Monthly Archives: July 2014

Moth Week 2014 – Copake Falls, NY

I was lucky enough to be invited to be a guest speaker for a National Moth Week event held by the Friends of Taconic State Park in Copake Falls, NY. I grew up in upstate NY, but had never been to that region before. I spent most of the afternoon chatting with my wonderful hosts, eating yummy food, and then I gave my talk and spent the night looking for moths – I’ll hopefully get a chance to go back and explore the park during the day.

My talk was about how every week is moth week in my life, as well as how amateurs can help with our scientific endeavors. I couldn’t do my dissertation work without an army of collaborators around the country and around the world. I’m hoping I inspired a few more people to check their porch lights (or gas station lights). When it comes to basic natural history observations, science is accessible to everyone. And we need all the help we can get!

After the talk a few people stuck around to check out the moths. There were several blacklights, a mercury vapor light, and some bait painted on trees (and soaked into ropes).

mothweek_1One of the first visitors to the blacklight, a Hermit sphinx, Linteneria eremitus.mothweek_2One of the sheets, early in the night.mothweek_3Gathering around the sheet. Poke nature!mothweek_4The new president of the society, Brian Boom, was my gracious and enthusiastic host – and he was well liked by the Pandorus sphinx (Eumorpha pandorus). mothweek_5As usual, I had to pose with a moth on my nose. Darapsa myron. mothweek_6And a few of the other goodies we saw: mothweek_7Top row: Tolype velleda, Acrolophus sp., Herpetogramma pertexalis, Darapsa myron
Middle row: Linteneria eremitus, Haploa confusa, Prolimacodes badia, Lymantria dispar
Bottom row: Haploa clymene, Pantographa limata, Crambus sp., Idia aemula

What a great way to celebrate National Moth Week!

Moth Week 2014 – Keene, NH

Moth Week continued for me in Keene NH, the home of The Caterpillar Lab, run by the caterpillar photographer/whisperer Sam Jaffe. Sam is a wonderful naturalist, who ambitiously has undertaken this caterpillar outreach project. Sam and his minions currently have a physical lab where they keep their livestock (hundreds of caterpillars!), which is periodically open to the public. They do caterpillar shows at farmer’s markets and museums, you can see their schedule on their facebook page.mothweek_1

Here is just one of their charges… a gigantic Citheronia regalis caterpillar. Also known as the hickory horned devil… for obvious reasons. mothweek_2

We help each other out by trading eggs and caterpillars, and that is always a good excuse for a visit. His intern Liz allowed us to blacklight at her place, and so the bug nuts gathered round. This pic of the sheet was pretty early in the night, it was really hopping by midnight!

mothweek_3It is the time of year for Catocala, the underwing moths. This big one is Catocala unijuga, the Once-Married Underwing (I sure wonder how it got that name?)mothweek_4We also got a few female dobsonflies (Corydalus cornutus), they look like they are straight out of a horror movie. And much more vicious than the males, who have larger, but ineffectual, mandibles. mothweek_5
Waiting at the sheet… mothweek_6We also got a few spiders… this fishing spider ate quite a few of our moths!mothweek_7We decided to take a break from circling the sheet for some gas station light hopping. Sam has a few favorite spots. Despite my enthusiasm, I fell asleep on the car ride (though I’m told I was muttering some weird things in my attempt to stay awake and make conversation). Luckily I rallied and arrived well rested and ready to catch some more moths. There was a big Antherea polyphemus waiting for us, as well as a wall covered in wonderful moths. mothweek_8Including this sphingid, the Hydrangea sphinx, Darapsa versicolor. We were very disappointed that it was a male. Still a nice find though!mothweek_9 At the next stop we hit another jackpot – plenty of Acronicta moths for me, and a few other pretties. mothweek_11

I love the patterns on this one, I was excited to finally see one! The lettered habrosyne, Habrosyne scripta, in the family Drepanidae. mothweek_10

A pretty little Acronicta lepusculina. mothweek_12

We ended up back at the sheet, where I snagged a few more moths. All of these vials contained a female Acronicta, pretty amazing for one night! I’m never disappointed collecting in NH. I did learn something interesting, we have noticed a pattern – the female Acronicta moths tend to come out earlier. Once we get to about midnight, it’s almost all males at the sheet. mothweek_13

Eventually we packed up, sorted moths, and got some sleep. Not a bad way to celebrate national moth week.

