moths outnumber butterflies almost 10 to 1, and there are still so many species that are yet to be discovered. Some counts put moth totals above 150,000 different species, and some experts estimate that number could be double. Moths are one of the most diverse and successful organisms around and can be found around the world, both at night, during the day, and every time in between.
Red-bordered Emerald (Nemoria lixaria)
Moths and their larva have a bad reputation of being pests for certain crops or even your clothes, but moths provide essential services for the world. Not only do some species pollinate flowers, but all stages of these insects are an essential food source for so many kinds of animals. Bats, birds, and spiders immediately come to mind as insectivores (bug eaters), but also lizards, fish, and squirrels. Perhaps most surprisingly, a researcher in Yellowstone discovered that grizzly bears were traveling far up into barren and seemingly desolate areas of mountains just for moths. After endless hours of observing what these bears were doing from afar and sifting through their scat, Dr. White discovered that these grizzly bears were explicitly traveling to these locations to eat hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of moths. By their estimates some bears were eating up to 40,000 army cutworm moths a day.
Common Oak Moth (Phoberia atomaris)
Moths have incredible stories to hear and live fascinating lives and are worth paying attention to, and thankfully there is an amazing opportunity to do so. A special week-long event called National Moth Week occurs from July 20-28 every year and there are tons of public events around the country that are available to participate in. And if there isn’t one near where you will be, you can even make your own!
Laudable Arches (Lacinipolia laudabilis)
Mothing is an easy hobby to get into and doesn’t require a lot of gear and you can do it anywhere--parks, backyards, even on your apartment balcony in a city. Some of the easiest ways to do it at home are to get a white sheet and a light! Using a black light or mercury vapor light can help boost the effectiveness, but a porch light, flashlight, or spotlight set up can work wonders. The white sheet helps reflect the light and it also provides a surface for the moths to land on so you can look at them up close and personal.
Oblique Grass Moth (Amolita obliqua)
The National Moth Week website (http://nationalmothweek.org/) has a lot of resources available to read through if you’re interested in participating. And something important to realize is that mothing can be done any time. Moths typically slow down once it gets colder, but here on Little St. Simons we have mothed in every season and gotten amazing finds. Species change through the year as well, so setting up a cloth in September may result in completely different moths (or beetles!) than during National Moth Week.