Saturday, July 31, 2021

National Moth Week 2021 Review

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.

Tiger moth, Apantesis sp.

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.

A Brown-shaded Gray, Iridopsis defectaria

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.

Spotted Thyris Moth, Thyris maculata

The Orange Wing,Mellilla xanthometata, Lansing, Kansas

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.

Red-necked Peanutworm Moth,Stegasta bosqueella

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.

This Catalpa Sphinx, Ceratomia catalpae, was....

....unfortunately murdered by a Wheel Bug (Arilus cristatus)

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.

A concealer moth, Callima argenticinctella

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).

Pygmy leaf-mining moth, Stigmella sp, only 2 mm

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.

Kermes Scale Moth, Euclemensia bassettella

The White-speck, Mythimna unipuncta

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?

The Wretched Olethreutes,Olethreutes exoletum

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.

Yellow Nutsedge Moth, Diploschizia impigritella, 4 mm

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.

A male Chickweed Geometer, Haematopis grataria

Monday, July 19, 2021

The Bigger Picture

It occurs to me that my vision for this blog, and audience expectations, may be somewhat divergent, and neither as easy to meet and execute as I would like. The world is changing rapidly, and, if anything, I feel myself slowing down. Allow me to posit some ideas for how to solve all of this.

Entomology in context: a firefly on a farm in western Massachusetts

Most days, it is a struggle to do much of anything, least of all writing. I find a “what’s the use?” mentality creep in. There is no question, in my mind, that insect abundance and diversity has markedly declined in the last decade. In the field I have to work harder just to find species that were once common. Consequently, I do not have photos of many species I would like to write blog posts about. Even supposedly common household pests like spider beetles, Cigarette Beetle, and Drugstore Beetle, I have yet to see. I have encountered a grand total of one (1) Blacklegged (deer) Tick, and got horrible photos.

:My only respectable photo of a Blacklegged Tick

My first ask is whether those of you who are photographers would be willing to share your images with me to build stories around. Not only is it a matter of simply depicting a given species, but also illustrating its behavior. Looking at posts on social media, many of my friends and followers have captured some truly unique species and various aspects of their life histories. Do not be shy. Please contact me (see below) if you want to share your work through this blog.

Courtship of Cyrtopogon robber flies captured by my wife, Heidi

My e-mail often receives unsolicited offers to “guest post” on my blog, and I always turn those away. On occasion I have asked colleagues for permission to re-post something they have written in social media, a publication, or their own blog. My standards are pretty high, and this blog is a promotional device for no one. I am now re-thinking this a little.

Entomology has historically been inextricably entangled with colonialism, sexism, and racism. What we know of tropical species has been a product of white explorers, missionaries, and others who exploited indigenous peoples without giving fair credit and compensation. The specimens collected were deposited almost exclusively in museums in Europe, and later in the U.S. and Canada. Meanwhile, female entomologists, and non-Caucasian entomologists, have suffered for proper recognition, funding, and academic promotions.

This blog can be a vehicle for changing some of this. I hereby extend an invitation to women, indigenous persons, and all other non-white persons in entomology, to propose one or more guest posts for the Bug Eric blog. You need not be employed as an entomologist. You can be an enthusiastic amateur, a general naturalist, or someone who simply witnessed or recorded some arthropod-related experience that stuck with you. Maybe it is your child who is crazy about “bugs.” Let me hear about it. I still reserve the right of refusal, but I assure you I am serious about broadcasting voices previously muted by establishment authority figures. Op-ed pieces are also welcome.

Myself with one of my first mentors, Jim Anderson, circa 1971

Lastly, this blog is in dire need of solution-oriented content. How do we avert an “insect apocalypse?” How do we overcome the inertia of the lawnscape to craft a quilted landscape of native or near-native habitat on our own properties? What approaches are working already? Why are they working (in the political or economic sense)? Also, why does it seem that every positive suggestion eventually meets with stiff resistance or is undermined in some way? Bee condos, bee blocks, and insect hotels are suddenly a no-no, for example. How does this happen? How do we separate true experts from corporate hacks and trolls?

Bee condos are supplemental housing or disease-and-parasite-riddled death traps depending on who you ask

It is hard for me to believe that this blog began in over a decade ago. I simply and selfishly wanted to share my experiences and knowledge with no purpose other than entertainment and validation. Now it is a true community of “followers” who deserve something more, including a voice in the future direction of Bug Eric. Entomology encompasses so much, from science to art, that there is no shortage of material. Indeed, the greatest challenge may be that of focus, like seeing a single mayfly in the swarm.

Contact: bugeric247ATgmailDOTcom.

Friday, July 2, 2021

The Entomologist on the Internet

Interviewing with Alie Ward on her wildly popular Ologies podcast got me thinking about the internet from the perspective of entomologists, both professional and aspiring amateur. You simply cannot take anything too seriously. You must laugh at yourself when you do. Here are some broad categories of fun and frustration for your entertainment.


One enduring complaint of professional entomologists is memes. They are nearly always an oversimplification, if not outright misinformation, intended to be the last word on the subject. Memes are sometimes insulting, insinuating that anyone holding a different view is illiterate or worthy only of ridicule. Mostly, memes reveal more about their creator or re-tweeter than they do about the audience, let alone the subject. Those memes that are obviously humorous are the ones I like best. I have even created a few of my own.

(Object) for Scale

One of my favorite scenarios is when someone who wants a particularly large insect or arachnid identified places some object next to it “for scale.” The object is frequently monetary currency, a coin for smaller creatures, and some paper denomination for larger organisms. I cannot resist retorts like “This just in, spiders begging for money, film at eleven,” or “Please do not give them money, they will only use it to buy pheromones.”

Other objects include pocket knives, car keys or fobs, disposable cigarette lighters….Terrific. The insect isn’t scary enough, we have to give it a weapon, too? “That one looks like it is going to kill you with fire!” “What you have there is a nymph, it’s not old enough to drive!” I try to provide legitimate identifications for people making those requests, but I enjoy having a little fun, too.

Fishfly, ©

At least this giant water bug got some lip balm out of the deal (©
Wasted Appreciation?

A truly agonizing situation is when some random individual posts images of an insect or arachnid I have been dying to see myself and never found. Why? Why?! (grimaces skyward, shakes fists in air). In fairness, the person posting had to have some degree of curiosity to bother photographing the thing, but too often I still convince myself that true appreciation of the animal has been wasted on this dude at his barbecue.Someday I’ll see a living Rainbow Scarab beetle, or a California Horntail wasp. Right?

My only glimpse so far of a Cottonwood Borer, Plectrodera scalator, in Salina, Kansas