Friday, June 19, 2015

Mothapalooza III concludes, and it was grand!

A giant banner strung across the entryway to the Shawnee State Park lodge in southern Ohio proclaims the arrival of Mothapalooza. It may also have scared off the non-moth'ers, or at least made them stare in befuddled wonderment, pondering whether they should enter the building.

Mothapalooza is, insofar as we know, the largest and most complex event that celebrates the diversity and ornate complexity of the world of moths. A few of us hatched this scheme about four years ago, and we held Mothapalooza I in 2013. It, to our absolute amazement, drew about 140 attendees, plus a whole host of invited experts and guides. Mothapalooza II, held last year at Burr Oak State Park, was also a similar-sized sellout. Last weekend saw Mothapalooza back at Shawnee, and in total there were about 175 people.

I think moth'ers from about eleven states were present. I can think of these offhand: Ohio, New York, Indiana, Missouri, Texas (yes, Texas!), Kentucky, West Virginia, Delaware, Connecticut, Illinois, Pennsylvania and I'm sure I'm forgetting some. The common denominator was an interest - for many, a passion! - for the fluttery crowd. Mothapalooza's popularity is clear evidence of the interest in wildlife diversity, even forms of wildlife that are generally not thought of as drawing crowds. We, the organizers, are pleased by the local economic stimulus that such an event provides. We booked the entire resort for this - all rooms, all cabins, everything - and filled it. Many rooms were booked in nearby Portsmouth as well, to accommodate overflow. We rented lots of vehicles to shuttle participant's to field trip sites as well. We didn't attempt to track economic input from this weekend-long event but it certainly was into the tens of thousands of $$$.

The moth crowd packs the lodge's back patio for the Saturday evening dinner. The logistics of organizing such an affair so that it runs smoothly is a ton of work. The Mothapalooza team included about 40 volunteers who orchestrated everything from transportation to vendors to field trips to speakers to lots of other things. Acting, quite ably I might add, as Mothapalooza CEO for the third year was Mary Ann Barnett. What great work she does, and anyone who has been involved in a large complex conference knows the skill set that is necessary to bring something like this off without hitches.

I want to thank everyone who played any sort of role in helping. I hesitate to name names, as I'm certain to forget key people, as there are so many. But I will mention a few. Our Mothapalooza planning committee was Olivia Kittle, Judy Ganance, Elisabeth Rothschild, John Howard, Diane Brooks, Scott Hogsten. the aforementioned Mary Ann and myself. Most of us have been through the entire suite of Mothapaloozas and it's a great team. Thanks to everyone of them, and the crew of other volunteers who make Mothapalooza possible.

I especially wish to thank our sponsors, and foremost among them was the Ohio Division of Wildlife. The DOW is certainly one of the leading natural resources agencies in the country when it comes to supporting wildlife diversity in all of its varied forms. CLICK HERE to see proof of this. The other formal sponsors included the Cedar Bog Association, Crane Hollow Preserve, The Wild Ones, Ohio Lepidopterists, Midwest Native Plant Conference, National Wildlife Federation, Flora-Quest, National Moth Week, Ohio Prairie Nursery, and Monarch Pathways. The Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy offered much support as did the Cincinnati Museum. They jointly own and manage the Edge of Appalachia Preserve, which played a big part in our field trip sites.

Our Mothapalooza field trips are rather strange. Maybe not so much the Saturday daytime trips, one of which is shown above. The gentleman in the center, pointing with cap on, is none other than Dr. David Wagner, legendary entomologist at the University of Connecticut and author of the Caterpillars of Eastern North America. Dave's been to all of the Mothapaloozas and his presence greatly improves the event. This year, we had another piece of heavy artillery in the form of Dr. Douglas Tallamy of the University of Delaware. Doug is very well known in large part because of his ground-breaking book Bringing Nature Home. What a treat is was to have Dave and Doug as the evening keynote speakers.

The Shawnee State Forest and nearby Edge of Appalachia Preserve is a region lush in diversity of flora and fauna. We found lots of it. Eight or so trips radiated out through the region, visiting all manner of habitats and locating scores of interesting things. But these daytime trips did not commence until 10 am - quite tardy indeed for veteran explorers of nature! But we had a good excuse for sleeping in. Our nocturnal mothing forays did not begin until nearly 10 pm, and most people did not return from those until 2 or 3 am, with some fanatics staying out later than that!

Mothapalooza raises funds to give back to nature, usually to a group such as The Nature Conservancy. We want to support land acquisition, which is one of the highest and greatest things that anyone interested in the environment can help with. But this year, we deviated from that mission and instead gave $5000.00 to the newly established Dennis Profant Scholarship Fund, administered by Hocking College. Dennis was a topnotch biologist, a bona fide moth authority, and big supporter of Mothapalooza. His passing last April was tragic and far too soon. I wrote about Dennis RIGHT HERE.

We also funded three outstanding young luminaries in the field of natural history to attend Mothapalooza. Your narrator and Mary Ann Barnett bookend (from left) Candice Talbot from Ontario, Canada; Alexandra Forsythe from Indiana; and Jacob Gorneau from New York. All are brilliant, passionate, and totally committed to natural history, and we hope to have a long relationship with each. If only they could be cloned and spread about the world.

The primary field trips took place under cover of darkness. We are fortunate to have some of the greatest lepidopteran experts in the area working with us, and setting up lighted moth sheets far and wide. Mothing stations were scattered around Shawnee, and several were near the Eulett Center at the Edge of Appalachia Preserve.


Mid-June is a spectacular time for moth abundance and diversity and we hit it out of the park this weekend. Or I should say, the moths did. Incredible numbers came to most mothing stations; so many in fact that moths were landing on any available surface near the sphere of lights, including wires, trees, tripods, and people.
 

video
This short video, taken with the I-Phone's cool slo-mo video feature, offers a glimpse into the action around a moth-packed sheet. By sheer luck, a moth flies into the camera's field and across the video as I panned, creating a strange effect.
 
Becky Dennis poses with two of the giant silkmoths, a Luna on the left, and a Polyphemus on the right. The big silkmoths are always crowd-pleasers and we had lots of them this year, of a dozen or so species. Tons of sphinx moths as well, and scores of other exotic insects.
 
In my next post, I'll share some of the cool creatures that we ran across during Mothapalooza III.
 

StumbleUpon.com

No comments: