Thursday, June 20, 2013

Mothapalooza: a recap

A group works a mothing sheet late at night, deep in the woods at Shawnee State Forest. Our recent Mothapalooza event saw about 150 attendees visit the lodge at Shawnee State Park, right in the thick of the aforementioned 65,000 acre forest. In my estimation, and that of nearly all of the people who have attended from what I have heard, the event was a success. We are currently mulling over the possibility of holding Mothapalooza II next June. All of us involved in Mothapalooza I would love to pull the trigger now and commit to next year, but conducting events like this is an enormous amount of work. So, we'll see...

Anyway, I wanted to share a few more photos from Mothapalooza, and give some richly deserved thanks to people and organizations that made it possible.

Looking a bit like a chunk of stratified bedrock, this Common Lytrosis, Lytrosis unitaria, was a regular visitor to the sheets. By the way, when I say "sheets", I mean specially deployed white sheets or drop cloths hung in strategic areas, and brightly lit with lights. Sheets illuminated in this manner are irresistible for many species of moths, who fly in and land on the sheets, affording us the opportunity to study and photograph them at close range.

Much smaller but far more colorful than the Common Lytrosis was this Painted Lichen Moth, Hypoprepia fucosa. Many moths, including lots of the tiny species, are veritable rainbows with wings - among our most ornately patterned flying animals. Setting out a sheet or sheets is a bit like fishing. You never know what might come in, and the cast of characters is constantly changing.

This was the first time that nearly everyone at Mothapalooza had laid eyes on this beautiful moth, at least as an adult. Some of us had seen the gorgeous caterpillars, though - CLICK HERE for those. David and Laura Hughes had collected some livestock (caterpillars) of this flower moth in the genus Schinia last year, and successfully reared a few of them to maturity. This moth is the result. They were kind enough to bring along the newly emerged animal so that the Mothapalooza crowd could see it, and we could make photos. Insofar as I know, this newly discovered species has not yet been formally described and named, although it soon will be.

Lots of caterpillars were found, and in some respects the larvae of moths and butterflies are more interesting than the adults. If we do put on Mothapalooza II, we'll probably add a talk or two about caterpillars, and perhaps some field trips that emphasize finding them. This is the caterpillar of the White-dotted Prominent moth, Nadata gibbosa. Someone threatened the caterpillar by giving it a gentle tap, which caused it to go into defense mode. When alarmed, this caterpillar instantly twists into a snakelike coil, and bares its mandibles, creating a rather scary face. This act might be adequate to ward off some of the smaller would-be predators.

Mothapalooza was fortunate to have the services of some of the top entomologists in the country, and these guys don't miss anything. Lepidopterists - moth and butterfly specialists - become proficient botanists, too, as knowing the host plants that caterpillars feed upon is a huge asset when seeking out larvae in the field. I was with Jaret Daniels doing some pre-conference scouting when he found this caterpillar, which is snacking on the emerging buds of Black Cohosh, Actaea racemosa. It is the larva of the Appalachian Blue butterfly, and the cat's coloration matches the plant nearly to perfection. If one did not know to check the cohosh, there would be little or no chance of finding this caterpillar.

The ant standing atop the caterpillar is essentially protecting it. Appalachian Blue caterpillars are nearly always tended by ants, who are adept at fending off insect predators such as parasitoid wasps. The ants. in turn, receive nutritious honeydew secretions from the caterpillars.

One of our group afield along a remote forest road, finding and showing people Appalachian Azure caterpillars. Not far from here is an incredible gravelly pullout with damp soil that attracts scores of butterflies. We had over 20 species at once at this place on our days field trips.

Of course, with 150 sets of eyes afield, and many of them highly trained eyes, lots of interesting organisms will come to light. This is an Eyed Click Beetle, Alaus oculatus. It looks fierce, but those giant eyes are a ruse. The fake eyespots create an intimidating look, though, and it might be enough to dissuade predators from messing with the beetle.

