I made the shot above last year, but last Tuesday night looked much the same except far warmer and muggier. A small team of avid moth'ers descended upon this place to sample moths: Josh Dyer (Director of Crawford Park District), Kyle Bailey of the Richland County Park District, Chelsea and Wade Gottfried, and your narrator. Many thanks to Josh for allowing us in after dark. To our knowledge, no one had surveyed this amazing natural area for moths. Based on what we found, I hope we can do more mothing here. I'm sure many other notable finds await. We set up two sheets, illuminated by ultraviolet lights, a mercury vapor light, and another bright light. It worked well, and many fine specimens came to our setups between dusk and 2:45 am, when we finally packed it in.
Anyone who pays attention to moths has seen the behavior above. While walking through almost any sort of habitat, one will flush moths which promptly fly to a plant and scurry underneath a leaf. If you sneak in to try for a look, the moth often flushes again well before you get close. Obtaining a satisfactory look can be an exercise in frustration.
Approaching most animals is far easier at night. For whatever reasons, they are often far less inclined to extreme wariness. The little moth above allowed me to stick my camera right under his leaf and make some flash-assisted images. But we up our odds of seeing moths big time with the use of illuminated sheets. Like a moth to a flame, as the saying goes. Moth-lighting does not kill the quarry either, and at the end of the session all insects are brushed from the sheets and sent back into the dark.
NOTE: The photo above and many of the others were made on the white sheet, with the moth in situ and unmolested. I personally am not a huge fan of shooting moths on white sheets but in many cases it is necessary. My mothing compadres and I have learned over the years that the larger and fuzzier the moth, the easier it is to move it. A Luna, for instance, is easily coaxed onto a leaf, twig, or your finger and relocated to a more natural situation for photos. The smaller and smoother (less hairy) the moth, the harder it is to work with. Such animals will usually flutter off as soon as they are approached closely. This Ruby Tiger Moth would seem, by that theory, to be fairly docile but I made a few attempts to move it and it resisted. But it looks good on the sheet, thinks I.
And a note on sheets, since we sometimes have to shoot the little beasts on them. Splurge and get a really good high thread count sheet. I think mine is a 700 thread count or something like that. To get a proper exposure of a dark moth on a light backdrop, one must overexpose quite a bit. I was probably two stops to the plus side on my flash on many of these images, and up to three stops on the darkest subjects. But the combo of overexposure and high thread count sheet creates a creamy white background. A low thread count sheet will create a rougher look. It's also important to launder moth sheets before each use to keep them clean as possible.
micro moths". The majority of attention goes to large silkmoths and other easily observed species. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of visitors are usually the micros that are Lilliputian indeed. Many would be measured in millimeters and often don't even look like moths from any distance - more like tiny gnats or caddisflies or any of the other myriad non-moth tiny insects that invariably flock to moth sheets.
This incredible crested big-eyed beast probably tapes out at 14mm. It is a Striped Oak Webworm Moth, Pococera expandens. You'd never know how cool it is without a really close look.