If You Build It, Moths Will Come

If Kevin Costner can make a baseball field for ghosts to play on then I should be able to build something to attract moths to land on, right?  Well in the middle of a global pandemic, I did.  2020 marked the 9th National Moth Week, which is a citizen science project that allows people from all over the world to submit their photos and contribute to a growing database of moths. 

Did you know there are almost 11,000 species of moths in the United States alone?  Most people think that butterflies are out during the day and moths only come out at night, but that's not completely true.  There are some moths that are out feeding on flowers during the daytime.  Also, the brighter colored moths are sometimes thought to be butterflies due to their vivid colors and size.  A good rule of thumb, if you are wondering whether it is a moth or a butterfly, is to look at their antennae.  If they are clubbed at the end, you've got a butterfly; if they are feathered or threadlike, it's a moth.  Looking at the antennae of a moth can also help you to determine their sex.  If the moth has large feathered antennae, it's a male. If it has thin threadlike antennae, it's a female.  You can see the feather like texture on this male Rosy Maple moth (Dryocampa rubicunda)

When I was raising Polyphemus (Antheraea polyphemus) and Luna (Aticas luna) moths, that is how I knew how many females and males I had after they eclosed.    

Now, onto building the Field of Dreams: Moth Edition.  I looked into several different ways of attracting moths, but I didn't want anything too complicated or permanent.  I wanted to be able to set it up and move it to another location easily.  I went to my local hardware store and purchased three 1in x 10ft PVC pipes, two 1in PVC elbows and a white cotton sheet.  (If you don't already have one, you'll need a PVC cutter and a way to sew seams around the white sheet).  

I laid my twin size sheet out and then put my PVC across the edges.  I cut the top pipe so it fit across the top of the sheet.  I then took my sheet to the sewing machine and sewed just enough so the pipes would fit through the pockets I created along the two longest sides and the top.  

I had some black lights from an 80's themed birthday party my sister had for her sweet 16.  (They're not the most ideal for a long term setup, but they worked for the two or three days I had mine up.)  I had to lean my sheet apparatus on the corner of the house so I could be close to an outlet, but it still worked exactly how it was supposed to.  I'm working on changing my light set-up for this year.  

At around dusk I turned the black lights on and left it alone for an hour or two.  When I went out to check the first time, I had only a few moths and a lot of mosquitos.  At around midnight is when it really got full of different kinds of insects.  Moths, midges, mantids, even a huge hornet!  I put my headlamp on and spent the next few hours taking as many pictures as I could.  As you can imagine there were also a ton of frogs that showed up, it was like a Sizzler all you can eat buffet for them.  

I would definitely recommend using some insect repellant because the mosquitoes will eat you alive otherwise.  It doesn't affect the moths coming to the sheet.  I used my Samsung S10e phone for the majority of the photos I got, but I also tried my Samsung ST150F digital camera.  One of the biggest difficulties I encountered while taking my photos was getting the lighting right.  If it it too dark, you can't see the insect, obviously.  However on the flip side, if you have too much light it distorts the image.  Using the headlamp as a spotlight really helped in getting sharper images.  These are only a small handful of the many moths I saw during moth week 2020.  Hopefully I'll be able to encounter many more this July.  

Ailanthus Webworm Moth (Atteva aurea)

Have you ever seen a clump of white web strung over tree branches?  That's not a spider's web, that the caterpillar of the webworm moth making themselves comfy so they can eat and undergo their metamorphosis.  These nests are found most often in fruit bearing trees or maple trees.  They are considered pests by many people because of the damage they do to their trees. This brightly colored moth is also often confused for a beetle because of the way its wings lay when it isn't flying.    

Beloved Emarginea Moth (Emarginea percara)

The larvae of these beautiful moths are usually found eating mistletoe.  I thought that was a pretty cool fact, so I went looking for mistletoe in my yard and I found some hidden in the branches of my magnolia tree!  I had never noticed that before, so I am interested to see how many I will get this year during NMW.

Black-Bordered Lemon Moth (Marimatha nigrofimbria)

This moth has the most beautiful baby yellow coloring.  If you aren't looking closely, you could easily misidentify it as a three spotted lemon moth (Marimatha tripuncta).  The lemon moth has a black band on the fringe of the hindwings, but they also have a small third black dot on the forewing.  The caterpillars of these moths love crabgrass.  If you want to attract these beautiful moths, don't worry about the crabgrass in your yard.  

Common Grey Geometer Moth (Anavitrinella pampinaria)

This moth is really hard to see when it is up against trees.  It matches the bark of the white oaks (Quercus alba) on our property perfectly.  This is one of the reasons I love using the sheet to attract moths. The sheet allows me to see moths I would have otherwise had a hard time seeing.  The caterpillars of this species are more commonly known as inchworms.  They can pinch their bodies in half and then stretch out to move along different substrates.  

Hopefully this year I will be able to observe even more moths during National Moth Week.  I have more moths from 2020, but I will save them for later blog posts.

Be Kind Always,



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