I have never seen so many cameras at an event, or at least such a high ratio of cameras to attendees. I think 95% of the people at Mothapalooza had a camera. Indeed, it is in part the revolution of inexpensive high-quality digital cameras that have created the boom in popularity of moths. These insects are highly photogenic, and shooting their images is part of the allure. Here, Derek Hennen photographs a Harvester butterfly, Feniseca tarquinius, which is really little more than a glorified moth (moths and butterflies are essentially the same thing). Derek also demonstrates a critical photo technique when going after bugs - get down on the level of your subject.

An added perk of holding Mothapalooza at Shawnee State Forest and the nearby Edge of Appalachia Preserve is the legion of native plants that are found in these areas. There are over 1,000 species of native plants, which is why the moth and butterfly diversity is so extraordinary. Many rare or uncommon plants occur, and our group was pleased to encounter this interesting lily in full flower, the Devil's-bit, Chamelirium luteum.

At least four species of milkweeds were at peak bloom, and none are more colorful than this Purple Milkweed, Asclepias purpurascens. A close look at the blossoms revealed scores of insects, including these tiny Buck's Plume Moths, Geina bucksi.

A special treat was this Golden-banded Skipper, Autochton cellus, which is never a common find. In total, Mothapaloozians probably encountered about 50 species of butterflies, maybe even more. Moths? I don't know but the species count was way beyond the butterflies. Mary Ann Barnett is rounding up moth data from the experts, and when we get a tally I'll report it.

Finally, huge thanks go to everyone who made Mothapalooza possible. Our primary sponsors were the Ohio Division of Wildlife, which provided critical resources; the Midwest Native Plant Society; the Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy; the Cincinnati Museum; and the Ohio Lepidopterists.

Numerous individuals were vital to the event's success, not the least of which was Mary Ann Barnett, who handled oversight of the entire conference, and was absolutely stellar in this role and handling the myriad details. John Howard, who I have mentioned many times on this blog, was also key to developing and executing Mothapalooza. Others who were invaluable as planners, field trip leaders, speakers, or in some other important way included: Chris Bedel (Cincinnati Museum), Mark Berman (The Bug Guy), Diane Brooks, Jaret Daniels (University of Florida), Jim Davidson, Eric Eaton (principal author of the Kaufman Guide to Insects of North America), Andrew Gibson, Mike Gilligan, Roger Grossenbacher, Cheryl Harner, Dave and DeeAnne Helm, Derek Hennen, Dave Horn (past president of the Ohio Lepidopterists and a keynote speaker), Tina Howard, David and Laura Hughes, Ned Keller, Randy Lakes, Seabrooke Leckie (co-author of the Peterson Field Guide to Moths, the book that sparked an enormous upsurge of interest in moths), Janet Martin, Martin McAllister, Rich McCarty (The Nature Conservancy), Kathy McDonald, Dave McShaffrey, Dennis Profant (co-author of several moth books), Greg Raterman, Larry Rosche, Linda Romine, Judy Semroc, Rachel Shoop, Cindy Steffen, David Wagner (University of Connecticut, extraordinary lepidopterist and a keynote speaker), Pete Whan (The Nature Conservancy), and Mark Zloba (Cincinnati Museum).

It's always risky business trying to acknowledge such a large cast, and I apologize profusely if I've omitted anyone. I also want to extends thanks to the excellent staff of the Shawnee Lodge for catering to us so well, and for their support of strange events such as Mothapalooza. Ditto that for Ohio State Parks.

Lastly, a huge thanks to all of the Mothapalooza attendees. It was among the coolest crowds I've ever seen at a natural history conference, and we had people from at least ten different states and one Canadian province (Ontario). Some of the more distant travelers hailed from Connecticut, Colorado, Missouri, and Nebraska. It was great to see so many people keenly interested in moths, and it was a pleasure to introduce so many new people to the fabulous biodiversity of southern Ohio.

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1 comment:

Auralee said...

Your photos are absolutely amazing. Thanks for sharing the awesomeness of moths!