National Moth Week Favorites

My last post about National Moth Week!  Can you tell I really love this event?  It gets me outside looking at bugs both at work and at home each year, so it’s a ton of fun. However, this year’s fun was greater than usual thanks to a couple of things, a great insect find and a photo I’m really pleased with.

First, let’s discuss this awesome, amazing critter:

Pleasing lacewing

Pleasing lacewing

I saw it and started yelling, “Ooh, ooh, ooh!” and jumped around happily.  If my neighbors didn’t already worry about me, that little episode probably convinced them I am nuts.  However, I quickly came to my senses and took a whole bunch of photos of it. I knew it was something unusual, something I definitely haven’t ever seen before. Once I got a ton of photos, I ran inside and started looking through my field guides.  It wasn’t in any of them, but that didn’t surprise me.  It was so weird! I wasn’t even really sure what order it belonged to, but I thought Neuroptera (the net-winged insects) was the most likely.  So, I started randomly clicking through all of the Neuroptera photos on BugGuide to see if I could find it.  Happily I did!

Family Dilaridae, the pleasing lacewings.  Nallachius americanus specifically.  There are two species in the US (one is only found in Arizona) and about 70 species worldwide.

According to BugGuide, this group of insects does come to lights at night, but it’s rarely seen or collected.  The larvae are apparently thought to feed on beetles under bark, but there’s no mention of what the adults feed on.  I kinda felt like I should catch it and add it to my collection since it may be the only one I ever see, but I eventually decided against it.  I don’t have a scientific reason to collect any more, so I just watched it for a while and it eventually flew away.  I’m happy with just having photos of it.

This find totally made my entire National Moth Week!  If the pleasing lacewing had been the only thing I saw the entire week I still would have walked away happy.  Love getting to see/learn about new things, especially things that are entirely new.

A few days later, however, I got my favorite photo of the week:

Rosy maple moth

Rosy maple moth

I love rosy maple moths!  They’re super common in my area, but they’re so fuzzy and gaudily colored that it’s hard not to adore them.  This one had something weird going on on one of its wings (you can see the black markings on the hind wing on the left side of the photo – that’s not normal), but it let me handle it.  That meant I could get a good shot of its face, which I thoroughly enjoy doing. I snapped away and it eventually wiggled around into the position in the photo above, letting me get a dead on shot of its face.  Look at all that fuzz!  All that pink!  Those amazing antennae! This immediately became my favorite photo of NMW.  I spent the last few days of the event attempting to get similar head shots of other moths, but none of them worked out quite as well (i.e., didn’t amuse me as much) as this one.

And with that, I am done posting about National Moth Week!  I have so many other things I want to write about still, so I am hoping I can keep this momentum going a little while longer.  I still have an entire year’s worth of Dragonfly Swarm Project info/data to post too!  Look for more posts soon!

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

National Moth Week Bycatch

bycatch (n.): the accidental capture of non-target species.  This term originated in the marine fishing industry, but has expanded to include other non-target species captured in other forms of collecting or harvesting.

National Moth Week is, as you may have gathered from the name,  a celebration of moths that asks people to learn more about and observe moths during the last full week of July.  However, you never just get moths when you set up blacklights!  You get a ton of non-moth insects coming to the lights as well, and today I want to feature some of the great non-moth insects I found this year.  Let’s explore them by order and start with the…

Orthoptera (grasshoppers, katydids, and crickets)

I find lots of field crickets and katydids at my lights, but I find a lot of these as well:

Common scaly cricket

Common scaly cricket

That’s a common scaly cricket immature (on my siding that’s clearly in need of a good powerwash to remove the algae!).  These are supposed to live on bushes or under debris near water, so I can only presume that they are taking advantage of the low spot in my yard that’s almost always sopping wet.  I love the shape of these crickets, just a little different from the standard cricket body plan.  This one is pretty dark compared to most of the scaly crickets I see too – the ones in my yard tend to be white and just a little translucent.

Dermaptera (earwigs)

Earwigs creep a lot of people out, but they’re harmless:

earwig

Earwig

Depending on the species, and I don’t know which one this is, earwigs can eat plants, decaying organic matter, or insect prey.  I didn’t see this one hunt at the lights as many other carnivorous insects and spiders do, so I suspect it might be a plant or humus eater rather than a predator.

Blattodea (cockroaches)

Cockroach

Cockroach

We all know and love (to hate) cockroaches!  I found loads of them near my lights this year.  I suspect they’re coming out of the storm sewer drain in front of my house.  This particular roach was looking down at me from the porch light by my front door, so I got a good look at its face for once.  Normally that’s tucked away below the plate-like front section of the thorax, the prothorax, where it’s hard to see.

