Photo by Jeanette Jaskula
There’s nature to be had for all sorts of sleeping habits. For the early risers, there is bird watching. For the late sleepers, there is mid-day butterfly watching. And for the night owls, there are moths.
Now, don’t shrug your shoulders at the vastly important and diverse family of moths. In Newton County alone we have more than 900 species of moths! And they aren’t all brown – there are yellow and pink rosy maple moths, orange ornate moths, green luna moths, and black and white eight-spotted foresters.
Their names can be very entertaining, too – the bride, the scribbler, four-lined chocolate, horrid Zale, abrupt brother, speared dagger, deceptive snout, the slowpoke, and the sweetheart. It certainly gives the impression that lepidopterists--those who study moths and butterflies--have a good sense of humor, doesn’t it?
Moths provide an important balance on the natural spectrum. They are a source of food for our bats and birds that feed on the wing, and also a pollinator of our plants.
Because moths are so prolific, as well as colorful and with zany names, they can be a great way to capture the interest of a budding naturalist. Just leaving your porch light on for a few hours in the evening can bring in moths. Ultraviolet lightbulbs are the best for attracting moth species that are attracted to light. You can also try smearing some rotted fruit mixed with beer on a tree trunk in the evening to view those moths which are enticed by the “interesting” smell.
Because moths tend to flutter about, a good way to identify them is to “capture” them on camera when they are briefly sitting still. You can take multiple photos of different moths all in one evening, and then identify them at your leisure in a place of comfort, rather than while being bombarded by hundreds of moths and flying insects zooming about your head as you attempt to study moths by your porchlight.
A good friend and I did just those very things recently. One species that came to the porchlight and was especially charming was the orange-tipped oakworm moth (Anisota senatoria). At 2.5 to 3 inches in length, this common, hairy, orange moth with one white dot on each forewing was fairly easy to identify.
Many moth guides will list the moth’s host plant, which is the plant(s) on which the caterpillar will exclusively feed before making a cocoon. The orange-tipped oakwork moth feeds primarily, as you may have guessed, on oak trees. Recognizing the moths in your area will help you to better understand the plant community of your surroundings, which can provide you with deeper insight into the web of life that surrounds you.
Excellent resources for moth identification are the book The Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America and the online databases butterfliesandmoths.org and bugguide.net.
Peterson’s Field Guide suggests that moths are an understudied group of insects and that there is still so much we still don’t know about moths. Peterson’s encourages us to take photos and submit them to online databases in an effort to build up our knowledge and understanding about the world of moths. In doing so, it’s likely that we’ll be building ourselves up as nature enthusiasts too!
So, this summer and early fall, flip on those porch lights for a little while and take notice of what comes to call. It can be a great way to wind down the shortening days and be sure that you get a bit of your nature time, especially for those of us who are a little less early bird and a little more night owl.
A little food for thought until it’s time to turn on those porch lights…if the early bird gets the worm, do you think the night owl gets the moth? Hmmmm.
The Nature Conservancy’s Kankakee Sands is an 8,300-acre prairie and savanna habitat in Northwest Indiana, open every day of the year for public enjoyment. For more information about Kankakee Sands, visit www.nature.org/KankakeeSands or call the office at 219-285-2184.