I've been on a bit of a moth jag, I know, but it's hard not to be after Mothapalooza. When I mention moths and the Mothapalooza conference (150 attendees!) to some acquaintances, I think they're probably wondering if we're all daft. I suppose I can understand a reaction like that - if one knows nothing about moths. The reality is that moths are seemingly endlessly diverse - at least 3,000 species in Ohio alone - and often strikingly beautiful and ornate. More importantly, moths, and especially their caterpillar larvae, make the natural world go 'round. Were it not for moths in all of their life cycle phases, life as we know it would cease.
Following is a briefly captioned slideshow of just a smattering of moths that I've photographed in the last week or so. All of the following come from Adams County, Ohio, where a few of us spent field time just prior to Mothapalooza.
Wagner is one of the leading entomologists in North America, and the top caterpillar expert in the country. CLICK HERE to see his book that brought caterpillars to the masses. He has now come to the Adams/Scioto County region of southern Ohio at least six times. That's because this area is an absolute treasure trove of lepidopteran diversity.
We were stunned by the scene that greeted us. The sheet in the photo, illuminated by a high-intensity mercury vapor bulb, probably had 2,000 moths on it or perched on nearby walls and flooring. The majority of moths were highly migratory armyworm moths - there must have been hundreds of thousands passing over that evening; I'm sure we pulled in only a small fraction of what was out there. But a huge diversity of other moth species were also drawn to the lights, and a few of those follow.
Clockwise, from top left: small-eyed sphinx, Paonias myops; laurel sphinx, Sphinx kalmiae; Pandorus sphinx, Eumorpha pandorus; Virginia creeper sphinx, Darapsa myron; elm sphinx, Ceratomia amyntor; bisected honey locust moth, Sphingicampa bisecta; waved sphinx, Ceratomia undulosa (I think); giant leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia; and io moth, Automeris io.
We pushed on this one's thorax to stimulate reflex bleeding. When harried by a predator, giant leopards can force drops of caustic yellow liquid from the sides of the thorax, which presumably is a deterrent to predators.
I had never before seen the moths in the wild, so it was a treat to find at least five of them on this day and obtain some nice images of free-flying individuals.
The latter two moths are great rarities, and probably should be listed as endangered in Ohio. Scurf pea, which is strongly associated with prairie habitats, is not nearly as common today as it would have been before people destroyed 99% of our original prairies. These moths, and undoubtedly other species, are likely relicts of a time when vast scurf pea colonies supported an abundant array of insect life.