Monday, October 24, 2011

If You Light It They Will Come

I am referring to the lighting of a white sheet with a black light in my attempt to attract some of the night-flying moths. Although I have thoroughly enjoyed observing and photographing day-flying moths, I'm absolutely fascinated by what I've seen at night! The white sheet and black light work like a charm to beckon to all moths in the area to "come out, come out wherever you are!

So, what influences a moth to fly toward a light? Well, not only are moths positively amazing, they are also 'positively phototactic'. Phototaxis is a term meaning, "the movement of an organism toward or away from a light source". If an organism is positively phototaxic, it simply means it is attracted toward light. If an organism is negatively phototactic, it means it moves away from light. Scientists and entomologists have all sorts of theories as to why moths naturally fly toward an illumination. Maybe the moths intuitively consider light to be an escape route and gravitate toward it because they associate the light with safety. Some experts believe they use the light of the moon as a navigational aid, and other lights throw off their orientation system. Perhaps signals from certain wavelengths in lights are perceived as pheromones for sexual attraction? I have read many interesting hypotheses, but there really is no definitive answer. One thing is for sure, whatever the form of phosphorescence or speculation, the attraction is a guarantee!

I've discovered I enjoy "moth watching" every bit as much as I enjoy bird watching! I had the opportunity to join a few folks at Wahkeena Nature Preserve over the summer, and was able to take advantage of participating in the art of attracting moths in a more professional manner. My circle of moth-loving friends included Tom Shisler (Wahkeena's Site Manager and Naturalist), Robyn Wright-Strauss (Wahkeena Naturalist), Dennis Profant (Entomologist and Natural Resources Instructor at Hocking College), Roger Grossenbacher (retired Physics Instructor, Lancaster, OH, and Nature and Astronomy Enthusiast),  Mike Gilligan (retired Biology Instructor from Findlay, OH, and Butterfly and Moth Enthusiast), and Alex Webb (Hocking College Student and avid insect collector). I sure love being around so many people who all share such a passion for nature. It was also beneficial to be amongst a group of people who have such an adeptness for identifying so many species of moths and other insects that we were fortunate to observe. Maybe if I can hang out with them more, some of that knowledge will rub off onto me!

The following moths are just a tiny sample of the dozens of little stealth flyers that "came to the light". Some only remained for a few seconds, making photography a real challenge, while others were content to hang around for much longer. Some moths landed on the sheet, while others preferred the nearby vegetation.  It was interesting to see their many colors and textures, and appreciate how their uniqueness actually serves as a camouflage for their environment.

Below is an Acrolophus Tubeworm Moth species. I'm not sure exactly which one. I thought it was a Clemens' Grass Tubeworm Moth (Acrolophus popeanella), but there are several that are very similar, making a positive ID next to impossible. These guys are very tiny!

Another Acrolophus Tubeworm Moth species

Possible Common Tan Wave Moth (Pleuroprucha insulsaria)

The next three are possible Eupithecia moth species, but there are too many that are similar to make positive ID.

I believe the following two moths to be the Lesser Grapevine Looper Moth (Eulithis diversilineata). I love the woodgrain look to his wings.

I believe this next moth to be the Dark-spotted Palthis Moth (Palthis angulalis).

Close-up of Dark-spotted Palthis Moth

White-streaked Prominent Moth (Oligocentria lignicolor)

Barberry Geometer Moth (Coryphista meadii)

Three views of the Green Cloverworm Moth (Hypena scabra)

The following two are the Bristly Cutworm Moth (Lacinipolia renigera)

This is one of my favorites-the Boxwood Leaftier Moth (Galasa nigrinodis). He is such a cool looking moth that really can look like a tiny leaf. Actually I think his body shape resembles a tiny cello! I took a few different angles because he was so darn interesting!

Spotted Grass Moth (Rivula propinqualis)

The following two moths are very similar, but I'm not sure of the ID. Possible Renia Moths, although I can't even guess the species. There are so many with similar markings.

The Splendid Palpita Moth (Palpita magniferalis). Very pretty!

Possible Signate Melanolophia (Melanolophia signataria)

Possible Renia Moth species (notice the tiny mite attached to the antenna).

Squash Vine Borer Moth (Melittia cucurbitae)

The Gem Moth (Orthonama obstipata)

Yellow-Striped Army Moth (Spodoptera ornithogalli)

Unidentified Moth (Possibly an Acrolophus species)

Colliurus pensylvanicus. An interesting visitor that was attracted to the black light. This insect, along with the Long Necked Seed Bug (below) were so tiny you couldn't really appreciate their beauty. A little magnification allowed a much better view.
Long-Necked Seed Bug (Myodocha serripes). 

Four views of The Wedgeling Moth (Galgula partita)

Four views of the Double-humped Pococera Moth (Pococera expandens).  Wow, what a little beauty!

Possible Common Gray Moth (Anavitrinella pampinaria)

Dark-banded Owlet Moth (Phalaenophana pyramusalis)

Striped Blister Beetle (Epicauta vittata)

Peppered Moth (Biston betularia)

Mint-loving Pyrausta Moth (Pyrausta acrionalis)

Here are a couple of Underwing Moths...I really love them and hope to photograph more!
This one is the Ultronia Underwing (Catocala ultronia).
The underwings of the Ultronia:

The Penitent Underwing Moth (Catocala piatrix)

I believe these to be the Penitent also. They were taken early in the summer, while the ones above were taken late Fall.
These closeups really let you appreciate the beauty and textures!

This is a possible Dart Moth Species. Moth portraiture is so interesting!

Unspotted Looper Moth (Allagrapha aerea). So unique! Looks like a tiny Egyptian Pharoah!

Red-crossed Button Slug Moth (Tortricidia pallida) 

Possible Mottled Euchlaena Moth (Euchlaena tigrinaria)

Obtuse Yellow Moth (Azenia obtusa)

I thought this to be a Paler Diacme Moth (Diacme elealis), but the Darker Diacme Moth species (Diacme adipaloides) is also very similar. I'm not certain which one it is.

Possible Arched Hook-tip Moth (Drepana arcuata)

Gray Spruce Looper Moth (Caripeta divisata)

Pink-Bordered Yellow Moth (Phytometra rhodarialis)

Common Glusiphia Moth (Glusiphia septentrionis)

Stained Lophosis Moth (Lophosis labeculata)

This is a Geometrid Moth, although I am not sure which species.

This one is most likely a White-marked Tussock Moth (Orgyia leucostigma)

Datana Moth species... impossible to determine which one just from a photo.

Waved Sphynx Moth (Ceratomia undulosa). This was the largest moth I've ever seen to date! He was gorgeous!

Banded Tussock Moth (Halysidota tessellaris).  This moth is also known as the Pale Tiger Moth. How can one not marvel at the exquisite beauty and colors of this moth?

Possible Baltimore Bomolocha Moth (Hypena baltimoralis)

I would guess this is also a Baltimore Bomolocha (Hypena baltimoralis), but very worn and faded.

I would say this is a Gray-edged Bomolocha (Hypena madefactalis). 

I thought this little moth was very interesting, but I have no idea what species it may be.

I am already looking forward to next year, so I can once again enjoy the challenge of capturing many more images of many more species. It is exciting and rewarding to observe these astonishingly beautiful night-flyers.  


  1. Wow wonderful post! WOW ! I was doing the same this summer with black lights and sheets. I really enjoy the moths but the identification is difficult to say the least. I'm looking forward to starting earlier with the lights next year to see what I can find earlier in the year.

  2. Lisa, your pictures are amazing. You should write a book! I especially love the banded tussock moth.


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