This year, National Moth Week ran from Saturday, July 17 to Sunday, July 25. It was our first moth week spent in eastern Kansas, at our own home, and my in-laws’ home, in Leavenworth.
A couple of things conspired against us, unfortunately. The moon was waxing, and full by July 23. Moths are most attracted to lights during a new moon (no moon). Secondly, the owner of the neighboring property had allowed his lot to become overgrown with many native and weedy plants. He chose the first day of moth week to mow and/or remove all of that vegetation, leaving only hedges of some exotic evergreen. Thanks! Both of these circumstances reduced our productivity. We blacklighted twice in the front yard, once in the back yard, and once two miles away at my spouse’s parents’ home.
Despite the setbacks, we still managed a fair diversity of species. Most of them remain unidentified in the i-Naturalist website projects for National Moth Week because there are only so many moth specialists, and not every specimen can be determined to species, or even genus, from mere images alone. So far, I have approximately sixty-eight (68) taxa, including some moths I found in daylight hours.
We started blacklighting in our yard on a fairly regular basis in late May. The results have been reasonably consistent in that the insects attracted are overwhelmingly caddisflies, rove beetles, and leafhoppers. Click beetles, ground beetles, water scavenger beetles, scarab beetles, ichneumon wasps, and longhorned beetles are also prominent.
When it comes to moths, there have been few large, spectacular moths. We do not run our lights all night long, though, and some of the giant moths apparently fly well after midnight. Most of our sessions are concluded by about 12:30 AM, if not earlier. We have had no giant silkmoths (family Saturniidae), and only one sphingid, a Walnut Sphinx (Amorpha juglandis), weeks before moth week.
I have conditioned myself to closely examine the “little stuff,” five or six millimeters and under, to find the greatest diversity. Many tiny moths are also among the most beautiful. Sometimes I cannot tell if the insect is a microcaddisfly (family Hydroptilidae), a miniscule leafhopper (family Cicadellidae), or a tiny moth until I zoom in with my camera. Even then it can be a difficult exercise.
In the process of editing photos, I frequently find additional species that I did not notice “live” at the sheet. Opening an image file can be like opening a Christmas present or a box of chocolates (“….you never know what you’re gonna get,” to quote Forrest Gump).
We also made a feeble attempt at “sugaring,” mixing beer with overripe bananas and aging it a couple of days. That effort drew exactly zero moths. I think I saw a fly or two during the day. Maybe. We might try again at a later date, as underwing moths have only recently started flying.
It will be interesting to track global observations for National Moth Week over the years, to see what changes and what remains constant. Is climate change pushing some species farther north as the planet warms? Are some species declining because they cannot adapt? Are some locations disappearing to the plow or urban sprawl? How do we mitigate these destructive impacts?
It is also ironic, and perhaps hypocritical, that we preach an end to light pollution while deploying lights to attract moths. Entomologists and citizen scientists should probably settle on a message that reflects the need to gather data periodically, while dimming unnecessary lighting in general.
If you have not yet participated in a National Moth Week, please consider doing so. That might mean attending a public event (or initiating one), or simply turning on your porch light and recording what comes to visit. Meanwhile, enjoy seeking moths, and their caterpillars, pupae and cocoons, all year long. Visit the National Moth Week website for more. Visit iNaturalist for all of my National Moth Week observations.