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Mothapalooza 2016 a big success!

Last weekend saw the 4th annual iteration of Mothapalooza, an event that has developed a strong following amongst natural history enthusiasts in its few years of existence. Over 160 attendees were present, and we filled the entire Shawnee State Park lodge - all 50 rooms and 25 cabins for the entire weekend. Mothing ecotourism, imagine that.

This year we had people from eleven states, and Canada. The attendees who came the furthest hailed from Mission, Texas - over 1,200 miles as the moth flies (and not many can fly that far). A star-studded cast of luminaries of the entomological world were with us, including Doug Tallamy and some of his students. Seabrooke Leckie, coauthor of the 2012 Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America was in the house, and new for this year was the inimitable Sam Jaffe, founder of the Caterpillar Lab in Keene, New Hampshire. Steve Gettle, one of North America's leading natural history photographers, was also there. Entomologists of top caliber, such as Dave Horn, Dave McShaffrey, Diane Brooks, Mike Gilligan, Derek Hennen, Rachel Shoop, Greg Raterman, Linda Romine, and Candace Talbot provided expertise in the field.

Mothapalooza has much help from sponsors, including the Ohio Division of Wildlife, Cedar Bog Association, Midwest Native Plant Society, Cincinnati Museum, Flora-Quest, Wild Ones, National Wildlife Federation, Ohio Prairie Nursery, Crane Hollow Preserve, Ohio Lepidopterists, Monarch Pathways, Ohio Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, and National Moth Week.

The cast of volunteers is huge, and this lot includes many experts in the field of lepidoptera who generously donate their time. Logistics at this event are rather bizarre, with field trips departing on Friday and Saturday nights around 9:45 and often the last groups roll in around 2:30-3:00 am. Coordinating the complexities with precision is Mary Ann Barnett, our conference CEO. She puts in TONS of work to see that Mothapalooza sails smoothly. Following is the list of people who serve as invaluable volunteers and I hope I don't miss anyone!

Kyle Bailey, Kim Banks, Mary Ann Barnett, Chris Bedel, Craig Biegler, Maria Bon, Natalie Boydston, Deb Bradley, Diane Brooks, Kay Clark, Jim Davidson, Jen Dennison, Nate Donat, Judy & Francis Ganance, Ann Geise, Steve Gettle, Mike Gilligan, Derek Hennen, Scott Hogsten, Dave Horn & Roz Horn, John Howard, Sam Jaffe, Olivia Kittle, Amanda Kriner, Jason Larson and his crew, Seabrooke Leckie, Bethany Linert, Katie Lloyd, Martin McAllister, Rich McCarty, Jim McCormac, Kathy McDonald, Dave McShaffrey, Gina & Tom Patt, Greg Raterman, Linda Romine, Elisabeth Rothschild, Marcey Shafer, Colleen Sharkey, Rachel Shoop, MaLisa Spring, Candace Talbot, Doug Tallamy, Brad Von Blon, Robyn Wright-Strauss, and Mark Zloba.

I don't take all that many photos at Mothapalooza, being burdened with various duties, but I do manage to click off some documentary shots and a sampling of those follows...

The bread and butter of Mothapalooza is the mothing stations, which are placed in the wildlands of the sprawling Shawnee State Forest and adjacent Edge of Appalachia Preserve. By illuminating sheets with specialized lights, moths are drawn in, sometimes in large numbers. This is a station high on a Shawnee ridge known as Copperhead Lookout. Via a sophisticated transportation system of shuttles coordinated by Elisabeth Rothschild, participants are ferried between stations.

As nearly everyone who attends Mothapalooza has some sort of camera, there must be many thousands of moth photos taken over the weekend. Moths are wonderful subjects. This is a Tuliptree Beauty, Epimecis hortaria.

Blackberry Looper,  Chlorochlamys chloroleucaria, which is about as large as your thumbnail.

Cherry Scallop Shell, Hydria prunivorata, with its intricate pattern of wavy lines.

Head on with an Isabella Tiger Moth, Pyrrharctia isabella. It's caterpillar is far better known than the moth - the Woolly-bear.

The giant silkmoths always are crowd-pleasers, and this Regal Moth, Citheronia regalis, is among the largest of this crowd.

Luna Moths, Actias luna, are always popular. Sharp-eyed Dan Kenney found this one in the darkened forest while exploring near one of the mothing sheets. It is a female, as evidenced by the skinny antennae.

Another giant silkmoth, this one called the Tuliptree Silkmoth, Callosamia angulifera. It is a male, as easily told by its giant fernlike antennae.

Sphinx moths are always a highlight of the mothing sheets, and we get nice numbers and diversity of sphinxes. This one is a Laurel Sphinx, Sphinx kalmiae.

All moths are intricately beautiful upon close inspection, but some are exceptional. This is a Pink-bordered Yellow, Phytometra rhodarialis.

The caterpillar of this species, the Funerary Dagger Moth, Acronicta funeralis, is one of the Holy Grails, the Paddle Caterpillar. I've written about this cat HERE.

The Hebrew, Polygrammate hebraeicum. Moths such as this, with incredibly intricate patterning, make for fun macro portraits. You should be able to find a face or two hiding among the lines.

Always popular is the Zebra conchylodes, Conchylodes ovulalis.

I could and should do a specific post on this little beauty, the Sooty-winged Chalcoela, Chalcoela iphitalis. Its caterpillars parasitize the larvae of paper wasps!!

The Crocus Geometer, Xanthotype sospeta, is rather butterfly-like in appearance.

A fabulous bird-dropping mimic, and there are many rivals, is the Schlaeger's Fruitworm Moth, Antaeotricha schlaegeri. From afar, this mating pair resembled a fresh sparrow splat.

Looking like little more than an old piece of dead plant matter is the Coppery Orbexilum Moth, Hystrichophora loricana. It was a target of one of our daytime field trips. This species is very rare, only known from three states I believe, and only where its host plant, Scurf Pea, Orbexilum onobrychis, occurs.

Robberflies have little concern for rare species, and this Efferia aestuans robberfly has taken out and is eating the aforementioned Coppery Orbexilum Moth!

Caterpillars face their own perils. We found this Saddled Prominent, Heterocampa guttivitta, being attacked by Formica integra ants on another daytime field trip.

Everyone loved Sam Jaffe and were dazzled by his knowledge. I was fortunate to spend field time with him on the Thursday before the conference began, and was amazed at how he would find caterpillars from clues left by their feeding habits. He spotted this tiny early instar Red-spotted Purple caterpillar, Limenitis arthemis, a long ways off.

Sam also brought along some wonderful caterpillars to share with the group, including this Northern Thorn, Selenia alciphearia, which is an outstanding stick mimic.

Several of the bizarre Monkey Slug caterpillars turned up on field trips. It morphs into the Hag Moth, Phobetron pithecium.

Looking for caterpillars is nearly as much fun - if not more - than watching the moths at the sheets. This spectacular Io Moth caterpillar, Automeris io, was found by Dan Kenney and his blacklight flashlight near one of the sheets.

We're still sorting out details and dates for Mothapalooza '17, and I'll report on that when all is settled.

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