Night Life: Moths

September 8, 2011

We’ve all done it as kids. Gone out after dark and collected fireflies in a jar or watched in scared fascination as a bat picked off moths drawn to their deaths by a street light. Those of us that lived in the sticks also knew the sound of coyotes howling and the deafening clicking of thousands of katydids. The night life in and around our yards has always been an interest to most children if for no other reason than to scare ourselves by pretending that the noises were made by something far more terrifying than the right culprit. I guess I never grew out of that phase of my life.

A Waved Sphinx Moth in the hand is worth 50 in the woods.
A Waved Sphinx Moth in the hand is worth 50 in the woods.

I love to run around in the dark with a flash light seeking the source of noises or to sit next to a fire and just watch for life. One step on the path to nirvana as far as I’m concerned. Over the past decade I’ve gotten a little more interested in the “things” that are actually in the night that surrounds me. So, I have gotten a small group of friends to lend me a hand and start to catalog the animals and insects that share our nursery with us and are usually unseen. We have started to live trap for mammals and night light for insects. The latter of those two is what I’m going to talk about today.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my friend George about putting up a bright light and seeing what shows up. George is an entomologist and gets giddy every time you have a bug to show him. We talked about the insects. Who’d have guessed that. The more we talked about them though the more curious we both got about what was actually here because we don’t spray pesticides here. So we set a date for a night lighting.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with the practice of back-lighting/black lighting, it is just like it sounds. You take a VERY bright light or the black light that you’ve shelved since college and place it behind a big white sheet or other like surface and turn them on. The effect is that a beacon is shown into the night and that any bug within sight of it will be drawn in. In some case, George tells me, as far as half a mile is not unheard of. These lights are then left up from dusk ‘til the wee hours of the morning, because different insects come out at different times based on conditions, site, time of year and their own needs. Much like people. I have done this kind of thing before but never here at the farm and we were a little excited at the prospect of seeing some of the winged beauties I find the caterpillars for all the time.

Really Big Toe Biter
Really Big Toe Biter

When the date arrived we put a cooler of . . .ah, assorted juices and other flavored beverages together and set up our lights, sheets and other equipment for the nights activities. About a half hour after night fall the visitations started. I will admit that we were keyed in on moths and other like insects, so did not collect the hundreds of beetles and other species that showed up. Trust me when I say this the activity was impressive. We had several species of sphinx moths, some very colorful little buggers, a couple of curiously shaped moths (one looked like a plane) and some truly big bugs.

Over the course of several hours we noted over 100 species of creepy-crawlies, of which we got 40 species of moth. Not a bad haul for a very causal survey. The species list of the moths that we got are listed below; sorry, you’ll have to google for pictures because we had only a cell phone camera. We were encouraged  enough by the results that we are planning to do a more thorough survey for this fall and then again for late next spring and summer. We’ve been bitten by the bug so to speak.

Black lighting for moths is a activity that is one of those things that can leave a lasting impression on those who take part in it. You’ll see things you rarely find in daylight, which can give you a bigger picture of the way you share your yard/farm/vacant lot with a larger world. It is also a great way to get kids to check nature out. They get to stay up late, see “ugly bugs” and tell their friends that they got to touch them. Gross! Plus all you need to do this is have a bright flash light, a white sheet and a curious nature. Your yard might surprise you with a odd beauty you may never have guessed would be there.

Moth List

  • Smerinthus jamaicensis (Twin-spotted Sphinx)
  • Leuconycta diphteroides (Green Leuconycta Moth)
  • Tarachidia erastrioides (Small Bird-dropping Moth)
  • Hypoprepia fucosa (Painted Lichen Moth)
  • Isia (Pyrrharctia) Isabella (Banded Woollybear)
  • Agrotis ipsilon (Ipsilon Dart Moth)
  • Ogdoconta cinereola (Common Pinkband Moth)
  • Rivula propinqualis (Yellow Snout-moth)
  • Allagrapha aerea (Copper Looper Moth)
  • Bomolocha abalienalis (White-lined Hypena)
  • Lithacodia carneola (Pink-Barred Lithacodia)
  • Desmia funeralis (Grape Leaffolder)
  • Spragueia leo (Common Spragueia)
  • Leucania linita (Leucania linita)
  • Xanthotype urticaria (False Crocus Geometer)
  • Halysidota tessellaris (Banded Tussock Moth)
  • Idia lubricalis (Glossy Black Idia Moth)
  • Bomolocha madefactalis (Gray-eyed Bomolocha)
  • Schinia thoreaui (Thoreau's Flower Moth)
  • Catocala grynea (Woody Underwing)
  • Plathypena scabra (Green Cloverworm Moth)
  • Palpita magniferalis (Splendid Palpita Snout Moth)
  • Lithacodia muscosula (Large Mossy Lithacodia)
  • Elaphria unio (Pearly Wood-nymph)
  • Thioptera nigrofimbria (Black-bordered Lemon Moth)
  • Phalaenostola larentioides (Black-banded Owlet Moth)
  • Sitochroa palealis (Sitochroa palealis) introduced from Europe
  • Zanclognatha pedipilalis (Grayish Zanclognatha)
  • Xanthorhoe ferrugata (Dark-barred Twin-spot)
  • Ceratomia undulosa (Waved Sphinx)
  • Homophoberia apicosa (Black Wedge-spot Moth)
  • Pseudaletia unipuncta (Armyworm Moth)
  • Trichoplusia ni (Cabbage Looper)
  • Palthis angulalis (Dark-spotted Palthis)
  • Spodoptera ornithogalli (Yellowstriped Armyworm)
  • Ochropleura implecta (Flame-shouldered Dart Moth)
  • Diacme elealis (Paler Diacme Moth)
  • Parapoynx badiusalis (Chestnut-marked Pondweed Moth)
  • Pyrausta (Cindaphia) bicoloralis (Pyrausta (Cindaphia) bicoloralis)
  • Apamea amputatrix (Yellow-Headed Cutworm)