Hemiptera (true bugs)

Most people don’t enjoy this species:

Brown marmorated stink bug

Brown marmorated stink bug

Brown marmorated stink bugs are invasive in the US and can invade homes in pretty large numbers.  As you might imagine, the scent of many stink bugs together in one place is none too pleasant!  These also feed on a variety of fruit and vegetable crops, so they’re not popular with farmers and gardeners either.  However, in spite of the problems they cause, I think they’re rather elegant looking bugs.  The coloration and pattern are subtle, but sort of pretty too.

This bug is a fun one:

Two lined spittle bug

Two lined spittle bug

That’s a two-lined spittle bug.  They get their name from the foamy secretions they excrete as they feed as immatures.  If you’ve ever seen something that looks like a wad of foamy spit hanging off a plant, you may be looking at spittle bug secretions!  They’re considered turfgrass pests, so people who care about their lawns often despise spittle bug nymphs.  Me, I’d rather have bugs than healthy grass, so I love having spittle bugs in my weedy lawn!

Coleoptera (beetles)

I get a lot of beetles at my lights, especially ground beetles in the family Carabidae, rove beetles in the family Staphylinidae, scarab beetles in the family Scarabaeidae, and click beetles in the family Elateridae.  I take loads of photos of the same species night after night, so it’s exciting to see something less common, like this gorgeous beetle:

Rustic borer

Rustic borer

That’s a rustic borer. It’s actually a common beetle at lights in North Carolina, but I rarely see them in my yard.  They a borer beetles, so their larvae grow inside of trees.  They’re not very picky – almost any hardwood tree will do for this species.

Hymenoptera (wasps, bee, and ants)

I am absolutely terrible at identifying wasps, but most of the ones I see at night look like the parasitic wasps in the Ichenumonidae and Braconidae families:

Wasp

Wasp

No idea what this one is, but I like the way it looks, thus I’m including it here.

Trichoptera (caddisflies)

Caddisflies start off life in water and emerge onto land as adults.  I have a large river that flows close to my house, so I suspect that’s the reason that I get so very many caddisflies at my lights.  I know this one is a longhorn caddisfly:

Longhorned cassisfly adult

Longhorned caddisfly

… but I’m not sure which family this one belongs to:

Caddisfly adult

Caddisfly

I can ID aquatic caddisfly larvae easily enough, but once they’re adults they honestly all look about the same to me…  Someday I’ll at least learn my caddisfly adults to family!

And finally, we come to the flies!

Diptera (flies)

These also have aquatic larvae, though they don’t live in the kinds of aquatic habitats you normally think of:

Moth fly

Moth fly

Moths flies are called drain flies as larvae as they are often found living in the water trapped in the U bends of drains in locker rooms, hospitals, bathrooms, and other places where skin cells and other human waste gets trapped in little nasty puddles of water.  The larvae are actually rather interesting looking, but the adults are downright adorable!  They’re tiny, but oh so fluffy.  I just love them!  I suspect these might be coming from the storm drain as I tend to see a lot of them at lights at night outside my house.  I don’t care how gross they are – I am always happy to see a moth fly!

I am going to post one more blog related to National Moth week, one that features my favorite insect find of the year and my favorite photo.  Look for that post coming soon! (And it’s already written, so this time I really mean it’s coming soon!)

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

National Moth Week, As Seen From My Backyard

Well, this is far out of date now, but I’m going to go ahead and post it anyway! I’ve made it an annual tradition to blacklight in my backyard every night of National Moth Week. I set up a blacklight in my yard, point it toward the white siding of my house, turn it on at dusk, and then head out to my yard to see what comes to the lights a few times each night, photographing every species that I find. This year, it was very warm and humid and it rained one night, so I got a pretty great diversity! Some of the species are the very common species I find every time I blacklight in my yard, such as this elegant grass veneer:

Elegant grass veneer moth

Elegant grass veneer

My yard is mostly grass with a few non-native trees and shrubs, so it’s not surprising to find a species that depends on grass for its survival.  I also see a lot of these Suzuki’s promalactis moths:

Suzuki's promalactis moth

Suzuki’s promalactis

This is a species that’s non-native in the US, but we don’t know much about it still.  It’s a very pretty moth though, if you can get a close enough look at its very small body!

