Monday, July 15, 2019

Mothapalooza 2019

The sixth Mothapalooza is in the books and it was a smashing good time! Thanks to all of the organizers and volunteers, of which there are too many to name. I'll single one out: Mary Ann Barnett, who acts as conference CEO and is the glue that holds the whole complicated affair together.

Mothapalooza was hatched in an Adams County, Ohio roadside ditch some years ago, where a few of us saw a really cool moth (can't even remember what it was). I remarked something to the effect of "if we could show this to everyone, they'd all become moth fans". Now we have Mothapalooza as a vehicle to help do just that.

The first four conferences were annual, but the rigors of orchestrating such a large complex affair with a completely volunteer crew took its toll and we've backed off to an every other year strategy. As all but one Mothapaloozas have been, this year's event was based at Shawnee State Park and its lodge in the thick of the 65,000 acre Shawnee State Forest. Native plant diversity is staggering, and thus so is moth diversity. Couldn't be a better place to host this affair, at least in this neck of the woods.

To our initial great surprise, all Mothapaloozas have filled to a capacity crowd and quite rapidly after the opening of registration. This year, counting everyone involved, we had just north of 200 participants representing 20 states and one other country, Canada. As an important aside, Mothapalooza has generated several hundred thousand dollars in gross revenue for our hosting venues and in ancillary local expenditures. Mothing ecotourism writ large.

Field trips are strange, with 10 pm departures and many participants not returning to the lodge until 3 or 4 am. Mothing sheets are scattered throughout the hinterlands of the vast dark forest, with one or two in the biological riches of adjacent Adams County. We are fortunate to be able to attract the best of the best in terms of entomological experts and biologists, and the opportunities for learning are vast. We're recalibrating how we approach these nocturnal forays in the future, and think some excellent improvements will be coming that will make it even easier for everyone, and result in yet more moths (and caterpillars!).

The next Mothapalooza will take place in 2021, dates to be decided. We'll have it sorted out soon, and the venue should once again be at Shawnee.

For now, here's a few photos from Mothapalooza 2019. I've got scads, and am nowhere near getting through all of them, so I may post additional stuff later.

Samantha Marcone of Sam Jaffe's Caterpillar Lab provides scale to an enormous female black witch, Ascalapha odorata. This tropical stray to these latitudes turned up last Friday over the front door of Don Tumblin's daughter's house in Columbus. Her husband Matt spotted it, Lacey texted Don, who was at Mothapalooza, and Lacey chauffeured the giant moth down to Mothapalooza the next day. Thus, a few hundred people got their first look at this fantastic moth. Such a cool entanglement of circumstances, and better yet the moth dropped 75 eggs in its cage on the way down. Sam has them and will attempt to farm a crop of black witches and document the complete life cycle. The moth was later released to venture wherever it may.

We have diurnal field trips as well (not starting too early!), and hot weather and sunny skies produced scads of butterflies this year. Red-spotted purples, Limenitis arthemis, were quite common and wowed everyone with their extraordinary showiness.

A botanical treat was a huge sprawling mass of leather-flower, Clematis viorna. Scads of the interesting flowers adorned the vines, and this site turned out to be a major biological hotspot. Indeed, our Saturday field trip began here and we never made it anywhere else. The stroll along this sparsely traveled lane produced blizzards of interesting STUFF, from this plant to zebra swallowtail caterpillars to gnat-ogres to yellow-billed cuckoo and much more.

A saddleback caterpillar moth, Acharea stimulea, stares menacingly at the photographer. Its larval form is stunning, looking like a little tubular pony draped with a Day-Glo green horse blanket. The moth is incredibly spider-like from certain angles. This one was one of many that appeared at the moth sheets.

A white flannel moth, Norape ovina, seemingly having a bad hair day. Moths are a photographer's dream, and the subjects warrant attention from all angles.

A quite interesting little fellow, this one. It is a tiny moth in the genus Calioptilia, and perhaps part of a complex in which there are species awaiting description. No one could pin a name to this one. It's only about 5-6mm in length. Calioptilia (cal-ee-op-tee-lee-ah) moths are sometimes called "push-up moths". 

More to follow...

1 comment:

Zuni, Chickadee Home Nest said...

Hi, Jim. Just read you 8/4/19 Mothaalalooza column in the Columbus Dispatch and the finding of a black witch. Coincidentally, on 8/2 we found a huge, beautiful moth on our patio table. It has similar coloring to the black witch. I'd like to share a picture with you.

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