Wednesday, July 18, 2012

All or Mothing

Saturday night we held All or Mothing, a moth identification event at Bull Mills.  We gathered a group of butterfly wranglers and docents from the Bill Roston Butterfly House in preparation for the Butterfly Festival coming up on July 21.  The Mothing was organized by Chris and Deb Barnhart.  What started as a "bring your own food" turned into a fancy potluck after George Deatz volunteered to bring the burgers and brats.
Kevin and Steve bait a tree

With the hot and dry conditions of the last month the moths have been scarce around the porch so we went high tech under the guidance of Dr.  Barnhart.  Step one was to try sugaring for moths.  We painted trees with a sticky paste of rotten bananas, brown sugar, molasses and beer which had been fermenting for 4 days.  This is designed to attract moths that are drawn to tree sap.  It was a rousing success if your goal was to see a variety of ant species and the occasional bald faced hornet.  Moths- not so much.

Next Chris set up a mercury vapor lamp and white reflective sheets to draw moths into the field.  Insects see the world differently than we do and are drawn to black light and mercury vapor lamps which put out a different spectrum of light.  The lamp created an eerie greenish glow, perfect for a Zombie party or an insect festival.

Soldier bug on leaf hopper
Once it was totally dark, we gathered around to study and photograph moths which gathered on the sheets.  In addition to small moths there were a variety of other insects including a large click beetle, a Sexton or burying beetle, an owlfly, and some little leaf and planthoppers.  A soldier bug speared one of the leaf hoppers in front of us while other leafhoppers looked on.

To me a highlight was the diversity of flying creatures drawn to the light.  I wasn't the only one, as at least one bat circled overhead, holding a collecting event of its own.

While we didn't draw in any of the giant silk moths like those we are raising for the Butterfly House, the variety of sizes of moths was surprising.  In addition to the small moths, the sheet was soon speckled with tiny "gnats" gathering like dust specks.  Under Dr. Barnhart's macro lens these turned out to be tiny colorful moths.

Below you will see a Spiny Oak Slug moth that is only 2/5ths of an inch long.  Unseen with the naked eye, the macro lens shows a colorful speck at its hind foot.  Enlarged on the right you can see a tiny banded insect, a tenth of an inch long, possibly a Three-banded leafhopper, Erythroneura tricincta.

Spiny Oak Slug Moth- Click to enlarge
Three-banded leafhopper ?
We collected a number of species that have not been reported to BAMONA from Christian County before.  The insect pictures above by Dr. Chris Barnhart are only a smattering of those on his Google picture site.

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