It stands to reason that if you want to see things that are out in the dark, you need to become a creature of the night as well. And that’s exactly what I did this past weekend.
You’ve certainly heard of events celebrating birds and butterflies, but you may not have heard of Mothapalooza. It’s an event held in southern Ohio every other year, and the main activity at the weekend affair is gathering at lighted sheets in the middle of the night to look at moths. This was my first time to experience it, and I loved the geekiness of it all, and the chance to see so many stunning moths. The lodge at Shawnee State Park is the headquarters, and that’s where the talks and meals take place. Many attendees stay in the lodge and more fill the two dozen cabins behind the lodge. I stayed in a cabin with my friends George, Angie, and Jackie.
Most people don’t give moths a second thought unless they’re swatting them away from the porch light to keep them out of the house. Did you know that many moths are pollinators? Yep, butterflies and bees do this important work during the day, while moths work the night shift. It’s so cool to realize that the ecosystem doesn’t sleep when we do; there are critical interactions happening all night long!
I’ve tried setting up my own light system to attract moths here at home, but have had limited success with that so far. (I think it’s partly because I hesitate to use a bright enough light for fear my neighbors will complain about the crazy bug lady.)
As you can see from this photo, some of the moths are huge, but there are also micromoths that are hard to see without a hand lens. I focused on photographing the larger ones this time, but maybe next time I’ll be calmed down enough to try the smaller ones. When I walked up to the first mothing sheet on Friday night, I was blown away by the beauty and variety of insects that had gathered there. I hope I can convey some of that excitement to you by sharing a few photos.
The sizes of these moths range from about 6 inches (wingspan) for the big silk moths, down to less than a tenth of an inch for the micromoths. I’d say most of the moths I photographed fall in the range of about 1-3″ wingspans.
So here’s how Mothapalooza works:
Each evening the organizers set up lights and sheets around the lodge area, and we could go visit the sheets at our leisure, walking through the night with flashlights to get from one station to the next. I joked that I felt like I was going trick-or-treating as we walked through the cabin area in the dark, visiting the moth sheets of other people to see what they’d attracted. They also had a half dozen remote locations set up, and they offered a shuttle service to take us to those. Mothing was scheduled from 10 pm to 2 am each night, but I know quite a few people who stayed up much later than 2:00. I learned that the moths tend to come to the lights at different times, so there are apparently some that you won’t see unless you’re willing to check the lights all through the night. I barely made it until 1:00 the first night and 2:00 the second night, despite being a night owl in my normal life. It wouldn’t be so bad if you could sleep until noon the next day, but there’s so much cool wildlife to see down there that we all felt we should be awake and exploring for as many hours as possible. (Moths by night, dragonflies and butterflies by day!)
A couple years ago I got my first look at the spectacular caterpillar of the Pandorus Sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus), and this weekend I saw the adult form of the same animal. First the caterpillar:
And then the adult moth:
Is that not a marvelous creature?! The host plants for the caterpillar are grape and Virginia creeper, and when my friend and I found the caterpillar, it was indeed feeding on grape leaves. I was so enchanted by that caterpillar that I can’t resist scanning every grape leaf I pass on my walks, just in case I can find another one. And this moth is quite substantial, so when one of them crashes into your head, you definitely notice it.
I’m so glad I had this exciting experience! I got a change of scenery, met new friends, learned more about the natural world, and was inspired to share it with you here. I hope this might motivate some of you to hang a sheet outside and point a light at it and see what shows up. You just never know what surprises are out there in your own backyard!
Here’s a brief video to show what it’s like at a mothing station:
I took a couple extra days after Mothapalooza to drive around the southern counties of Ohio looking for dragonflies, so I’m still trying to get rested and get myself back on a normal schedule. I’ll have some fun dragon stories and photos to share next time, so I hope you’ll come back. 🙂
[…] setup. If you want to read about some nocturnal moths, check out this post I wrote a few years ago about the thrills of nighttime mothing when I attended Mothapalooza in southern Ohio. (I’ve got plans for a trip to see dragonflies […]
[…] July I wrote about how much fun I had staying out at night to look at moths in southern Ohio. Recently I’ve become hooked on another nighttime activity here in the […]
Every once in a blue moon we find a Luna moth or a Polyphemus moth on the front or back porch on an early morning. This is a fabulous post, Kim! I would definitely love to do something like this!
Lori, I bet you have lots of cool moths that we don’t have here. You should try it sometime…just hang a white sheet on a clothesline and put a black light pointing toward it and wait to see who shows up. It’s so much fun!
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I’m going to suggest that to Forrest! The clothes line is just a short distance from the slope that drops off into the woods below… should be easy to attract some beauties!
Love this post and all the great photos. I have not seen a Luna moth for years here in Arkansas. I use to see them all the time.Have captured some good daytime shots of the Polyphemus moth.
Loved this. Great read and terrific pbotos. Thanks for taking us there!
Thanks for reading, Ginny!
Glad you had such a good time and got some really nice shots of the moths. I am sure you will be going back in a couple of years for the next moth meet.
Yes, I would definitely enjoy doing this again!
We saw one of the enormous moth species just out of its chrysalis and drying its wings when we were in Scottsdale at OdySea the butterfly world section in April this year. It was HUGE! I always enjoy vicarious pleasure from your forays into the creature worlds. I can imagine it would be hard to get recovered from those night sessions though.
It’s so amazing to watch a moth or butterfly unfold those wings after being cramped inside a tiny pod! I can only imagine what that feels like to them. 🙂
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