Other common moths included the common tan wave (these have to fly in from some other location as I have none of its many host plants in my yard):

Common tan wave moth

the clemens grass tubeworm (larvae feed on red clover, which is abundant in my “lawn”):

Clemens grass tubeworm moth

and the green cutworm (feeds on grasses, among other things, as caterpillars):

Green cutworm moth

Green cutworm

None of these are particularly showy moths, but they are readily abundant in my yard and among the most common species I see.  You’ll notice that most of the common species I see feed on grasses as caterpillars.  Given the amount of grass in my yard, it probably explains why I see so very many of these species at my lights.

This year, I saw some things that I’ve added to my backyard moth list during past National Moth Weeks, but may have only seen once or twice altogether.  I love skiff moths:

Skiff moth

Skiff moth

They feed on a variety of trees and shrubs, though I’ve never seen one of their awesome, tank-like green caterpillars in my yard.  They could be coming in from somewhere else. This is the smoky tetanolita:

Smoky tetanolita moth

Smoky tetanolita

Their caterpillars feed on dead leaves.  And this is the variable reddish pyrausta:

Variable reddish pyrausta moth

Variable reddish pyrausta

I can’t find much information about this species, but it’s awfully pretty.  Some close relatives of this group of moths make up the majority of the aquatic moth species, so I wonder if these might not be taking advantage of plants in the soggy part of my yard.

I got to add several new moths to my list this year! I loved this crowned slug moth:

Crowned slug moth

Crowned slug moth

No idea why it was posed that way, but it did fly away at some point and was not in fact dead.  This species could be feeding on my maple trees and it has an awesome caterpillar that is covered in stinging hairs.  It’s fun that a nasty caterpillar turns into such a plush, cuddly moth!

Given that I live in North Carolina and there are still a relatively large number of tobacco farmers around, it’s not surprising to see a tobacco budworm moth:

Tobacco budworm moth

Tobacco budworm moth

No idea where this might have come from, but perhaps a neighbor’s garden where it can feed on a variety of crop plants (including tomatoes and squash) and ornamental flowers.  I loved the elegant, subtle patterns on its wings!

This species I haven’t IDed beyond wainscot moth in the genus Leucania:

Leucania sp. moth

Leucania sp.

There are 33 species in this genus in the US and almost all of them can be found in the eastern part of the US.   I was able to ID another similarly drab moth as a white speck moth:

White speck moth

White speck

These are also called armyworms, apparently based on their habit of eating plants down to the ground and then marching to another area to continue feeding.  They’re generalist feeders and can be pesty.

This was my favorite of the new additions this year:

Brown shaded gray moth

Brown shaded gray

It was bigger than it looks in the photo, and I loved the striped pattern on the wings.  No bright colors or anything, but still very pretty.

My best find, however, didn’t sit still long enough for me to get more than a glance at it before it flew off.  It was a five spotted hawkmoth, a giant, powerful beast of a moth.  I was taking a photo of something else when it slammed into the back of my head.  Scared me badly enough that I shrieked loudly (so embarrassing!) and then it fluttered around outside of the light for a good five minutes before it landed just long enough for me to see what it was.  I lifted my camera, but it flew right into my face, smacked my cheek with its wings a few times, and then flew away.  Wow, such a gorgeous moth! And so scary when you don’t expect to have something the size of a small bat silently fly into your head at a high speed in the middle of the night!

Of course, you don’t see only moths when you blacklight!  My next post will feature the “bycatch” from National Moth Week, the non-target insects that also came to my lights.  I got a bunch of the same old things I always get, but this year I also got a few exciting new things that I can’t wait to share!

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

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.

Friday 5: Light Sculptures and Other Fun Things

Well, I haven’t been able to keep up with the ol’ blog here very well this week, but I’m getting a post up today if it kills me!  It’s Friday (which is no longer the last day of my workweek, incidentally), so it’s time for me to share some cool insect related things from the past week.  First up, this guy:

Brandon Ballengee speaking at RTP180

Brandon Ballengee speaking at RTP180

That’s Brandon Ballengee, an artist and biologist who gave a lightning talk at an awesome event I attended last night that focused on the intersection of science and art.  Ballengee’s artwork includes what he calls “Love Motels for Insects,” awesome large UV light sculptures that are meant to attract insects to them.  He hopes that people will document the insects they see for citizen science and that the installations will educate the public about the importance of insects in the environment.  He also does some crazy cool research on interactions between dragonfly nymphs and frogs that I’m going to share with you all soon!  I am really thrilled I had a chance to talk to him about the work he does, citizen science, and large insects that prey on amphibians.  Plus, free pizza and beer at the event!  How can you go wrong?

