2017 Moth Party

We held our annual Moth Party – in celebration of National Moth Week – on July 22, 2017.  It turned out to be a perfect night.  We had one intense rainstorm for about 15 minutes, but then it cleared up and cooled off. 

(Anne Geraghty, Erik Thomsen, Kelly Povo, and Rusty Rusterholz generously shared their photos to use in this post.  Look for their photo credits by hovering over the photos.)

The folks who arrived early got one short walk in before the storm.

On the Indian Grass Prairie Bench – Emily, Peter, Kelly, Dale, Anne


Buffalo Ridge Prairie


Buffalo Ridge Prairie with storm clouds


Coming back quickly before the storm


The highlight of the dinner was Anne’s cake.


Once it was dark, the moths came out.  Mike set up a screen and projector, and projected the photos as I took them, so it was easier for people to see them.  (Click here to see how he did it.)



Lots of people took their own photos.




Joe painting pictures of the moths







Besides moths, we saw lots of interesting hoppers – small hopping insects that sit on the sheet in the light.  They’re tiny – 1/4 inch long or less.

Leafhopper – Gyponana sp.


Treehopper – possibly Idioderma sp.


Leafhopper – Tylozygus bifidus


Unknown hopper – these were the smallest ones we saw.  There were hundreds on each sheet.


Several Gray Tree Frogs visited the sheet – probably hoping to catch something for dinner.


And we saw some wonderful moths.

The largest and showiest were the sphinx moths – four different species.  This one is my favorite – Pandorus Sphinx.


Another view of the Pandorus Sphinx


We had one very worn sphinx that stayed on the sheet all evening – a Hermit Sphinx – but it was hard to see the pattern because so many of its scales had worn off.  Just at the end I found another one, in much better shape.  Here’s the comparison.


One way to tell moths and butterflies apart is by the way they hold their wings.  When they’re resting, butterflies tend to hold their wings together, over their backs, and moths more often hold them out flat.  But there are lots of exceptions.  This moth – a Sharp-angled Carpet – sometimes spreads its wings flat…


And sometimes folds them like a butterfly.


A better way to tell moths and butterflies apart is to look at their antennae.  Butterflies have antennae with thickened ends.  Like this Tiger Swallowtail.


Moths have antennae either with ends that taper to a point like this Reticulated Fruitworm,


Or feathery, like this Chickweed Geometer (not one we saw at the party this year).


These are (I think) all the moths we saw that night.  Click on a photo to see a larger version of a picture.  They’re listed by common name – the scientific names are in the URL of each photo.  All the photos are mine except the Showy Emerald – I missed that one.  Erik saw and photographed it resting on the ladder that was holding the lights.


Here a few links that explain more about moths, caterpillars, and some of the reasons they’re so important.

The Great Caterpillar Factory – Baltimore Sun

To Feed the Birds, First Feed the Bugs – NY Times

Video of a lecture by Doug Tallamy (professor of Entomology and Wildlife Ecology at the University of Delaware) about food webs, and why they’re important to understand.