My Kick-off to National Moth Week

Hey everyone!  Haven’t been able to spend much time on my computer at home for a long time, but I’ve been dying to share several things with you all.  The next few posts will feature my favorite insect-themed celebration of the year, National Moth Week. I LOVE Moth Week! I’ve hosted a big moth-themed open house at the museum field station where I work every year since National Moth Week started and then I go out every night that week and blacklight at home.  For my public event, I bring my blacklights, bait, and my brand new mercury vapor light (so, so happy to have it!) to attract moths.  Usually, there’s some freak storm the day of my public event that sends everyone running for cover, but we lucked out and got no rain at all this year.  About 55 people came, and they were a marvelous group!  It was a punishingly hot day and it stayed hot well into the evening, but those 55 people were enthusiastic and very excited about getting to see moths and other nighttime insects. No complaints at all. So. Much. Fun!!

I usually bring my Nikon DSLR camera with me to my public moth event and start taking pictures when things calm down after most of the visitors have left for the evening.  We never get many big moths, so this year I brought my Canon with my super close up MP-E 65 lens so I could get good photos of the smaller moths. I pulled it out about 10:30pm, got my flashes set up and the diffusers in place, strapped my headlamp onto my head, and was about to get started photographing our far-better-than-average moth haul for the evening when I realized my battery was dead – and my spare AND my charger were plugged into the wall at home.  Doh!  I ended up taking all my photos with my headlamp and phone this year.  However, given the large size of several of the moths that showed up, my camera choice was a mistake anyway.

I’ve shared my current blacklighting rig before, so I won’t go over it again here.  I set up four blacklights:

blacklight rig at night

One on each side of the building.  I kept things easy and just thumbtacked the sheets to two of the wooden walls of the building, and set a couple more up on the PVC frames I normally use.

The mercury vapor light is a new acquisition.  I’ve been dying to have one for years and was so very excited to actually get one.  I normally do my moth night with one of my coworkers, and we’ve used his mercury vapor lights in the past.  He wasn’t going to be at this year’s event though, so I just bought my own light.  It’s very bright and very hot:

mercury vapor light

I have had the very fortunate experience of blacklighting in southern Arizona during the monsoon, where this sheet would be absolutely packed with insects, including many very large moths.  However, this is a really good haul for this particular location, probably the most moths I’ve ever gotten on a sheet during National Moth Week.

The lights attracted a wide range of moths.  Some of them are very common at the field station, like this common tan wave:

common tan wave

and this Ailanthus webworm:

ailanthus webworm

These are both very common moths in my area, ones you would expect to see at any blacklight, or even a porchlight, on almost any summer night.  A few of the moths we saw certainly aren’t rare, but we don’t see nearly as many of them.   This rosy maple moth is one of my favorites (I call it the rainbow sherbet moth):

rosy maple moth

And we get these esther moths most years:

esther moth

Beautiful wood nymphs are not super common at my lights, but I’ve seen them at this event more than once:

beautiful wood nymph

Some much less common moths also decided to show up this year, like this Hebrew:

hebrew

This is the second time I’ve seen Hebrews at this event.  I just love them!

I gave a little talk about moths during the event that included photos of some moths we’ve seen in past years.  Conveniently, all the moths above were included, so it was a lot of fun listening to people exclaim over moths they recognized from the presentation!  People saying, “Ooh, look!  It’s an elegant grass veneer!” or “Oh, oh! It’s a rainbow sherbet moth.  What was the real name, rosy maple moth?”  I felt like people were walking away from the event knowing a few moth species they might not have known before because they saw them on a big screen and then immediately saw them in real life at the lights.  Very nice to be able to provide the moths I shared in the presentation on command!

We did see some new-to-the-event moths this year too!  There were several Virginia creeper sphinx moths:

virginia creeper sphinx

Everyone was really excited to see these!  They should be at the lights every year as their host plant is all over the place all around the building where I set up the lights, but for whatever reason they never appear.  We got 6 this time.  Another first was this tiger moth:

tiger moth

Very white, and high up on the wall so I never got a good look at it to get a good ID.  We got some new small moths, like this unidentified moth (I think it’s one of the leafrollers):

Archips leafroller

Might be an oblique banded leafroller?  I’m still learning my moths, and these little ones are definitely not easy.

And finally, my favorite moth of the night, a small-eyed sphinx moth:

small eyed sphinx

Everyone had left and I was just getting ready to take down my lights when this moth showed up.  I was thrilled!  Such a gorgeous moth.  Shiny, velvety, perfect.  I really regretted not bringing my Nikon DSLR so I could get better photos of this stunner.  The whole night was great, but this moth made the oppressive heat and having to take all my gear back down alone after midnight absolutely worth it.

This particular event takes a lot of setup and takedown on my part, but I absolutely love it!  Every year I get good people who are excited to learn about moths and other nighttime insects and every year I leave work around 1AM sweaty and exhausted and completely happy.  What’s better than hanging out at a light looking at bugs with interested people all night?

I’m going to post a few more posts about National Moth Week soon, so be on the lookout for those!  One will feature the moths I found in my yard that week and the other will be about the other insects I found while looking for moths.  Hope you’ll enjoy them!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth.

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