On a completely unrelated note, we’ve got a series of 8 camera traps on the grounds of the field station where I work that are part of a study looking at urban mammal populations.  This is NOT what you want to see fall out of the camera when you open it up to switch out the memory card and batteries:

Ants from the camera trap

Ants from the camera trap

Ants!  I believe these are Crematogaster ants (will one of the ant people kindly confirm this for me?) and there were HUNDREDS of them packed inside what is essentially a little computer.  I got an odd sort of satisfaction out of dismantling the camera and brushing out the ants from the surprisingly numerous nooks and crannies inside.  Dunno why, but I love taking computers apart.  Which is why I was glad to get this last week…

Hard drive

Space, glorious space!

I knew my photo obsession would eventually lead to this, but the 750 insect photos I took last weekend wouldn’t fit on my computer’s hard drive – it was officially full.  $80 and a few days later and I’m now set to take 100,000+ more bug photos thanks to my new second hard drive.  Woo!  And even though they forced me to buy a new hard drive, the photos I took last weekend were totally worth having to upgrade my hard drive for.  I found Halloween pennants at Prairie Ridge for the first time, and I found a LOT of them.  They’re really beautiful, so I of course had to take a bunch of photos:

Halloween pennant female

Halloween pennant female

 

When they fly, they have this lovely fluttery appearance.  I tend to see them in the late afternoon too, when the sun is getting a little low in the west and the area of the prairie where they like to hang out is backlit, so their wings gleam  in the sun.  It’s pretty spectacular.  I’ve gone back over to that area every day since to watch them and they make me really happy.  They’re all females, and I’ve yet to see a male at either of the ponds.  Makes me wonder what the deal is – why so many gals but no guys? – but I’ll take any Halloween pennants that I can get.  They’re one of my favorites.

And finally, I took this photo on Sapelo Island in Georgia when I attended Bug Shot 2014 in May:

Lactura pupula

Lactura pupula

I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to figure out what it is since I got home from that trip.  Tonight, I spent another hour trying to get an ID before I finally gave in and posted it to the Moths of the Eastern United States group on Facebook.  I had an answer in less than a minute.  It’s Lactura pupula apparently.  Isn’t the internet grand?  Less than a minute to solve a problem I’ve spent a good 5-6 hours on!

Speaking of moths, National Moth Week starts tomorrow and runs through July 27th.  Consider attending a public moth night in your area (you can search for them on the NMW website), or just turn on your porch light have a moth party of one!  Snap a few photos and submit them to a citizen science project of some sort (I recommend iNaturalist, Discover Life, or Butterflies and Moths of North America) so scientists can use the data you collected through your photos.  Easy peasy!  I think it’s a great project and really fun, so I’ll likely be out every night looking for moths next week, starting with the big public event I do for my museum each year.  I don’t get a lot of sleep during moth week…

Have a great week everyone!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Rosy Maples

Well, it’s officially July!  I’ve got a few lovely days off this week (woo!) and I’ve already started to get excited about this year’s National Moth Week.  I love Moth Week!  I wrote about it for the blog at my museum last week and I am going on a local news morning show on Saturday to talk about the event I put on for it at the museum each year, so I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently.  Really ready to start seeing things like this again:

Rosy maple moth

Rosy maple moth

Rosy maple moths are pretty common around here, but they are spectacular and put a smile on my face every time I see one.  How can you resist  a fuzzy moth that’s the color of rainbow sherbet?

Are you all ready for National Moth Week?  It’s July 19-27 this year, so make plans to view some moths that week.  You never know what amazing things you’ll see!

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

Well-Nigh Wordless Wednesday: Mothing

At the recent moth night I hosted where I work, we were fortunate to see several of the big and beautiful tulip-tree silkmoths.  About an hour into the activity, a dozen or so people were gathered around a blacklight when one of the tulip-tree silkmoths arrived.  It took a few minutes for it to settle, but everyone got really excited.  Lots of cameras came out and everyone was sitting there with their cameras ready to snap a photo as soon as the moth stayed still long enough to get a decent photo.  When it finally did settle on a net held by one of the volunteers, everyone surged toward the moth at once!  Flashes flashed, there were hands and cameras everywhere, and by some miracle the moth wasn’t scared away by all the people suddenly crowded around it.  I happened to be standing back a little ways, so I snapped a photo of the crowd around the moth once the it thinned enough to see what was going on:

a group of people around a big moth

Excited by moths

It makes me happy to see so many people completely enthralled by a single moth!  That’s what I always hope to see at moth nights, but sometimes you get a crowd that just isn’t that into the experience.  These people…  Well, let’s just say they’re my kind of people.  :)

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