A Summer of Mothing

by Caitlyn Robert
Environmental Educator

A mothing tent set -up

Once the sun is set, a whole new world awakens. While owls are hooting, thousands of insects start buzzing. Needing only a light and a sheet, “mothing” is the amazing experience of observing the hundreds of moths and other insects you can attract right in your backyard. No prior experience is needed to enjoy these nocturnal creatures. This summer is a perfect time to learn a new way to experience nature.

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to attend the late night Annual Moth Ball in Athol, Massachusetts. For more than twelve years, the Athol Bird and Nature Club has hosted this incredible mothing event at the home of the club’s president Dave Small and his wife Shelley. It brings together all types of naturalists, from biology students learning more about the world of insects, to those who have been identifying moths for more than 50 years, to young children seeing their very first Luna Moth. Everyone can marvel at the amazing shapes and colors of our New England moths.

adult fishfly

In their backyard, Dave and Shelley set up a mothing tent on the edge of the woods. The arrangement was a well organized but simple structure with a strung up sheet, a couple UV lights and a mercury vapor bulb. These bulbs are effective at attracting night time fliers, but you can be quite successful with just your porch light.

The evening started at 9:00pm, and as many folks filtered in and out for the following hours, so did the moths. The night started slowly; among the tiny micromoths we successfully attracted other types of insects. Right from the start, there were many caddisflies, and an impressive fishfly. After 2-3 years living as aquatic larvae, fishfly emerge as adults to use their new wings to find mates and are very attracted to lights.

Rosy Maple Moth

The Rosy Maple Moths arrived early on. Common in New England, their bright yellow and pink markings make them a favorite. The thousands of scales that cover the wings of moths and butterflies give them their color which also inspires their scientific name: Lepidoptera or “scale wing”.

Adult Luna Moth
Male Luna Moth, showing “feathery” antennae

The Luna Moths said hello soon after, flying confusedly and colliding into many people, even landing and resting for half an hour on someone’s pant leg or back. As seen on this individual, most male moths have large feathery antennae to detect the pheromones of females.

With their chunky bodies and interesting wings, sphinx moths are a definite highlight. This Virginia Creeper Sphinx stayed front and center for most of the night. Sphinx moths get their name from their defensive posture as caterpillars; they raise their thorax and tilt their heads resembling a sphinx statue.

Virginia Creeper Sphinx Moth

Globally, scientists have identified 150 000 moth species, almost ten times more than butterflies. 2200 species of moths are found in Vermont and more are identified each year. One can never stop marvelling on the different sizes and shapes and colors these creatures can be.

If you are curious about how you can start doing this at home, visit our mothing station during our annual Incredible Insect Festival on Saturday, July 6th, 2019 and come join us for a late night exploring the world of moths and other night time fliers.

At VINS this July, you can attend our new late-night Mothing Adventures. The first event will be on the night of July 6th, after a day of exploring the Incredible Insect Festival. Folks of all ages are invited to join us from 9pm-11pm.

Our second event will be during National Moth Week, a global citizen science project that is identifying moths around the world to learn more about their distribution and natural history. Join us July 20th for another opportunity to observe these special creatures!

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