Sunday, June 29, 2014


Promethea Moth
If you think birders are single minded, wait till you attend your first event with moth lovers! We just returned home from the 2nd Annual Mothapalooza, held at Burr Oak State Park in Southeastern Ohio, and sponsored by the Ohio Division of Wildlife. Jim McCormac works for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, specializing in non-game wildlife diversity issues, especially birds, and prior to that, he was a botanist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. We know Jim from several other Ohio nature outings, and anything he's involved in will be fantastic. We know next to nothing about moths, so I just wanted to broaden my horizons and get some cool photos, if possible. Mission accomplished!
Giant Leopard Moth
Butterflies are colorful and fun to follow among the bright summer flowers. Moths can sometimes be colorful, but often are not. Some are active during the daytime, but most are active at night. One speaker gave a great comparison between butterflies and moths, and says it's still hard to tell them apart sometimes. An estimated 160,000 species of moths have been cataloged worldwide, with new species added annually, even in Ohio. There are at least 20 times more moth species than butterfly species! The folks we met this weekend can rattle off the Latin and common names, followed by the taxonomy of most species we found. Very impressive! You think birds are tough to ID, given differences between male, female and juvenile? Try moths, then caterpillars with multiple "instars," or molting. If he finds a caterpillar he doesn't recognize, a moth-er will take it home to raise and see what it turns into as an adult. Disclaimer: if you actually know something about moth identification, and I goofed on any of these, please let me know. I have a whole bunch of "mystery moths" that I can't find at all in a book.
At the Sheet
Each evening, the keynote speakers told us more about studying moths. You too, they emphasized, can discover a brand new moth never seen before. It happens every day. Just set up a sheet with a bright light, maybe a black light, and the moths will come to you - along with lots of other night insects. Some moths are huge, colorful and easy to photograph. Others, however, are know as micromoths, due to their very, very small size. Always carry a small bright flashlight and magnifying glass.
Rosy Maple Moth
Some moth names reflect the activities of either the moth or caterpillar. This incredible pink and yellow Rosy Maple moth should be easily found by predators, you would think. But against red maple seeds, it blends right in. Jim McCormac gave some wonderful sessions on photographing moths. His big message was to avoid the "white sheet of death," whenever possible. If you are just going for a mug shot for identification purposes, yes, you'll have to photograph on the sheet.
Io Moth
But when everyone else has gotten their shot, put your finger in front of the bigger moths. They are surprisingly cooperative and will climb on your finger to be moved to a more natural location. . Many moths sit with their forewings closed, covering the hindwings. Tap their thorax (as a predator might do) and they will open up to flash those crazy false eyes like this Io! Oh, always spray yourself well before going out. I'm dying of chigger bites right now. And don't forget to put a spare camera battery in your pocket. Using the flash will wear the battery out quickly.
Moth camouflage
Camouflage is the best way to survive if you are a moth. How many moths do you see here?
Blinded Sphinx Moth
How about this guy?
Feathery Antennae
Of course, moths are renowned for their beautiful feathery antennae. Once you have the mug shot for identification purposes, Jim says, see if you can focus in on the head and antennae for some really dramatic photos.
Not so feathery antennae
Night feeding
One of our speakers specializes in moth behavior. If you just set up a light and sheet, she says, you miss much of the natural behaviors still to be discovered. So we followed her out into a field full of milkweed at midnight, flashlights in hand, so see what they were up to. Some moths will eat as adults, using a long proboscis to get nectar, while others don't eat at all as adults. Many plants are pollinated by moths as much as any other kind of pollinator. (I think this field was also full of the chiggers that started feeding on me!)
Painted Lichen Moth
Some moths look like beetles to me, such as this Lichen moth. Of course there were many other kinds of insects, including actual beetles, on the sheets, so sometimes the decision was - umm, not a moth! The littler moths, flies, beetles, and who knows what  might sit quietly on the sheet, or they might buzz around flying into your eyes and ears!
Tree Frog
One of our mothing sites was actually at the home of an organizer, where she has planted acres of natural plants. If you plant it, they will come! Copes Tree Frogs were out in force, croaking incredibly loud songs!

At home, we rarely go out at night, so we miss the other world that comes to life then. The motto on the official t-shirt says it all - "Welcome to the dark side!" At least three raccoons checked out the garbage can at the lodge while we waited for the shuttle to take us to the sheet sites.
Spider with egg sac
This mother spider is carrying all her children around. Except for the white egg sac, which resembles a golf ball, she was invisible against the tree bark.
Imperial Moth
The native plants in our yard are all in full bloom now. We may try setting up some lights some night to see what we can find at home. But, I think we'll stick to birding as our primary activity. We need our sleep!

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