Moth Week 2014 – Storrs CT

We rang in National Moth Week locally in Storrs, at our favorite spot near the Fenton river. We had a good gathering of UConn’s field entomology class, a few Wagner lab members, and a member of the Connecticut Entomological Society.

Setting up in the field with a pop-up blacklighting sheet (I need one of those!).

mothweek_2We also painted some moth bait on the trees. Everyone has their own favorite recipe – unfortunately it wasn’t a good night, and we didn’t get any customers (or maybe the bait needed more beer?). Moth bait is usually a combination of alcohol (cheap wine or beer), sugar (or honey or maple syrup), and bananas (or other fruit). Put the concoction in a tightly sealed container, leave it to ferment and get disgusting for a while, and try not to forget that it’s in the trunk of your car.

mothweek_1 We had on mercury vapor light, and two sheets with blacklights. The sheets were crawling with mayflies and stoneflies and midges (makes sense, since we were right by the river). However there were only a few moths! It was a calm night, but pretty cool, so perhaps it wasn’t warm enough to get a lot of moths flying. Though the students did manage to snag some specimens for their collections.  mothweek_3

Lucky for me, one of the first moths at the sheet was Acronicta americana. She was a very good girl and laid eggs for me that night. mothweek_4

So while it wasn’t a super exciting moth night, I got some more eggs for my research, so that’s a win! And it was a fun night catching up with friends and students – moth collecting has a way of bringing people (and beer) together.

Back in action

Graduate school has a funny way of sucking up all your time. I had so many other hobbies (including a relationship!) the first few years of grad school, and as they continually slip by, I wonder how I ever had time for them at all (though of course, I do still find plenty of ways to waste time…) So we shall see if I can scrounge up a few minutes here and there for this blog again. Here is a quick update on what I’ve been up to, and what I hope to write about soon…

First of all, speaking about hobbies – I’m no longer running my sewing business, but still try to find time to sew things for myself once a month or so. I will put up a post soon with some of the moth and caterpillar dresses I have made.

I’m also, against all better judgement, accumulating more animals. My apartment now contains two rabbits, three snakes, one gecko, one black widow, four tarantulas, four cockroach colonies, two fish, and a shrimp. As well as about 100 caterpillars for my research, since they were getting viruses in the lab. The new additions will make an appearance once I get some good photos of them (the cockroaches and tarantulas mostly hide during the day).

Ok, onto the science!

My second paper has been published! Well, I am third author, but I am proud to have been a part of this project. It was a great collaborative effort incorporating basic life history observations, morphology, and phylogenetics.

Schmidt C, Wagner D, Zacharczenko B, Zahiri R, Anweiler G (2014) Polyphyly of Lichen-cryptic Dagger Moths: synonymy of Agriopodes Hampson and description of a new basal acronictine genus, Chloronycta, gen. n. (Lepidoptera, Noctuidae). ZooKeys 421: 115-137

I helped with rearing the caterpillars, taking photos, describing the caterpillar morphology, arranging plates for publication, and of course editing. I will put up a longer post with a summary of the paper and a bit about its implications for my project.

I have also been doing more of my ant/caterpillar behavior experiments, and I should have some good videos of that to share soon. I have expanded trials to include earlier instars, as well as a forceps “pinch test” to compare to the ant interactions.

Lots of blacklighting trips, lots of moth catching, lots of paper reading. The life of an entomologist.

This is also the start of National Moth Week, with a lot of events planned.

I have lots of fun stories accumulated, fingers crossed I find the energy to share them!

Connecticut Entomological Society

Promoting insect research, conservation, and outreach

Ryerson Lab

Functional Morphology and Biomechanics

Saurian Obsessions

Life, love, and limb-reduced fossorial skinks

I spell it nature

Trying to make sense of the world through science and language.