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Another Great “Moths at Night” Event at Prairie Ridge

July 27, 2019

It’s National Moth Week! This international, week-long celebration of moths and other nighttime insects gets people outside to appreciate an often overlooked part of our natural world. The Museum has participated in National Moth Week every year since its beginning in 2012, hosting a big public moth night each year at Prairie Ridge – and 2019 was our best year yet!

How do we celebrate National Moth Week? By taking advantage of moth biology and behaviors! Our Moths at Night event is centered around highly attractive light stations. Everyone knows that moths come to lights, and we put up special kinds of lights that they like the best. Then we shine the lights onto white sheets. The lights attract the insects and the sheets give the insects something to hold on to when they come to the lights. All our light stations had this same basic setup, but we had a lot of different styles of lights this year.

Most of our light stations are ultraviolet (UV or blacklight) lights of some sort:

CFL UV light station

These lights emit UV light that moths and other insects love! We tried three different types of blacklights this year: compact fluorescent UV bulbs, UV floodlights, and a battery powered LED blacklight strip light. The latter was new this year and we were really pleased with it! We plugged it into a phone charger battery and it ran easily through the entire program – no electrical outlets/generator or extension cords required!

We also used a mercury vapor light. These emit a wide range of light wavelengths – both visible and UV – so that they are very attractive to a wide range of species. Mercury vapor lights are very popular with entomologists because they’re a really big bang for your buck in terms of attracting night insects. Our mercury vapor light almost always has the greatest variety and abundance of insects, so it’s always a good bet for bring in amazing insects.

We saw some great moths this year! This Blind-eyed Sphinx was the highlight of the night for a lot of people:

Blind-eyed Sphinx Moth

It arrived early for a large moth, shortly after dark, and it hung around through the whole event, so everyone was able to see it. They have a really beautiful pink underwing with a large eyespot that’s hidden when they keep their wings closed like in the photo.

These moths were very common, as always:

Elegant Grass Veneer

Elegant Grass Veneers live in grassy areas, like the lawn surrounding our classroom, so it was no surprise to see a large number of them.

This Brown-shaded Gray illustrates why it’s always worth taking a second look at the drab moths:

Brown-shaded Gray Moth

How beautiful is this moth? It’s not obvious at all unless you get up close and really look, but then you get to see all the lovely swirls and patches of color.

The lights were the focus of the event, but we had other things to keep people engaged. The North Carolina Entomological Society brought several live insects, some pinned specimens, and a craft and most people at the event asked them insect questions. Their table was a big hit! We also had an assortment of moth crafts and Moth Bingo. People who got a bingo by seeing at least 5 of the species on their bingo card won a moth button to take home at the end of the night.

We don’t just look at moths at Moths at Night – we participate in science too! The National Moth Week organizers partnered with iNaturalist this year to gather data on moth sightings all week, so we encouraged people to photograph the moths they saw and share them through iNaturalist. We also offered a variety of resources that people could use to identify the moths they saw, including some they could take home to continue their mothing adventures on their own.

The moths were the star of the event, but there were a lot of other insect species attracted to the lights. However, the most popular non-moth animals had to have been the Southern Flying Squirrels! Apologies for the bad photo, but it’s hard to photograph a small, moving mammal in the dark:

Southern Flying Squirrels

Two squirrels took advantage of the seed in the bird feeder near the mercury vapor light station, so many people were able to get a good look – and sometimes a first ever look – at these adorable little squirrels while they gorged themselves on seed. They eventually glided off into the woods, but we were so happy they stopped by!

Overall, we had nearly 100 people join us to enjoy moths, other insects, crafts, live insect displays, and flying squirrels. Another successful, fun National Moth Week event! If you missed it, you’ll have to wait to join us next year, but National Moth Week runs through tomorrow, Sunday, July 28, so you still have a few nights to celebrate on your own. We’d love to hear about what you see, so comment below if you find any moths!

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